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Fashion Victims

Katie Couric, Jessye Norman, Eileen Fisher: Humiliated! Overdressed! Just too trendy!

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Cinderella isn't looking for a prince anymore. She wants a career -- and that means she needs a suit more than she needs a ball gown. But one part of the story remains the same: Cinderella still needs her fairy godmother.

On March 13, a gaggle of modern fairy godmothers, chaired by Hillary Clinton and including Lauren Hutton, Jessye Norman, Gloria Steinem, Katie Couric, and Eileen Fisher, will gather at the Waldorf-Astoria to host the Grand (Swinging) Masquerade Ball & Auction for Dress for Success, an outfit that provides business clothes for poor women seeking jobs. In a way, the benefactresses are all Cinderellas themselves -- every woman, whatever her wardrobe, has panicked over what to wear to a fateful job rendezvous.

Today host Couric remembers a "humiliating" interview at Grey Advertising. "It was March, it was pouring rain, I had a terrible cold, I couldn't get a cab, and my umbrella had been blown inside-out from the wind," she says. "I had a gray suit on -- wanted to fit in at Grey -- which was soaking wet, and my mascara had run down to my chin." Her waterlogged shoes squeaked when she walked. "When the woman told me she didn't have anything, I started crying."

When diva Jessye Norman flew from Berlin to Milan for her debut at La Scala, her suitcases went on to Bangkok. The temperature in Italy was in the seventies, and Norman had nothing to wear but a wintry German traveling outfit. She arrived at her very first rehearsal in a heavy woolen dress. "After an hour in a non-air-cooled space, I was perspiring beyond reason," she recalls. "The conductor took this to mean that I was in some profound way anxious. No amount of protest convinced him that it was not a question of anxiety but of my wool dress."

Fashion designer Eileen Fisher advises job-hunting women to "be true to who they are" when they dress for the big face-to-face. She once tried to look "ultra-fashion-forward" for an ill-fated job interview, but felt like she was masquerading as someone else in her loud, trendy ensemble.

Even if a woman chooses the right suit, she's not necessarily in the clear. As Today co-host Ann Curry learned, you can't forget the footwear. She once went to work in platform shoes, only to find herself covering a plane crash. "As I climbed over a barbed-wire fence to get to the scene, I realized just how unfortunate my clothing choice was," she says ruefully. "My stockings were ripped, I had blood all over my knees, and the platform shoes were not holding up well at all." Dress for Success would have suggested a pair of sensible Nancy Drew pumps instead.


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