Hulton Archive/George Marks Hulton Archive/George Marks
By Amy Phillips Penn
“You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working;
in just the same way, you learn to love by loving.” — 
Anatole France

 

“I was the only woman with a briefcase, when we got off the train in East Hampton on a Friday. The rest of the briefcases belonged to men,” said Elizabeth.

We are sitting outside in my parents’ East Hampton home on a sultry summer day.

Elizabeth and her husband Roger are about to leave.

They have an ongoing joke.

Whenever they are on their way to a party at my parents’ home, they have a seismic argument: think Long Island volcano wearing Lilly Pulitzer.

They have canceled twice before, so I’m happy to see them arrive, unarmed and unharmed.

They are on their way out.

“I never could understand women who worked,” shivered a houseguest of a guest, as Elizabeth left.

“Why would they want to work?’

Want to work indeed.

My mother ultimately confessed that she was afraid to work. Perhaps that was the case, but she was stuck in a mural of a timepiece where most women of a certain, dare I say, “class,” simply didn’t work.

Think Mad Men.

Betty Draper and a neighbor are mystified, horrified, and curious about a neighbor who’s en route to divorcee land.

“Can you imagine worrying about money at our age?” whispers Betty’s friend. They are in their twenties.

I have always admired Elizabeth. She was absolutely beautiful and dressed impeccably and creatively.

She was not only in the fashion moment; she was the fashion radar of the future.

We both loved dallying in new products. When Dippito Do, a hair gel (don’t you love it?) came out, I tried it in all its pink or green gooeyness.

“You and Elizabeth are the only ones I know who experimented with it,” my mother said. “You both love exploring everything new.”

Beauty products are one thing, but style is another.

When I worked in the fashion world, I  OD’d on the word “style” — second only to “chic.” These were the most overused, unimaginative, exhausted descriptions in and out of fashion.

“Elizabeth really has style,” my mother continued. When Licorice (my poodle) was a puppy, she piddled on Elizabeth’s lap. Elizabeth was wearing a Pucci.

“She was so polite about it,” my mother marveled.

In her early twenties, Elizabeth was a fashion editor at a woman’s magazine. She was emphatic that she didn’t use her parent’s connections to get the job. She moved on to marry, have children, and become a fashion director at New York’s uber/upper department stores. She admits to being fired, rehired, and in between.

Who cared? She always looked beautiful and was dressed to envy.

Jennifer was another friend of my parents. She was married to one of my father’s oldest friends. In time, they divorced, and she married again, to a fascinating, handsome, and extremely successful man, who had started life out in a concentration camp.

Jennifer and I had always liked each other. When she remarried, she invited my parents and me to a celebration party for her and her new love.

The hostess served strawberries, the size of a fantasy in bloom, while Jennifer beamed and hugged her new husband.

Jennifer gave me her clothes from Jax (a boutique that I truly miss, and I don’t miss boutiques). We were the same size.

When I first met Jennifer, she dazzled me with her exotic looks: she was bronze skinned with Biblical black hair which she had done daily at Elizabeth Arden’s. Then she went to work.

Her husband offered her a world of lavish security between his Wall Street job, and homes on Park Avenue and East Hampton.

Jennifer went to work as a director of one of the more innovative modern dance companies, and I do mean “work.”

When she remarried, she and her husband moved to Paris, where she worked to create an exceptional cultural center in the arts.

When I was young, I never thought that I would have to work.

It was implicit that I might work for a while, get married, and you know the rest.

There were many times when working was a necessity. I’ve had jobs that I’ve loved, and jobs that I hated, and we know which is better.

I applaud my lady mentors who have given me the joy, the fortitude and their imagined company as I navigate my journey into the world of a professional woman.

Are these their real names? Sticks and stones and all that, but the stories are real, indeed.

 

“I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career.” — Gloria Steinem

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