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If This Dress Could Talk

My Best Self in My Black Dress

I needed the perfect dress for the speech I was about to give at the Hollywood Rotary Club. In the mid 1980’s I was invited to be one of the first woman to join the all male Rotary Club, so my dress had to be just right. I made one last stop in the Robinsons Women’s Department. There on the rack was my dress, tailored and elegant: A black Santana knit with long, fitted sleeves, V-neck with a nipped waist and straight skirt hemmed right above the knees.

In the dressing room I looked in the mirror – perfect. “The price was way over my budget,” but it’s a St John knit, “I said to myself, “and you could buy it on credit and it will last a life-time.” And it has. So my dress came home with me to be worn the next evening.

The evening was magic, starting with the corsage, the perfect compliment to this elegant dress. I made the best speech about my life that night and felt a nudge to keep speaking and telling my story to encourage other Rotary Clubs to invite women to join. I felt my story was well received and the compliments afterwards proved to me that I had indeed not only stumbled upon the right dress but also opened the door to my speaking career.

Little did I know this dress would soon become my symbol, a reminder, like a flag is to many. It would be with me through the most exciting times of my life, my ‘little black’ signature dress, my power dress, my confidence dress whether I was keynoting to corporate conventions or at the University to the graduating class.

I’ve worn it everywhere on planes and trains, in Paris meeting with the artist Paul Jenkins, and in my Santa Barbara and Ventura Public Relations offices, even at a conference with Ted Turner, at the State of the World, in San Francisco.

I wore it on the plane to Costa Rica to interview Dr. Robert Muller, the co-founder and Chancelor of the University for Peace and former UN Assistant Secretary General, the man who would become my husband. I was wearing that dress when I met him and 3 years later wore it at our New York wedding and to the United Nations to be blessed by Sri Chinmoy.

Yes, we fell in love in that dress and as a friend said when he saw our initial photo together, “I’m sure that’s what first attracted Robert to you, you were elegant in your black dress.”

If this dress could talk. Many photographs captured much of these magic moments. My hair style changed as did my size (thank God knit stretches), but not my smile and happiness in my black dress.

When I wear it, I am connected to my best self. And if I forget, I take out the dress and put it on again, reminding me to be the best I can be. And it lives on today, a little faded and patched but still wearable.

A friend told me black is the color of all the rainbows mixed together. Life is a series of rainbows that sometimes turn black. My little black dress has now become my funeral dress.

Seventeen years later, I wore it to my late husband’s celebration of life. How fitting, how perfect, the dress I wore when we first said hello now was the same one to say Good-bye. My life with the dress goes on. As the president of the United Nations Association in Santa Barbara, I recently orchestrated the World Premiere of the documentary film FEMME, Women Healing the World. I proudly wore the same dress that took me to the United Nations and has supported and inspired me all these years.

We all need something to bring out our best. For me, it was my perfect black dress. 

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