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What Not to Wear (to a Breast Cancer Benefit)

by Erin Darling 10 December 2008 No Comment E-mail Erin Darling

As a female member of human society, there will inevitably be times in your life where dressing up will be necessary. We’ve learned this through attending various high school proms, debutante balls, sorority formals, weddings, and if you’re brave enough, the occasional beauty pageant. All of the aforementioned events can be easily conquered with a fitted, Dolce & Gabanna bustier dress or something colorful and floor-length by Zac Posen. Easy enough. But what does one wear to a breast cancer benefit?

This very question became the bane of my existence from the very moment I missed a phone call from my dear friend Ed Shaughnessy. As I listened to his voicemail, I was thrilled that he had invited me to the event, but rather surprised when he suggested that I dust off one of my formal gowns. It had been years, since I’d worn anything even remotely floor length, pushing them to the back of my closet in favor of more leg-baring options. But for ABC’s “Heroes” Associates for Breast and Prostate Cancer, I’d have to make an exception.

As I scoured my memory, rewinding through formals, events and proms, I decided that everything I already owned was absolutely inadequate in one way or another. Anything with a slit was automatically out-ruled on the basis of looking outdated, or like I belonged on a stage in Vegas. Anything remotely poofy or A-line was not going to work either, on the basis that I didn’t want to look that I had regressed five years in age. And anything I wouldn’t wear around my grandma was an obvious “no” because I had a feeling I’d be seeing a lot of them at this event. Then comes the question of color and style…should I steer clear of color and fun in favor of the conservative? This is a cancer benefit, right? And what about cleavage? Inappropriate?

Questions of color, style and taste swirled around my head like a psychedelic kaleidoscope. I was almost ready to hang up my stilettos and call Ed to cancel! Then, I imagined how ridiculous I’d sound explaining that the task of finding a dress was too daunting, and I reconsidered. Certainly, this was no Mount Everest. I earned a degree in Broadcast Journalism from USC, I navigated the city of Tokyo by myself, I located T.R. Knight in the midst of the chaos that is AIDSwalk…and interviewed him. There was no way I was going to let my wardrobe contention scare me out of an event.

And so my arduous search began. It took me two freeways and multiple trips to Nieman’s, Nordstrom, and Bloomies, but to no avail. In the end, my search ended right back where it started…in my own closet. After all was said and done, I chose a fuchsia, silk Calvin Klein gown. Simple, floor length, and without showing anything that might cause failure in the “grandma test” department. Definitive success.

My arrival at the Beverly Hills Hilton only reaffirmed confidence in my choice. I was surprised to find that this crowd was comprised of many eccentric older women who chose to dress in more full-length feather and fur than you’d encounter in a museum of natural history. Although the younger female attendees were costumed in cocktail dresses, they were surrounded by men in tuxedos. I was completely comfortable in my ground-sweeping gown.

The night was fabulous, the fashion was fierce and feral, and the Pointer Sisters even took the stage! Not only did I have an incredible night, but I learned a thing or two about dressing for a benefit;

1. It’s better to be over dressed than under dressed.

2. ‘Tis the season to wear fuchsia…black may be classic, but brights are in!

3. When in doubt, put your outfit to the test. The grandma test!

The Pointer Sister's sing their hits for the crowd.

The Pointer Sisters take the stage.

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