Who are you?
You might say that I’m an elder stateswoman at nearly 83. Throughout my career in the public and private sectors, I’ve blazed a few trails as an advocate for children’s education and also as an animal rights activist. I’ve written books, taught and advised thousands of children, and sat on the boards of Fortune 500 public companies as well as national and local non-profit organizations. I love a good adventure and have been able to see most of the world, including many major cities and a few out in the middle of nowhere spots like Kilimanjaro and Bhutan. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with all sorts of extraordinary people, places, and things and enjoyed every last minute of it. Every day has been an opportunity to see and do something great, and I always anticipate what tomorrow might hold with enthusiasm and curiosity.
What do you look like?
I’d probably be described as medium height (I’m five foot four) and I’m about a size 6. My heritage is German/Welsh, so I have light skin, blue eyes, and brownish hair (before it turned like everyone’s does—these days, I’m a blonde). I’m definitely fit for my age and do all sorts of activities to stay in shape, all of which I love, from yoga to hiking to biking to walking to good old working out in the gym. Of all the activities that I do to stay in shape, yoga has been my favorite passion and pastime for decades. I credit the practice with feeling great and not getting shorter over time. People often remark on my strong posture and presence, which I think stems from how committed I am to yoga and staying active.
What do you consider to be your personal style?
If I had to describe my look, I’d say it’s “understated, comfortable, classic.” For the most part, I care more about how I feel than how I look, but I aim to achieve a combination of pieces and a style that marries form and function. This might sound crazy, but I hardly look in the mirror before I head out the door. I rarely think about what I’m going to wear, even for a big event, until I’m standing in my closet before I get into the shower. Maybe that’s because I’ve been around for a while and just know myself and what works and what doesn’t. Because I prioritize how things feel on me (i.e., comfort), I tend to favor pieces that are soft and cuddly. I have a fetish for fabrics and textiles…I love them so much and seek out stores that feature unique offerings wherever I travel (particularly an amazing fabric store in downtown San Francisco). I could spend hours and get lost in those places!
Most important to me is feeling confident and connecting with people—that’s my thing. I have an extroverted personality that shows through my demeanor. I love people and enjoy getting to know everybody. I don’t mind being the only woman in the room and I am comfortable with a wide range of people, regardless of where they’re from or their background. I pride myself on being able to make connections with everyone—maybe it’s because I’m comfortable in my own skin and my own clothes. As a result, I’m able to carry myself with confidence, forging connections with people and having them feel comfortable with me in return. This approach has always enabled me to get people to be candid with me, opening up their personal and private goals and dreams in a way they may not with others. I love when this happens and it energizes me. My life is full because of all the amazing interactions I’ve enjoyed over the years.
Having spent many a day in boardrooms with probably an unusual level of situational awareness (for better or worse), I’ve been surprised by the natural state of most faces…they’re all (or almost all) frowning! I think this is a huge shame because your mood, your face, the way you engage with the world has the opportunity to change everything and there’s massive power in that. I relish the opportunity and, frankly, obligation to make my world a better place. I believe in the power of small leadership—impacting those in your immediate world, your local community, and the people you engage with every day—as well as big leadership (if you have the opportunity to be a socio-political public figure and have a role in larger organizations).
So, my point is that I smile a lot. One of the life dynamics I relish the most is the cause and effect of smiling and having a positive outlook on life and treating people with warmth and respect. Small, simple, subtle acts are powerful. Over and over, I see what seems like a trivial gesture change the days, weeks, months, and lives of people. I’m keenly aware of how my actions and mood can change the way people feel—about themselves and those around them. I’m focused on how simple acts of kindness are infectious and can have a magical impact on others. People are enduring so much adversity and challenge and I have the ability to impact that in all sorts of ways, from small gestures to bigger ones.
What’s your special “thing,” your go-to look?
I love dresses! I love casual clothes! I love suits! I love coats! I love yoga gear! I love shoes! I love great bags!
For professional meetings, I usually wear dresses, skirt suits, or trousers. In terms of color, I almost always wear conservative black or navy blue. I must have twenty-five pairs of black pants! For everyday days, I typically don black trousers and a nice top, and particularly love capes, wrap sweaters, and scarves because they’re flexible and beautiful. If I’m not in pants, you’ll probably find me in some sort of tunic dress with tights and boots. I’m always in motion and these kinds of pieces move with me.
I adore coats and think they can really make the outfit. I believe they’re so key to finishing an outfit that I might bring several on a trip—i.e., if I go on a trip for four days, I might take four scarves and coats so I have one for every day. They’re such a great way to add touches of fun.
Last but not least, I have a special love for pieces that are culturally different from my background. I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the world and everywhere I go, I pick up something special along the way. Some of my favorite things in my closet are jackets made out of quilts from India, long coats from Japan, scarves from China, jewelry from Africa, and dresses from Russia.
There really is so much fun in all of it, particularly if you’re able to find things that make you feel comfortable, confident, and ultimately enable you to do exactly what you want to do in that moment. Clothes should be purpose-built for the occasion, the moment, the audience, the activity, so that’s my primary objective every time I get dressed. It’s important to think about who you are and what you want to be and do, considering how what you’re wearing and the way you carry yourself enables you to visually demonstrate your essence.
I’ve been around long enough that I have a good sense of myself, where I’m going, and what works best on me—it doesn’t get better than that! As a result, I’m willing to take risks in clothing that other women might not and I have fun with that, while I also try to dress to fit into the environment that I’m in. That’s a key factor of why people feel comfortable around me.
What do you avoid? What’s your fashion kryptonite?
I have a long, thin neck, so I wear things that cover, such as scarves. Also, I avoid showing too much skin to remain professional and have people focus on my “being” and my overall presence and what I’m saying and doing instead of being distracted by something that’s not quite right. I usually wear things that are fitted and shaped like my body vs. flowing things that might overwhelm me.
What’s the violation you see other professional women make the most?
The biggest mistake is not judging your audience. Often women choose clothes that don’t accurately reflect who they are and what they want to achieve. Appropriateness of dress is essential. It’s very connected to personality and how you act, so it’s important to connect those things in a way that makes sense. You have to be comfortable in your own skin and you need to be comfortable in your own clothing. It all comes from within, from the inside out.
Those who are the best dressed are those who are understated. Sometimes, people’s clothes wear them. They’re overcome by their clothes, and they obscure, distract, and compromise who they are. Avoid trying too hard to use your clothes to bring yourself into the spotlight. Ensure they tell your story. Dress in a way that fits who you are. And regardless of your style, I always think simple is better.
What do you admire when you see it?
While I don’t care about clothes too much, I do have fun with them and think it’s great when others do as well. I love discovering unique pieces that are a bit different but not kooky, that bring together form and function. There was a time that I really loved to sew and made most of what I wore. Sewing gave me an appreciation for warm and elegant fabrics. Handmade things are important to me. I fall in love with pieces that have a story, that were made with love, that are essentially a piece of art. When I travel, I try to buy something interesting, particularly costumes. I have TONS of them in my closet. Because I love animals, you’ll see them in many of my pieces in one way or another, including dog hairs on my clothes.
What are your tips for women over time?
Appropriate is key, particularly in professional settings. I think it’s good to avoid the flamboyant, staying simple and sticking with things that suit your age. I see many women work too hard to look young—their hair, makeup, clothes are “too much” and take away from the graceful part of growing old. Clinging to youth is less important than clinging to good health and having a positive energy that impacts everyone around you and leaves a positive legacy.