Literary Debutante Ball fashion advice from One Story’s Associate (Fashion) Editor:

An image from Amy Vanderbilt's "How to be well dressed."

I’ve been asked to act as fashion godmother for anyone wondering what to wear to this Friday night’s Literary Debutante Ball.  I must assume this is because I own the complete set of Amy Vanderbilt’s “Success Program for Women,” and quote regularly from its more illuminative tomes such as “Your European Vacation” and “How to Develop Poise and Self-Confidence.”

Happily, there is no dress code for our literary ball.  A straw poll reveals our staff is thinking cocktail dresses, sundresses and rompers for the ladies, blazers and ties over jeans, skinny jeans, khakis, or pants my grandmother would refer to as “slacks” for the gentlemen.  The American Can Factory in Brooklyn is a fun and creative place, so you could arrive dressed as a slice of Swiss cheese and feel right at home.  Unless someone else shows up dressed as one (heaven forbid).

Vintage prom dresses and tuxes, casual Friday office attire: all good!  Be comfortable.  Be brave.  Do your best.

Even more happily, it doesn’t matter what you wear.  What matters is whether you have a good heart and how many times you compliment the Associate Editor on her Swiss cheese costume.

Finally, I offer a few nuggets of fashion advice I’ve collected over the years:

“Glamour, always.”  – Dita Von Teese

“Before you go out, take one piece of jewelry off.”  – my grandmother

“Before I go out, I put one more piece of jewelry on.”  – Kim Kardashian

“It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed.”  – Coco Chanel

“My mother taught us that it was always better to be underdressed than overdressed.”  Audrey Hepburn’s son, Luca.

“It’s not the clothes, it’s how you wear them.” – Me, 1987

“You cannot go to school with Swatch watches in your hair.” – my mother, 1987

“We’re calling because your daughter came to school with Swatch watches in her hair and refuses to take them out.  To make matters worse, after seeing her, several other girls have put their own Swatch watches in their hair.  We can’t have that.” – my principal, 1987

“Don’t forget yourself—make sure of yourself!”  Amy Vanderbilt’s Success Program for Women, How to Develop Poise and Self-Confidence.

“Nothing beats a nice pair of slacks.” – my grandmother

6 thoughts on “Literary Debutante Ball fashion advice from One Story’s Associate (Fashion) Editor:

  1. Dear Marie,

    What is your opinion on the great shoes v. hair decision? If one were to only spend, say, $60, and they needed to choose between professional taming of the unsightly mass on top of their head and buying new casings for the things at the end of their legs, which should they choose?

    Please help.
    Desperate to impress

  2. My dearest Desperate to impress,

    My grandmother never said anything about hair or shoes. She wore flip-flops, like, every single day. She would probably say to wear flip-flops and if people didn’t like it they could go to hell. Then she’d ask if you remembered Bea from the old street in Fishtown and before you had a chance to answer, she’d say “Dead!” I am nothing like my grandmother.

    But, I digress.

    I seem to recall my friend Denise’s great Aunt saying once, “Hair is a woman’s crowning jewel. I tend to agree. She was one fiercely fashionable lady. And, do you know where that fiercely fashionable lady is now, Desperate to impress?


    Your friend,

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