Amanda Filipacchi’s “The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty”

At Dress for Success we put our weight behind the idea that a polished look can inspire confidence and empowerment professionally.  And since we believe appearance affects reality, we were completely taken by comedic writer Amanda Filipacchi’s latest novel, The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty. A satire, intertwined in a murder mystery, Amanda creates an adverse world that follows two best friends who struggle with the same concept of beauty from opposite ends.  Part of an oddball friend group, Lily and Barb are viewed respectively as “ugly” and “beautiful”. Barb, a natural beauty and blonde bombshell, is a successful costume designer who takes to dressing in a fat suit to find a man who will love her for her true self. Conversely, her other half, Lily is unfortunate looking in the “inoperable way.” Lily is a talented composer who wears a mask (made by Barb) to distract from her physical appearance and project a false allure, artistically through her music.

Using Barb as her narrator, Amanda juxtaposes witty prose with a flat tone to blatantly portray beauty as the end-all be-all in her contrived version of modern day New York City. Her humor is as sharp as her message, which reveals itself in a public unraveling of the girls’ charades.  When it’s explained that Barb guised her beauty to cope with the suicide of a friend, you’re left questioning just how “conventional” beauty truly is and why women are more subjected to its strict constructs.

Amanda poses these striking questions, but anchors her story in the strength of female friendship. The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty reminds us that physical appearance finds its limits in friendship and love. Through Barb and Lily’s companionship, we see the one sphere in Amanda’s exaggeratedly narcissistic society that is protected from the superficial.

Loosely inspired by her own experiences, Amanda is the daughter of Sondra Peterson, who was a top Ford model in the 1960s. She grew up in the shadow of the spotlight and self-proclaims she is the only “non-gorgeous” member of her family. In a personal essay appearing in The New Yorker, Amanda is as sardonic as her characters, explaining she stopped chewing gum after her father said her jaw was big enough already. A true contrast to her own observations, Amanda is stunningly creative and a real-life testament that beauty can transcend the physical and is sometimes found in spite of it. Spoiler alert: Contrary to her own assessment, Amanda definitely did receive some of her mother’s genes, but the writing is all her own.

Volunteer Your Way to a Healthier You!

‘Tis better to give than to receive, according to the old adage, but did you know giving your time can actually give you a longer lifespan. Studies show volunteering can reduce the risk of death by 25%, improving both physical and mental wellbeing.

Providing support for those who need it allows for a sense of purpose and meaning that may not be fulfilled by our regular jobs or relationships. Volunteering can offer new skill sets, exposure to different fields and the opportunity to forge new relationships. These experiences help to boost self-confidence and morale, which can lead to higher productivity at work.

This same sense of usefulness bolsters positive emotions and lowers stress levels that effect you on a physical level. A reduction in stress helps to boost immunity and stave off diseases. By donating time and engaging with others, you gain perspective and a larger world view, which reduces risk of depression and instills a sense of belonging.

As women, we statistically volunteer at a higher rate than men and, with benefits ranging from higher functionality to lower risk of heart disease, volunteering may just be one reason why we are outliving our male counterparts.

There’s no better time to give your time than now, so look up your favorite local charity (we can definitely think of a good one!) and see how you can help out .  You’ll be doing both them and you a favor!

Spring Into Work With a New Wardrobe

After one of the coldest winters on record, we’re all ready to shed the black and reemerge to welcome warmer weather with colorful cardigans.  Spring is known to many in the fashion world as the perfect union of office chic and out-of-office casual. Meaning it’s the best time of year for you to mix and match your wardrobe for both work and play.

To prepare for this glorious revival of color and shape in our closets, we wanted to find work-appropriate wear that instills confidence without compromising style. Knowing that many hardworking women share our spring fever, we teamed up with Talbots to kick off an empowering season of success and style. Which is why from now until March 22nd you can make a monetary donation to Dress for Success at any of their nearly 500 locations across the United States and Canada.

At Talbots, they understand work wear should make you feel powerful and still maintain a stylish edge. Known for their quality and classic pieces, Talbots recently rolled out their new spring line dabbling in powder pinks, fuchsias and peaches with a few bold reds and greens that transition seamlessly between seasons.

To help us showcase some inspiring looks, we brought along Dress for Success client, Addie, who made interview attire look effortless and enchanting. Previously working in medical research, Addie has a degree in biology as well as experience in real estate. She took some time off her job hunt to meet us and the Talbots team at the Madison Avenue store in NYC. After fawning over some accessories we’ve missed all winter, hello Jackie O shades (see below), we settled on four different outfits that would ace any interview, meeting or even casual work day.  Warning: Outfits may inspire feelings of warmth and happiness, and require you make a change in your shade of blues.

Our always stylish client, Addie, meeting Talbots store manager, Tim, before the shoot.

Just browsing the four-story Madison Avenue store and falling in love with the sleeveless blouse-blazer combinations…

This Navy Avanos Suit coat and matching pants (Dress for Success nickname: the approachable power suit) are complemented by the Veria Striped Shirt, in sugar coral, adding a pop of color to brighten the look. The white block-collar allows Addie to stand out to employers while maintaining an overall professional profile.

Dress for Success Tip: Tuck the striped shirt in for a more polished look, perfect for a meeting or an interview.

This Wispy Floral Pencil Skirt and Pointelle Cardigan is the ultimate spring office wear. Two looks in one, the sea lily colored cardigan complements the floral skirt and gives off a vibrant but sophisticated look that’s suitable for any day at the office. For a more high-profile meeting or second-round interview, easily remove the cardigan and the Wrinkle-Resistant Poplin Shirt showcases a crisp, sleek appearance that elevates the look from casual office wear to polished power woman.  Our favorite accent? The Pippa Patent Leather Kitten-Heel Pumps give you a little extra height, but are comfortable enough for all-day wear. For a quick switch, pair these heels with pants for a night out or dinner after work.

Dress for Success Tip: Adding a necklace pulls out the floral pattern in this pencil skirt and gives you a chance to add even more charisma to the ensemble.

Once you’ve got the job, this Status Chain-Links Dress, a play on the versatile wrap dress, is wearable for almost any occasion, including your 9-5. The white and black pattern complements any skin tone and three-quarter sleeves (our favorite detail) are the perfect compromise for spring.

We paired it with the Navy Anos Suit jacket from Addie’s first look to show how you can mix and match outfits without compromising style or professionalism. The suit coat breaks up the patterned dress, giving it a little extra edge. Or, top it off with the Botanical Flowers Scarf  for a softer look. Hint: the peach and powder gray-blue tones are a guaranteed mood-booster for spring.

You’re guaranteed to make a statement with this Gladiola-Print Sateen Dress. The A-line, pleated cut flatters any body type and is appropriate for most offices.  For those that may be a little more conservative, simply throw on a shrug  (we recommend the Cameo Pink).

Dress for Success Tip: Pair with the Leather Bucket Bag in Buff, the shade is completely neutral and will work with any spring outfit. Better yet, it’s large enough to fit a portfolio, make-up bag, deodorant, Tide to go and all your other work and interview essentials.

And what can we say? After you’re new wardrobe from Talbots you feel like Jackie O. But seriously, the sunglasses are named Jackie O.

How Do I Make A Better First Impression During Phone Interviews?

Dear DFS,

I’ve been job searching for two months now, and every interview I’ve had has been via telephone. I always prepare before the interview, but somehow, I still end up drawing a blank when I’m asked certain questions. I would consider myself a very social person, but I don’t think I come off well on the phone. Do you have any tips for how to make a better first impression during a phone interview?

Thanks for your help, 

Charlotte, Leeds, UK

Dear Charlotte,

First let me say congratulations on obtaining a telephone interview. To reach this point is an accomplishment! You must have a great CV to have made it this far.

A telephone interview brings a CV to life – giving the pages blood, bones and a personality. And believe it or not, the interviewer can tell a lot about a person just from their voice and energy levels.

However, phone screening is also a time saver for the scrutinizer, especially if there are many applicants. So you do need to be ultra-prepared.

Amazingly, only seven percent of the entire communications model comprises words. That leaves 38 percent for “how you say things” – tone, pitch, emphasis, voice quality etc., and 55 percent for body language – which of course you cannot use. Therefore you need to magnify your verbal skills to make an impact!

Think of the phone interview as good practice – perhaps recording the next one so you can self-listen – maybe with a friend or colleague – and assess the parts you think need improving. I am wondering what the questions are where you say you draw a blank – these are precisely the ones you need to address so that next time you will have a ready answer.

Your primary mission in any interview is to identify the employer’s needs and to positively address them, relating your experience and interest to the specific job. Research both the company, its customers and its competitors.

Here are a few tips which may help:

  • Harness your nervous tension by taking a few deep breaths through your nose and out through your mouth before you begin. We all talk too quickly when nervous.
  • Present yourself in an appropriate way – making the best use of your social skills rather than trying to be right, clever or funny
  • Don’t rush into an answer before thinking about it. Silence can be misconstrued, but do give yourself time to think. You can always add “mmmm” or “ah hah” to break the silence
  • Don’t speak too quickly and try to pause for emphasis
  • Visualise yourself in the interview room, exuding your own social personality
  • Anticipate the employer’s questions about your experience, training, history, expectations and formulate short, positive responses beforehand
  • Develop a list of promotional statements to highlight your strengths. Write them down and rehearse them. In other words, sell yourself.
  • Don’t pretend to know everything, but hopefully you will have researched the company, and can show your knowledge and enthusiasm by asking relevant questions
  • Remember the name of the interviewer and use it
  • The more you can get the interviewer to share their needs, expectations or problems, the better THEY will feel about the interview. People like talking about themselves
  • Be assertive yet courteous, don’t let yourself be intimidated and above all, be honest.

Most hiring decisions are based on intangibles – intuition, like-mindedness, feelings, rather than on qualifications, experience and training. And remember – the hiring manager has much more at stake than you!

I hope these tips help you in your next job interview Charlotte, and that you will indeed acquire the job of your dreams.

Our very best wishes,

Sue Scott-Gould

Board member

Wellington affiliate

New Zealand