Derby is getting so near, I can smell it. It’s the time when Louisville cleans up its act and welcomes racing fans from around the world. With the Derby comes the rise of shopping experiences tailored to outfitting Kentucky in style. Many of these take place in the form of charity events and galas. I love any reason to get dressed up in fancy clothes and go to a party.
This year, I’ve had the chance to work with Dress for Success Louisville on their major fundraising event, Gals and Guys, Hats and Ties Silent Auction and Fashion Show. The Dress for Success cause is a noble one, outfitting women with appropriate clothing and support for the development of their professional careers. My part is small, but since I have event-planning experience and have lived through dire economic times, taking on this small commitment was an easy decision.
Growing up, my parents often struggled with money. We lived paycheck to paycheck, and there was a time when we were essentially homeless, save for the grace of our landlady who allowed my parents to paint apartments so we didn’t have to live in our Chrysler Cordoba. During this time, new clothes were something my parents could not afford. Food was struggle enough.
Not having nice clothes and going to a school where what you wore determined social status made being a student difficult. I learned to be creative and, inspired by “Pretty in Pink,” I would use my occasional babysitting money to buy peculiar pieces at thrift stores or on clearance. Sometimes, I would take piece of my father’s wardrobe — a jacket or a hat. Since it was the ’80s, I could get away with it. My favorite of the discount spots was the $5 table at Shoe Carnival. I scored my first cowboy boots and a pair of silver Creepers that I wore until they fell apart. To be sure, most of the shoes from the table were ugly, but that can often be interesting, and when there is no money for fabulous, ugly and interesting is good enough — as long as it’s new.
There is nothing worse than feeling like you don’t belong, and when it’s tied to how you are dressed, it’s even more distressing. As the cliché goes, “Clothes make the man.” What you wear is sometimes more important than who you are. When you are an unknown, your appearance is the only clue to the quality of your character. Poverty is the great invisibility cloak. Our society is one that doesn’t really see the unpleasantness of being poor until it shows up begging.
This is what makes the mission of an organization like Dress for Success so important. Having the tools for getting a job is essential to achieving economic stability, whether that is career training or a decent set of clothes.
For my family, stability came when my parents finally secured full-time work and eventually started their own businesses. Never wanting my sister and me to feel defeated during the time we were struggling, my parents invented a game. We called it playing “Dream.” It was our chance to fantasize aloud about the life we wanted. For us, it translated from a game into tangible goals that, as we grew and got jobs of our own, we slowly began to achieve. We both finished college and went on to graduate school. So far, we’ve never had to struggle in the same way.
I encourage anyone who has been through similar situations that if you are able, consider donating to a cause like Dress for Success or coming to the Gals and Guys, Hats and Ties Fashion Show on March 21 at Churchill Downs. With VIP tickets comes the opportunity to win tickets for a grandstand box on Derby Day. There will also be raffle tickets available for an Oaks box as well as other door prizes throughout the night. Regular tickets start at $50. VIP packages begin at $150 for a single ticket and $250 for a couple. Check out dressforsuccess.org/louisville for more info.
I’m excited for the opportunity to dress up and attend this event. I’m more excited that I get to do something to help other people. I’m not always the greatest human, I can assure you, but I do have the spirit to give, and I am most happy when I can have fun while making this world a little kinder for someone else.