Job seekers are often told to “dress to impress” — it’s the tenet of a good first impression. Still, for many young women, it’s easier said than done.
“For young women who are financially struggling, one way they feel unprepared is with fashion,” Soledad O’Brien shared with Footwear News. The Emmy Award-winning journalist aims to give ambitious young women who have little support an opportunity to achieve their potential through her Starfish Foundation’s PowHERful Summit, which provides mentorship, financial assistance and more for scholars who are looking to land a corporate job or internship.
Over the summer, the Kate Spade brand donated outfits, handbags and other items to help send the women off for their interviews in style.
“It was so huge for us, and we set up racks in my apartment and the girls were crying, and it was so emotional,” O’Brien recalled of the moment over the summer. “These girls are scholars from challenging, emotional circumstances. They’ve never had anything beautifully designed and gorgeous.
“You know what it’s like to have a nice handbag and to have never had one before — do you know what it’s like to have a Kate Spade outfit when you’ve never had one in your entire life? It’s not a small thing, it’s huge — the way you feel on the first day of an interview.”
O’Brien’s organization is holding its 7th annual PowHERful Summit on Saturday in Los Angeles at Dodgers Stadium, with a day of empowering and inspiring more young women. Part of the program, which holds conferences throughout the country all year long, includes advising them on how to dress the right way when walking through corporate doors.
“We deal with high school and college students looking for a job or internship, and they need something that’ll get them through the summer that’s the close to fashion-forward and on-trend, but not so much that it’s [inappropriate],” she explained.
“I had one of our scholars heading off to an interview at Pfizer — and she looked like a really put together 22-year-old, and absolutely appropriate to walk in the doors of a major corporation,” she added.
O’Brien has plenty of style wisdom to share — which, for her, comes down to simplicity: “I’ve never worked in fashion, so I feel like more of a civilian; I’m just trying to have a great outfit and great shoes that I can walk in.”
Below, she chats with FN about some of her most fashionable moments and more.
Footwear News: What’s in your shoe closet?
Soledad O’Brien: “I wear Stuart Weitzman and Vince Camuto; they have cute shoes and you can walk in them. I think that’s really important for me — something that I can walk in and I don’t have to walk around with Band-Aids on my heels. I want to stride and dance, and still go home in my own shoes.”
FN: Where do you like to shop?
SO: “My girlfriend Deb Koenigsberger has a boutique in Manhattan called Noir et Blanc, and it’s adorable; she brings back a lot of things from Paris. It’s on 25th and Broadway in Chelsea, and it’s not too far from where I live [in New York City]. Her biggest success is getting my husband out of bulky pants and into something that fits him — he was wearing pleats.”
FN: What’s it like at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner?
SO: “They are a complete waste — and I’m not a fan. It’s a big mistake for the media to sort of do that, and it just becomes crazy: People invite celebrities to sit at their table. It’s all so stupid. I went twice and then I refused to go, but I’ve seen everyone swap into flats. My feeling is, if you can’t wear a shoe for a few hours, then don’t wear it at all.”
FN: Is the wardrobe provided to TV reporters or is it their own?
SO: “Only if your contact says it [includes wardrobe]. I’ve gotten a wardrobe budget before, and after I left a show that I anchored, I had 200 brightly colored dresses and sweaters — but it’s a TV wardrobe. I have a niece who went to college, and I packed it up for her. Getting your head around what’s a wardrobe and what’s fashion is important. With TV wardrobe, the color works with the set, for TV — and you don’t have to love it. But it’s not about what I like, because I like sweats, jeans, boots and a long-sleeved T-shirt.”
FN: What’s your favorite shoe memory?
SO: “We were launching [CNN’s] ‘Black in America,’ and part of it was to sit live in Time Square with Steve Harvey, Henry Louis Gates and D.L. Hughley to launch the series. I was in an orange outfit and I loved it, but my best girlfriend said, ‘You are not wearing those scuffed shoes.’ They were cute, but past their time — the kind of shoes you love too hard. So she took the shoes off her feet, and they were Manolos, and she gave them to me; they happened to match my suit. I love a beautiful shoe but I thought nobody would see it, but she said, ‘You’ve got 500 people in Time Square, plus millions on TV.’ “