That Time I Turned Back into a Girl

In December, I was invited to attend the Barron’s Top Women Advisors Summit in Palm Beach, Florida. The following is my tale of woe as I circulated back into the world of women with an initial simmer of excitement that quickly dissipated into irritation and pain. A true story, only curse words have been changed to protect innocent ears. A word of caution to those of the Y-chromosome persuasion – this story contains graphic images that might offend.

Dawn Starks

Dawn Starks

Sometime in October, I received a great honor – being invited to attend a high-level conference for women advisors. Only a handful of advisors from my affiliated firm, Raymond James Financial Services, were invited so I was duly honored and thrilled. All these years of hard work! I have arrived!

About two weeks before the conference, I received an email outlining “Know Before You Go” items. This included clarifications about my travel, ground transportation, the agenda of meetings, and the dress code for the conference. Typically the dress code is “business casual” for business conferences, or a big dinner might require “cocktail attire.” I normally handle that just fine with my existing work wardrobe, if I include a dressier sweater or jacket for that “cocktail attire” event.

A bit of back-story is perhaps required. In 1999, I started my own firm. I was in the habit of wearing business suits – the jacket and skirt variety – but never liked it. I hate pantyhose, but cannot abide wearing dress shoes without hose. Thus, I do not wear heels. One day on the drive to work, squirming around in my seat because my suit jacket was so uncomfortable, I had an epiphany. It was MY company, darn it, and if I didn’t want to wear suits, then I would not wear suits. Pretty swiftly thereafter those suits were donated, and my more casual work attire was born. I have never looked back.

That is, I never looked back until sixteen years later when I read the dress code for this women’s event – “business suits and dresses.” Oh no! This was terrible because I owned neither of those. Well, I owned a dressy sundress sometimes worn with flat sandals, but that wouldn’t do. I immediately started to fret, knowing there would be lots of high dollar designer-wear on display.

Expensive clothing is definitely not my bag. I buy my clothes at Belk and Sears, and my purses at Target. It is a crime to pay more than $30 for a purse, in my humble opinion. As it is, I can never find the ‘perfect’ purse, so spending even $20 on something that I’ll use for a month and then abandon for its imperfections feels like highway robbery. But I digress.

Knowing I would be hanging with the classy ladies, I went shopping and bought a few dresses, but no suits. I was pretty pleased with my dress haul at Belk – everything was on sale, and very versatile. Then I moved over to the shoe department. Having not owned a pair of heels in, oh, forever, I figured I had better dive in. Black clogs (my usual work-wear choice) were not going to work with these dresses.

Shoes are the one area where I will spend decent money for quality, because in my experience, cheap shoes are uncomfortable and don’t last. I skipped the less expensive shoe stores and hit Dillard’s. My daughter was with me and helped find what I wanted – plain black pumps, one pair medium-heeled, one pair lower-heeled.

Next was a handbag. Apparently, we don’t call them purses anymore – I didn’t get that memo. I dithered mightily then figured I would fit in perfectly with a nice Michael Kors handbag. But there was no way I was spending $400 on a bag that I could barely stand to look at. I finally found a mostly plain handbag large enough to accommodate my notebook computer, because it had to at least be PRACTICAL, on the sale table for $60 – marked down from $90. I rationalized that if I grew to love this bag and it lasted longer than my Target purses, then I could justify spending twice my normal limit.

Lastly, I needed pantyhose. Oh my. I became dizzy at the rack, with far more variations than there were the last time I wore pantyhose. After probably twenty minutes, I left with two pair of barely black, control top, reinforced toe hose, at a mere $9 a pop. Ridiculous! (As it turns out, I had two pair of very ancient black pantyhose in the back of a drawer that I packed in addition to these, JUST IN CASE.)

I neglected to mention the girdle I already owned. (Do they even call them that, anymore? You know, the Spanx thing you use to keep your flabby belly tucked in?) So heels, hose, girdle, and dresses – I went all out.

I felt great going to Palm Beach, knowing that I would at least blend in better now. Blending in is big for me – I don’t like to stand out on either end of the fashion spectrum. Despite this whole affair being sort of a general affront to my life philosophy (Be yourself! Don’t conform! Who cares what people think?), I was happy feeling like I wouldn’t stick out, even if that meant denying my true, dressing-down nature.

The trouble started pretty much right away. I took my husband’s recommendation on packing and left my clogs at home. “Pack light!” he said. I got all my lovely clothes in one small carry on, and my book and computer were in my handbag – travel efficiency at its finest! However, I planned on black dress pants for the flights, so wore panty hose and the low-heeled black pumps. Walking through the Atlanta airport about killed me, but I kept my chin up. “I’m a girl! Look at me fitting in and dressing all fancy for a flight!” (Which, for the record, never happens. I’m a jeans girl all the way for flights, normally.)

Herein lies lesson number one from this adventure. Don’t let a man help you pack. Men are not women. Men don’t care about wearing the same outfit repeatedly, no one notices when they do, and they have approximately ¼ of the toiletries, even though I have fairly minimal toiletries.

My flight was delayed significantly, so I got to the hotel late. I was just in time to change for the cocktail party and dinner that opened the conference. Dress time! I changed outfits, switched into my high heels, and off I went.

So, this experiment lasted twenty-four hours. I couldn’t hang, ladies. I wanted my clogs back. This high heel thing is for the birds. I have newfound respect for women that wear them all day, every day. (I still think they are nuts, but at least I have more respect now for what they are actually doing.) By the next morning my feet hurt so badly, I thought I would have to go shoeless. I had planned to wear a dress with the high heels that day, but no way – low heels would just have to do, and even those weren’t comfortable.

The first full day of classes, I wore the dress I liked best. I was feeling good about it, even though my feet were killing me. I had been dressed for less than an hour – I got through breakfast and a bathroom run – and got a run in my gosh darn brand new pantyhose. I had to race upstairs to change before the opening speaker – Geena Freaking Davis; I did NOT want to miss her! I only had my fully black ancient hose left. Well, actually, I had another pair of the light black ones, but I paid $9 for the pair that lasted less than 24 hours. I needed those for the next fancy dinner. So cheap black ones it was. The rest of the trip I had to silently chant, “Slowly, slowly, slowly,” when pulling up my hose at bathroom breaks so I wouldn’t stick a finger through them and ruin yet another pair.

I got back downstairs and noticed NO ONE in black hose. Almost everyone was wearing NO hose, or skin colored (nude?) hose. What the…? I guess in all these years of not being a girl, I missed the memo that hose are out. I can’t wear dress shoes (that aren’t sandals) without hose, because I cannot abide sweaty feet. I was feeling self conscious, but later in the day I had partial vindication, when the second main keynote speaker, Sallie Krawcheck, came on stage with a black skirt, black hose, and black shoes that weren’t so high of heel. Yes!!

The result of this experiment was that the high heels went back to Dillard’s (I had only worn them indoors on carpet). Low heels would have to do for me with dresses – I just don’t have what it takes, I guess, to pull off the high heel thing. I’m going to investigate tights – tights don’t run, do they? I wore a dress to our firm’s holiday party, and my clients did NOT know what to make of it. I think they worried about my mental health, as they had never witnessed this phenomenon. I will get some wear out of the dresses, but my mainstay will still be black dress pants and my beloved black clogs.

Men have NO idea what we women put up with.


Dawn Starks is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner and financial advisor at Starks Financial Group, an independent firm. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. This article expresses the opinions of Dawn Starks and not necessarily those of Raymond James. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional.

Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC.

Dawn Starks

Dawn Starks

Starks Financial Group at http://www.starksfinancial.com/
Dawn Starks is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner and financial advisor at Starks Financial Group, an independent firm. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. This article expresses the opinions of Dawn Starks and not necessarily those of Raymond James. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional.
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About Dawn Starks

Dawn Starks is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner and financial advisor at Starks Financial Group, an independent firm. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. This article expresses the opinions of Dawn Starks and not necessarily those of Raymond James. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional.
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