When I arrived last night at Fashion Meets Finance — a meet 'n' greet for fashion worker bees and bankers — a woman from Merill Lynch was being unceremoniously turned away at the door for violating the event's gender code.
"This is a private event for the women of fashion and the men of finance," explained the woman with the clipboard. "And you are a woman who works in finance!" The rejected banker — who, though this should hardly matter, was young, attractive, and wearing a nice cocktail dress such as would have suited the Fashion Meets Finance crowd — stepped away from the velvet rope crestfallen.
I walked right in, even though I had no cocktail dress, and was not even wearing heels, because I am a woman who works in fashion.
The bar was crowded. Then it became more so. When the "tasting hour" designated by the gluten-free vodka sponsor ran out and I asked for a glass of water, the bartender said he could only sell me bottled water for $5. I protested, and he turned to the woman to my right, who had worn a cocktail dress and platform sandals, who desired a vodka cranberry. But while he was filling her glass with ice, he waved his gun over my empty tumbler and pressed 'water.' The noisy, tacky, tiki-themed environs of this particular East Midtown bar motivate one to appreciate even the smallest of mercies.
There's really no reason for me to go to such a thing as Fashion Meets Finance. I don't need to "meet" anyone, and even if I did, I have always specialized in dating men who earn in the multiple thousands of dollars. I'm sure, if the need arose, I would fall for another one of those in a trice. This assortment of Windsor knots and Harvard degrees and clicking high heels is not my crowd. I suppose I wanted to know for sure that Fashion Meets Finance — tagline: "Ladies, you don't need to worry that the cute guy at the bar works in advertising!" — actually exists, because it seems like the kind of thing that is too disappointing, or perhaps too wretched, a statement of human cravenness and of contemporary gender politics to be true. I suppose I was acting in the grand tradition of Jezebels who throw themselves on live New York dating grenades. But mainly, though, I never pass up an opportunity to use a good fake name. My friend who joined me agreed that was the evening's main selling point — she often passes herself off as Ellen Olenska, the population who actually reads Wharton being apparently small and not generally given to standing on street corners with a clipboard and an earpiece, the better to sneer at women with advanced degrees in economics.
As I was departing the mosh pit scene at the bar, a middle aged man with frizzy hair tapped me on the shoulder. "Do you work in fashion? Because i just finished reading an excellent book about the fashion industry. Called The Devil Wears Prada." He went on to explain that he had been to Fashion Meets Finance's several past events — this one was dubbed "The Recession Is Over!" — and always had a good time, because as "an outgoing person," he can always meet other outgoing people. I escaped, but not before he had told me that he had always wanted to go to the country where I grew up, New Zealand, and heartily advised me to see "a wonderful, funny movie about fashion," Brüno.
Then I talked to a Spaniard who worked for UBS but with whom I had difficulty communicating, between my accent and his. "I have heard New Zealand is very beautiful," he cooed, before adding, "maybe I go there some day if I can get the vacation time."
I trudged back to the bar for another surreptitious water. If there was one thing that was surprising about the crowd, it was that it seemed to lack a certain fashionable quality. While one would hardly expect freelance styling assistants for the European Vogues to journey up to E. 50th Street on a Thursday night, the "fashion" representatives all embodied a certain value of "good taste" that true fashion types, in my experience, put little stock in; everyone had on a tasteful dress, tasteful shoes, and small amounts of tasteful jewelry, and while everyone looked very nice, I began to wonder just how many of these people really worked in fashion. Where were the plain white tees styled just so? The Alexander Wang handbags? The ironic 90s floral prints? The scarf stolen from your mother? The vintage? The bar looked as if it had drawn an entirely typical bon-chic-bon-goût Murray Hill crowd and deposited it 10 blocks northward. Some of the men were imposters, too: one admitted to working in — gasp — real estate.
I soon found myself talking to a Jamaican who'd grown up in Crown Heights about that neighborhood's gentrification, and also the gentrification of Harlem and Fort Greene, a topic in which, as a white resident of Harlem, I am somewhat personally invested. "My friend who lives in Harlem called me the other day, said the neighborhood, it's gone," smiled the man. "He passed a white girl on the street at 2 a.m. and he said she didn't even look scared. That's when you know!" I could have pointed out that yesterday on my block seven squad cars chased and arrested a boy who looked to be about 12 years old, and then arrested his 15-year-old brother when the brother tried to calm their screaming mother, but I did not see the good in even indirectly reminding anyone who grew up in Crown Heights of the bad old days. The man started off in business running a tailor shop, so instead we discussed two-button vs. three-button suits, eventually finding common ground in double vents and natural fibers. I told him to Google Ozwald Boateng, and when I asked why he'd come to Fashion Meets Finance, he paused and said, "I guess I just wanted to know this is really there," which sounded wise enough.
Then I met an Indian man who said he'd recently corresponded with a woman from the New Zealand consulate, in the trade delegation, named Georgina, did I happen to know her?
The Countess Olenska and I decided to talk to a young group of clean-cut banker types who seemed especially secure; their ties were wider than anyone else's, they broadcast WASPish entitlement and lacrosse expertise and looked like they probably browsed porn on their daily commutes to Connecticut. Also one of them had just done that thing where he thumped his beer square on a friend/victim's bottle's neck and his beer fizzed all over the place, oh yeah brah. The countess and I walked over, looked at the men, looked at each other, then looked again, more awkwardly, at these laughing golden boys — and immediately I knew that all the liquid eyeliner and velvet ropes and jet planes in the world will not stop and have not stopped me from remaining the person I was in high school. There's a certain kind of popularity that, if you should be so lucky as to experience it at 15 or 16 or 17, deposits in its wake a sense of pure social mastery that never really leaves you. And there's a certain kind of awkwardness, bodily shame, and tongue-tied single-sex-high-school befuddledness in what I still think of as "mixed" social situations that precludes any kind of innate suavity and leaves one always at the mercy of frizzy-haired shoulder-tappers.
So we didn't talk to the boys.
Except, then, somehow one did peel off — tall, Princeton, hedge fund — and he told me about how he grew up in Kentucky, and this year got to see the Derby horses in their stables before the race. His trainer friend informed him that virtually all professional race horses are doped. "They call it 'medicine,'" he explained, "They say, 'This horse needs its medicine.'" I dreamed of cracked-out race horses with enlarged hearts when I fell asleep last night. I don't think I'll be going to Fashion Meets Finance again.
Fashion Meets Finance [FMF]