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As I cleared my throat from behind a podium at the Yale Club, I felt a momentary panic. After all, many of the Lanvin- and Louboutin-loving editors attending the awards ceremony that I presided over last March had hired me at one time or another. Come to think of it, a few had also fired me. Before launching into the introductory remarks I’d scrawled on my copy of the script, I took a moment to compose my thoughts while looking down at the dress I’d bought the day before. With its deep purple floral print and A-line cut, it was everything I wanted to be: bold, forgiving, at ease. Little did I know how differently I’d view the feel-good garment just one year later.
Yes, Jimmy Kimmel, it is an Ivanka Trump. To be honest, before the Trumps arrived in our nation’s capital, I had always associated Ivanka more with her well-heeled mom, Ivana, than her crass, limelight-loving dad. I respected her business savvy when we met briefly at a magazine photo shoot years ago, which took place at a vacant Trump Tower apartment. Ivanka was the picture of elegance and efficiency. She didn’t spend time ingratiating herself with the crew, whom she knew she’d probably never see again. Instead, The Apprentice voice of reason pulled two designer gowns (both with five-digit price tags) from a jam-packed rack, emerged minutes later wearing the first, which fit her like a second skin, and worked the camera like a pro.
“I think you’ve got it,” she told the photographer once an hour had elapsed. Others may have interpreted her behavior as rude or dismissive, but I found her lack of small talk and air kisses refreshing.
Of course, I had no idea that she’d one day be sitting in on closed-door meetings with foreign dignitaries in the Oval Office and using her new role as a platform to hawk her pricey jewelry line (which she has since chosen to end in favor of a mass-market one). Or that both the president and his top adviser, Kellyanne Conway, would defend the first daughter after Nordstrom cleared her clothing lines from its racks. Much to my dismay, and that of #GrabYourWallet advocates, sales of the line actually increased in February as a result.
I’m embarrassed that I contributed to her company’s bottom line when I purchased the dress in question on Super Tuesday of 2016. At the time, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton were still duking it out for Democratic delegates, and there were four Republican candidates in play. A Donald Trump presidency seemed about as likely then as the demise of Vogue, Vanity Fair, or another iconic magazine title seems now.
Frankly, I wouldn’t have stepped foot in Lord & Taylor but for the 25 percent off coupon I’d clipped from the Sunday paper. I’d always found department stores overwhelming, but on the day of my visit, L&T could only be described as a ghost town. Rather than tumbleweeds rolling around, dresses had slipped from their hangers onto the dusty floor. There wasn’t a salesperson or cashier in sight. Overwhelmed and exhausted after just a few minutes under the harsh lights, I was about to run for the nearest exit when something bright caught my eye.
From the moment I saw the colorful, cap-sleeved number in various hues of purple and blue hanging on a rack with dozens of yawn-worthy solids, I knew it was coming home with me (if, of course, I could find someone to ring up the purchase). I grabbed the dress in two sizes and headed into the nearby dressing room to see which fit better.
I liked what I saw in the mirror; with its knee-length hem and high neckline, the dress said “Take me seriously.” But the bold floral pattern kept it from feeling too corporate. Paired with a cropped black leather jacket, the garment would be perfect for the awards breakfast, my first since joining a B2B that covers the magazine industry in January of that year. To be honest, I was petrified at the thought of standing in front of a who’s who of editors and publishers. Public speaking was never my forte. As an editor-in-chief once told me, “There are work horses and show horses, and you’re definitely a work horse.”
As such, my “uniform” over the years was always a comfortable, figure-flattering rayon wrap dress, which I owned in every conceivable pattern and color. Since losing my last full-time consumer magazine position in 2014 after an internal restructuring left me blindsided, I’ve kept the collection of wrap dresses hanging in my closet like a shrine. Could I have worn one of them to my big awards event on the following day? Absolutely. But a new position (even at a B2B) merited a new item of clothing, and I would do whatever it took to look polished and on-trend in front of a tough crowd.
My position has since been eliminated, thanks in part to the uncertainty brought on by the new administration in DC. (I had falsely thought I was “safe” outside of the shrinking consumer magazine landscape.) Truth be told, I'm not upset about parting ways with corporate America. In fact, I’m relieved, since freelancing allows me to spend most days in my gym clothes. But I’m not quite ready to cart the dress off to the nearest Salvation Army collection point, even though just looking at it turns my stomach.
I guess hanging on to it is my way of preserving the power and authority of my previous position. "Freelancer" just doesn't carry the same weight or prestige, no matter how you cut it. I also think I’m not quite ready to accept the fact that I may outlive both print magazines and department stores.
I realize that I need to let go of a lot of things, the least of which is my Ivanka Trump dress. When I do donate it, I'll be sure to cut out the tag first. After all, I want the garment to bring someone joy—not anxiety.