Girl, you are WEARING that dress! “Inspiring Beauty” at the Memorial Art Gallery

Girl, you are WEARING that dress! “Inspiring Beauty” at the Memorial Art Gallery

Memorial Art Gallery, 1/31/16

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.


(left to right) Charlotte Herrick, Janet Lomax and Debora McDell-Hernandez 1/30/16

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.IMG_1691


The Big Wigs (left) Aggy Dune and (right) Mrs. Kasha Davis. One the Big Wigs accurately said in the picture I look like their puppet. [Photo: Laura Nichols] 1/30/16

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!)pimp


two of our favorite “big wigs,” (left) Brighton Town Judge Karen Morris and former Brighton Town Supervisor Sandra Frankel (at center is Athesia, another Brighton party goer) 1/30/16

The next day, I went to the Exhibit opening.


Rianne (left) and Melinda. Melinda is a MAG member who is encouraging Rianne to join! 1/30/16

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.


Corinne Frank (left) and Heather Cooley 1/31/16

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.

As for the one outfit on display basically requiring the wearer to “go commando?” An older gentleman with his wife warned: “Don’t mention THE underwear. Or lack thereof.”IMG_1697

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 did differ from a suggestion made by a younger woman who said you first ascertain how the woman herself feels about the outfit.IMG_1685

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

Talker sweet talks Cheetah Girl. Or was it vice versa.

Emotions recollected in tranquility on University Ave

Art for the People premiers early at the MAG. Five year labor of love comes to fruition for curator Jessica Marten


Shopping for all the women in your life at the La Femme Women’s Expo at Arbor Loft

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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