Like many guys, my fashion sense is middling. Adequate but not overwhelming. So, for further guidance, I visited the Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair exhibition at the Memorial Art Gallery. With one simple theme: what are the DOs and DONT’s (for guys) when complimenting a woman’s gown.
As for details of the exhibit, I can do no better than point to Exhibit information from the MAG and a fine in-depth review/discussion by the City‘s Rebeca Rafferty. I’m just here to say you’ll be sure to enjoy the show.First, I went to the Saturday opening night party. Everyone was there and everyone had a ball as the band played on. The MAG wasn’t this happening since way back in the day when the museum hosted single events (which, alas, ended as apparently too many young Rochester professionals couldn’t hold their white wine well and got a little too rowdy in the galleries).
I met volunteers Charlotte Herrick, Janet Lomax and MAG Curator of Engagement Debora McDell-Hernandez who did so much to make the event happen. And the Big Wigs let me on the stage for a cameo. And a shout out goes to Good Day Sir Custom Photo Booth who took complimentary photos (in my case entirely against my will!)
The next day, I went to the Exhibit opening.
Pursuing my line of inquiry, two young women, Corinne Frank and Heather Cooley, suggested the key complimenting principle is to be understated. Happily, the guy need not be an expert in all the nuances of the dress. Doesn’t even have to know the name of the designer. However, make sure you notice she is, in fact, wearing a gown and not a house coat.
As for the proper complimentary adjective, Corrine said “unique.” Unique as a descriptor actually drew mixed responses from other visitors. Some found it praiseworthy, especially with elaborate outfits. But Heather thought “unique” cut both ways — like when your mother says a new hairstyle is “interesting.”
I liked the understated part. So, that means no references to the woman as a sex object? Correct, said Heather. Unless the wearer wants to be seen as sexy. Oh no, it’s back to interesting!
One woman believed more was better when demonstrating fashion knowledge. For example, with such unique gowns, you might hazard, “the front is definitely and purposefully more interesting [here interesting is ok] than the back.” But guys when adopting this approach, be sure you definitely know which side is, in fact, more complex.
Camille Quinn, a Postodctoral Fellow at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said her favorite was a dress emblazoned in the rear with FASHION SCANDAL.
And the correct response? Whatever you DO, DONT: “Tell me what’s written on my butt. I know what it says. And I know you’ve seen what it says.” Not once the entire evening? “Not if you want it to be a late evening.”
And perhaps the best — and pithy — advice. One woman, looking at a dress, pondered for a moment, then offered what she herself says: “Girl, you are WEARING that dress.” Meaning that dress perfectly matches your soul and your body. Got it.
Docent Jane Colangelo made a point repeated by others, saying, “be specific to the woman not to the garment.” And, when doing so, be poetic and lavish. Jane says tell her the red dress that looks like a beautiful bird is expressing “her free and wild and soaring self.”
Jane tended to disagree. The man should be direct and to the point. Express how the dress makes you feel about her as a woman. Adding, of course, any woman who is wearing one of these gowns doesn’t feel insecure at all. Jane cannily advised that — in the long run — her approach would score more points than it might lose.
Also on the MAG
AND ANOTHER FASION ADVENURE