Back in grad school, I talked myself into buying a totally useless (but very pretty!) dress by telling myself “But I might need a fancy dress like this for exhibit openings or fundraisers.” Even though I had never previously worked at a museum that had lots of fancy dress occasions, I just assumed that my future career path would lead me to glamorous parties that required beautifully appropriate clothing.
I thought of this today when I climbed a ladder to check out some roof repairs. I didn’t know I would be climbing a ladder when I got dressed this morning, so I was quite grateful to be wearing flats and pants. And, of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve had this kind of thought during my career at DHV.
Fashion decisions can be really hard at a place like DHV. We have a lot of land, a lot of buildings, and some extreme weather conditions. Over the years, I’m not sure how many shoes I’ve bought that felt comfortable in the store but spectacularly failed the DHV test. I get super excited if I find a skirt or dress with pockets. I refuse to buy pants that don’t have pockets. There’s an entire section of my closet devoted to the necessary layers for Candlelight.
Since becoming ED, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about clothing, and I’ve never been that kind of girl before. Part of it is the struggle to strike the right balance–some days, I need to look professional but still be comfortable enough to move a table. And then there are those unpredictable emergencies when you don’t exactly have time to change. Example: we had a flash flood in June, and I waded into knee deep water to clear a drain. I was wearing a dress. In fact, of the 7 staff members that responded to the emergency, 4 of us were wearing dresses. The dress survived, but my shoes didn’t.
The other struggle is to make sure I look like I know what I’m doing. When I took the job, I knew I was young for the position (34 when I became ED–36 as of tomorrow). What I didn’t realize until later was just how much younger I was–it didn’t matter if I was in a room of other arts leaders, non profit leaders, or museum leaders, I was typically the youngest by at least a decade and usually more like 20 years. Now, I knew I wasn’t going to stop dying my hair and start showing off my gray hair, so I just thought harder about what to wear at certain meetings. And I started to carry nicer purses. Dallas can be a very label conscious city, and I refuse to spend big money of clothing (see above flood incident). But purses will probably not be in a flood situation, and I can get a lot more bang for my buck. Plus, they’re really pretty and make me happy.
Finally, there are the random parties and invitations that can cause all kinds of angst. Last fall, I was invited to an evening dinner fundraiser. Now, I had my set outfit for luncheon fundraisers, but shouldn’t evening be different? When I asked the friend that invited me, she said “it’s a real mix of cocktail and business attire.” What the heck does that even mean? I spent more time than I should admit agonizing over that one night, and probably tried on 4 different outfits that day. (For the record, I went with a gray dress and rhinestone jewelry.)
There were two things I did shortly after being named ED for my own sanity levels. I hired a maid to come twice a month. And I joined Stitch Fix, with the instructions that I needed to upgrade my wardrobe for my new position. Because the other fashion conundrum: I don’t have a lot of free time to shop, and I realized I had a lot of gaps in my wardrobe. My feminist side constantly tells me: “Stop worrying so much about what you wear! No one cares!” But I also know that I’m representing DHV at these various events and meetings, and that just makes it more complicated. I have joked often with Gary (my predecessor) about how much easier he had it, only having to decide tie or no tie, jacket or no jacket.
So, about that fabulous purple dress I bought in grad school? After moving it from North Carolina to Texas, from my parent’s house to two apartments and to my own house, I finally gave it to Goodwill several years ago. I never wore it. Not once. But I do now have a fabulous collection of random Western attire that fit in perfectly with DHV’s former gala theme of Gone to Texas. Which is no longer needed since we’re now doing a 1920s theme. The wardrobe conundrums will never end.