Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

by Patricia Yarberry Allen

I have a daughter-in-law who is just perfect. She is 5’7 and looks great in clothes.  She is witty and a shameless mimic. And she will be an actuary, when she takes her last exam in May.  She already has some initials after her name, but she gets more after this exam.  She has been studying and taking exams for five years: killer exams that deal with risk evaluation, economic theory, statistics, spread sheets, finance, and dissecting out the hidden from the big ideas that have almost ruined our economy.

These are exams that almost everyone fails periodically.  I do not know how she has survived.

So before she goes to the mat this one last time, I proposed a girl’s-only afternoon shopping adventure in the city.  My son is in law school and they have less than no money with all that debt, so a new spring suit seemed like a great gift to prepare her for the next round of 24/7 studying and working full time.   She suggested that we go to Bloomingdales, since she had read that they were ready to make it possible for shoppers to afford new spring clothes and we both wanted to see the Barbie exhibit.  We started at 2:00 and finished at 7:00!

We began on the fourth floor and found a mature, classic, charming and useful suit. It was navy. You see, actuaries must dress so as not to be noticed.  No pink.  No orange.  No apple green.  I would be a naked actuary.  (Buff is a nice actuary color after all. ) She waxed enthusiastic about how she could wear this suit to a lunch and she could wear it to actuary events.  Because it was navy.

Once we knew we had a safe choice, then we really began to shop.  Two hours on the third floor and I talked her into trying on a great pale pink and beige tweed, that looked Chanel but was “Chanel-not” as some of my catty friends would say. She looked great.  But, then she began the risk-benefit thing.  “I will only wear this to a special lunch or a bridal shower and for Easter.  I could NEVER wear this to work or to an actuary event.”  Not enough value for the money.

I had been thinking that Nanette Lepore would be a good choice for her. I love her clothes and buy her moderately priced, amusing and appropriate suits.  Lepore is certainly herself in mid-life, but she has that sense of fun combined with elegance that allows her to design with a bit of whimsy, often using muted colors but countering with a small flourish in unexpected places.  If she designs for your body shape, you look pounds lighter and years younger without the cougar ick factor.  But — I was having a moment where I could not remember her name.  I described her clothes to various sales associates on the 4th and 3rd floors but no one made the connection.  I had Ines de la Fressange stuck in my forebrain and I could not extract Nanette Lepore.  I knew that Bloomy’s had a big collection of her clothes; I just could not find them.

So we moved down to the second floor where there are lots of interesting clothes, but too many were odd.  We were losing steam at this point having no calories for hours but we were on a mission.  We corrected each other’s choices in the nicest way.  “Too much blue in that green for you, Pat”.  “Do try this one on, sweetie.  Often clothes don’t look good on the hanger but I can really see you in this.”  No crabby behavior from either of us.  And I would normally have been taken to Bellevue after four hours at Bloomies.

Then we stumbled onto the unlabeled Nanette Lepore section of the second floor.  “I found her!” I screamed.  People moved away.  Even in Bloomingdale’s there is some standard of behavior from crazed shoppers that I had just exceeded. But, I had been looking for Nanette for four hours.  I was overjoyed.  And I was right.  Everything looked great on my daughter-in-law.

We found two perfect suits.  One was black tweed with totally awesome details on both the skirt and the jacket.  The skirt was a pencil skirt with black trimming placed just so, inviting the eye to the right places.  The jacket was short, stopping almost above the waist, with the same black trimming vertically down the center.  The other had a trumpet skirt and a jacket that pretended to pass as a normal ladies suit jacket with lapels, until the eye was drawn to the nipped-in waist and amusing back.  But it was beige and that was an acceptable actuary color.  We bought them both but nothing else after our long afternoon of looking for a bargain that would look great.

I knew that I was having an important experience with my daughter-in-law this long afternoon that was both fun and exhausting.  I knew that this shopping expedition was just a metaphor.     I was using shopping to teach my daughter in law how to succeed in a man’s world.

I was passing along secrets about how to subvert toxic work environments by wearing a clever suit that was still in the right actuary color chart, but would allow her to express her wit and to consciously use clothes as a small secret piece of performance art. I was teaching her how to have power.

Throughout our archeological dig at Bloomies we encountered lots of Barbie dolls who were on display to celebrate Barbie’s 50th birthday.  Many were collector’s items safely behind bullet proof glass cases.  There were Barbies dressed by designers whose clothes are carried by Bloomingdales (see here for more like Christian Dior Barbie, left).  Full-sized mannequins were dressed to look like Barbie in some of her signature clothes.  They looked so real I almost spoke to one.

We loved the Barbie dolls. But the best part of the day was that I had an afternoon with my own Barbie.  Actuary Barbie, who knew?

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  • Elizabeth W. March 16, 2009 at 8:32 am

    “But the best part of the day was that I had an afternoon with my own Barbie.”
    I’ve always suspected that my mom had similar thoughts about shopping with me or buying me clothes.
    “Freelance Writer In Search of the perfect Day Job Barbie,” has a slightly different color palette though.