Every Monday morning, she would greet us, walking fast and out of breath, her soft, Gucci leather carry-on swinging from her shoulder, her long, perfect hair swaying back and forth, her designer outfits perfectly accessorized. As she gracefully moved past us and flashed her “million dollar” smile, we would all take a deep breath in unison and inhale her expensive perfume.
We were fresh out of high school, still carrying the baby fat that once made us cute, and now akwardly settling in as college freshmen in New York City, hanging on to the promise that one day we would be career women.
It was rumored that she would jet in on her older boyfriend’s plane each Monday. She was an ex Ford model (then again, are you ever really an ex Ford model?) who was hired to mold us into confident, well-dressed, women of the world. I wondered if she realized just what a challenge she had in front of her.
We were given an appointment time and one by one, would meet with her for private consultations. Before my first meeting, I was taken aback when the door burst open and Callie, a beautiful blonde student from Texas, dramatically announced to us all in her Southern drawl that she had to call her Daddy immediately to tell him that an allowance increase was necessary, now having to trade in her white mink coat, knee socks and plaid skirts for a whole new business wardrobe.
My stomach churned (as it always did when I was nervous) as I shut the door, smiled faintly and sat across from her. She greeted me and started right in, suggesting make up products that were soon to be introduced (what other undercover information were ex Ford models privy to?) and what styles and colors to wear. She showed me how to pull back my long hair into a bun and suggested that I buy a braid and wrap it around the bun for a more polished look. She stifled a laugh when she tactfully suggested some exercises for me to do and I naively replied “…Do them now?..” Yes, I was her style starved puppet and would have dropped down and “given her 50” in a heartbeat.
One by one, we were all transfixed by her and happily settled into our new existences, leaving telltale signs all-around us. To the dismay of the posh deli owner down the street, we said goodbye to his famous roast beef sandwiches for lunch and instead “feasted” on her favorite brand of yogurt. We all ate with demitasse spoons and cocktail forks (hers were sterling silver), her secret for eating slower. We stayed up late to re polish our nails, so we were perfectly color coordinated the next day. We took extra time to dress and make up. We learned how to walk and carry ourselves properly. We were invited to attend social functions in order to practice the art of small talk and learn how to be a good listener. We were taught the social graces and how important manners were.
As it turned out that finishing school instruction was just as important as our formal education. When do you get the opportunity to just stand there and be constructively critiqued from head to toe? Just as in the military, it was a form of breaking us down and rebuilding us from the bottom up, in order to make us the best we could be.
I still think about her. I wonder if she knew just how important she was to the lives of us young girls. She taught us that if you look the part, you are the part. She transformed us from insecure, plain janes to confident, chic women. She was my first role model and all these years later, after I carefully dress and check my nail polish, I raise my cocktail fork to her and say a silent “thank you” from the bottom of my style conscious heart.