Doreen at Miss AmericaI was honored to be on a panel of judges for the Miss Massachusetts USA Pageant last week (the preliminaries to the Miss USA Pageant). One week before the event I received an email stating the attire was formal/semi-formal. What? I am not IN the pageant! But alas, it makes sense. I could not judge a beauty event in my Mom jeans.

So now what? I have one week to find a dress. I can hear what you are thinking, “She’s a stylist, isn’t she familiar with every single dress in every single store?” My response to that? “Pretty much.” However here is the glitch, I am neither the designer nor the manufacturer. If I was, there would be a plethora of cocktail dresses that actually had some sort of a sleeve, a flutter sleeve, a ¾ sleeve, a lace sleeve, a sheer sleeve, just a damn sleeve! We BA50’s (Better After 50 in case you just arrived at the Ball) want the option to cover our arms. Oh I know, I know, there are plenty of you out there that are damn proud of your yoga, personally trained, pilates biceps; but there are plenty of us on the other side of the fence too!

That brings us to the number one holiday essential on the list.

A fabulous cocktail dress with some sort of sleeves!  How do you spell AMEN?

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 1.29.39 PMMy search for sleeves began immediately. Dresses with sleeves starting pouring out of the big brown truck. And of course they all seemed to have issues: too tight, too loose, too frilly, too matronly looking, too 20-something looking, too just not me and of course, too much money*! I embarked on my trip to the mall/malls – yes multiple malls. Why is it so difficult to find a classy, sophisticated, stylish dress with sleeves!!!

Then finally BINGO. I find the perfect Teri Jon dress at Neiman’s, wrong size of course. So after 30-minutes at the register the right size is being sent Fed Ex overnight from New Jersey. My excitement of seeing the truck arrive was quickly dashed when the same size that didn’t fit was what arrived! Seriously, is this a career? 911 call to Neiman’s ensued, ending with the GM personally finding and shipping the correct size this time from Florida, with me now one day away from having to get dressed! Whew – it arrived, it fit, it looked great, and I felt fabulous! Lesson learned? Own a black cocktail dress that meets all of your CURRENT style criteria. So if you have a closet full of sleeveless black cocktail dresses and you are thinking you are going to wear your Mr. Roger’s cardigans over them? Think again!

Rockin’ shoes that you can actually dance the night away in!

Paul GreenWe have all been there, we’ve been attracted to a heel that looks amazing both on the shelf as well as in the catalogue. Then dear Cinderella, you put the glass shoe on and it shatters your foot. Never to be forgotten, you spend the rest of your days fearing the cocktail attire because you know damn well you cannot don your Dansko’s and attend the Ball with confidence. My favorite comfortable dress shoes come from Paul Green.

A statement necklace that not only is stylish, but is sophisticated and classy.

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 1.43.50 PMNow might be the time to pull out the family jewels and reassess the ‘saving’ for something special requirement that you have held that piece in bondage for.

Here’s an idea – take a handful of the family jewels that might just not be your ‘taste’ – take them to a reputable jeweler and ask for their spin on them. Oftentimes they see what you don’t see and will disassemble and combine jewels in a new and improved way. Many times it is just the setting or the color of the metal that isn’t to your liking so give it a makeover and wear it with pride! My choice for the event – a classic gold chain that I have had for over 30 years – making that cost-per-wear in the ten cent category!

Stockings that fit, enhance your legs, don’t run and don’t require a mortgage.

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 1.51.31 PMI of course purchased two pair for the pageant, just in case. Yup, you guessed it. First pair, the most expensive at $23.00, immediately ran as my recently manicured nails must have had a minuscule razor edge. After swearing at least nine times, I attempted the less expensive pair and the end to that fiasco is predictable. Note to self – carry those stupid little white gloves that Nana had when you are packing nylons! I had to defer to a semi-opaque stocking that I had for the first evening’s event – a tried and true standby, as I have never run one of those. Albeit it a fix, it wasn’t the best solution. Bottom line, Lycra is your friend when it comes to stockings and remember that those little white gloves don’t take up much room in your hosiery drawer! Lastly opt for a patterned sheer if you are donning a solid dress – it adds a bit of style below the belt for a whopping $11.00!

The correct bra for both your girls and your dress!

62960820269968pOf course, once I landed the perfect dress, seemingly hours before the event, I realized I didn’t have the perfect bra! The top of the dress was black lace, which wasn’t really designed to have black bra straps running through it. Solution? Strapless. Seriously, does anyone else hate strapless bras? I get in the dressing room and I am told that it has to be tight to do the job, no breathing allowed if you want it to stay up. Also it has to have this skid-less crap around the band so it won’t well, skid! OMG, I have gone through all of this and now I have to be *#@ing uncomfortable? Solution to the rescue! I bought a regular black bra jury-rigged with invisible straps – ingenious. The girls were comfortably hoisted and the lace lived happily ever after. Where to find clear bra straps? Bed, Bath & Beyond of course! Seriously…

Lastly, if you live anywhere in the world where winter has winter weather, you must don a cover to get to the Ball.

PashminaYou cannot always hold hope that someone will drop you off from your pumpkin carriage right at the door, it ain’t going to happen. If you think sporting your Canada Goose puffer coat is going to cut it just because you dropped $800 on it, that does not a fashion statement make! Grab yourself a pure Pashmina wrap in a lofty 3-ply. Check these Pashmina’s out and perhaps 2 colors are in order! No you don’t need 10, perhaps black or ivory and then a pop of color is a good start!

Get to work on building your sassy holiday essential wardrobe and then fill your calendar with events that make you feel like Cinderella!


*Postscript on the too much money comment. Yes, the items that I ended up with were pricey but I looked at it as an investment in a few classic pieces that will serve me well over the years, getting that all important cost-per-wear down!

Need more advice? Here are two options. Grab this savvy style guide or join me and 10,000 fabulous women at the MA Conference for Women 12/10/2015. Stop by my booth #875 and tell me you are a faithful BA50 reader – I have a special gift for you and you only! See you there!

Congratulations to Whitney Sharpe – MISS MASSACHUSETTS USA 2016

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