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Dressing Up My Vote

Usually, when I vote, I dress to scare the other voters standing in line. I want them to look at me and think, “Dear God—she’s got the right to vote?”

But this morning when I thought about casting my vote to elect our next president, I went back to 1982 when I arrived at Wise Carter law firm in Jackson, Mississippi as a new associate. I’d brought with me six pieces of clothing (three bottoms and three tops) that I intended to transform into my wardrobe by mixing and matching. My sister, who’d been living in Jackson while I’d been in North Carolina, wisely advised that Mississippi wasn’t yet ready for a female lawyer wearing pants.

My wardrobe thus cut by a third, I drove to New Orleans (because for 19 years I refused to admit Jackson had clothes worthy of my style), and I bought four new pieces. Two of these were an Armani blouse and an Ann Klein skirt. I did not buy any more clothes for a longggg time.

The blouse remains my go-to top when I want something elegant. The skirt has had the zipper repaired, and if you could see the back, you might notice the hook above the zipper is shot. But it embodies the young female associate who arrived back South naive and determined, unaware of how hard it would be to practice law at that time, ignorant of how much I’d need to ignore or laugh off or argue about or actually act to change. How I would be drawn to help start the Women’s Political Network and spend my free time doing the best I could to give women behind me a leg up. I didn’t know how consistently I would be fighting to prove that whatever you said women couldn’t do—be in private practice, have a full-time practice, make partner, attract clients, be a rainmaker, be a good boss—I’d show you it could be done.

Yeah, I’m so tough. But I cried as the poll worker walked me to the voting booth. When he asked if I was okay, I told him it was the same way I’d felt when I got to vote for President Obama—voting for a woman for president meant so much to me.

In the booth I double-checked everything I did, nervous that somehow I would mess this up.

Then I paused.

I stared in the mirror that reflected the voting room where everyone else was doing democracy too. White folks and Black folk and old people on walkers getting their ass out to vote. Some voting in step with my beliefs. Others voting for the exact opposite reason. America at its best.

Glancing down, I found the “Cast Ballot” button and, thirty-four years after I began this journey, I cast my vote for a young lawyer from Arkansas who rose to the United State Senate and Secretary of State and now stood for the office of President of the United States.

Let freedom ring.

My 1982 lawyer blouse and skirt
My 1982 lawyer blouse and skirt

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Comments (6)

    • I’m proud to say I never wore a navy suit with a red floppy bow tie, the female lawyer outfit of the day. And yes—when, for example, I insisted on hiring a male paralegal to prove you didn’t have to be female to be a paralegal—I caused waves.

  • I suspect you are very tough, Ellen. Being a woman lawyer at a time when there weren’t many in practice meant you were breaking all kinds of new ground. But damn, you looked ever so elegant doing it! I don’t have anything left in my wardrobe from the early eighties but I do have a red linen jacket from 1988 and some boots from 1989 that I still wear.

    Praying for a peaceful election in the land of the free and home of the brave.

    • One of my senior partners who knew my mom from way back told her “That Ellen, she’s tougher than the men.” I don’t know what I think of it now, but at the time, I thought, well, yeah, some of those guys can’t keep their eyes on the prize.
      And thank you, thank you for the clothes compliment! Over the years, I truly worked hard to find what I wanted to wear—suits that didn’t look like they’d cut out a man box and put you in it. What I found were something old ladies called “dinner suits,” which were very feminine tailored suits. Those lasted me until the times they caught up with Mississippi.:)

  • Now I’m curious as to what your “regular” voting attire might be and how it would scare the other voters! 😉

    We’re keeping our fingers crossed up here in Canada, hoping sanity will prevail in your voting down there…and in whatever the outcome.

    • It usually involves patterned tights, something very short, unmatched stripes, and boots. It doesn’t take much in the American South to make folks wonder. 🙂
      Thank you for your best wishes. I’m beginning to be very hopeful myself.

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