The Magic Suit

This is a story about how a suit helped one person create a new life. How can a magic suit change your life?

In 2005, everything washed away – even the budding career which I had magically ignited, and the confidence that ignition had created – thanks to Hurricane Katrina. Just 3 years prior I began working in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel as an engineering assistant. As the only female in the department of men often covered in sewage, paint, or grease, the wardrobe bar was not set very high. My daily dress consisted of unpressed pants that didn’t fit too well, a not too sexy flat oxford style-shoe, and some frumpy top depending on the season, which barely matched. I was frumpalicious. But with a tray of brownies or muffins and a smile, the team still accepted me as I was. If you don’t know this about the engineering or maintenance department at a hotel, they are a powerful, all-knowing force within the building. They are a team of superheroes that can close doors, open doors, and prevent raw waste from dripping onto your desk. I may have gotten here by accident – or by favor of a family friend who happened to previously work for the man who hired me – but I was in love with this building, this city, and the opportunity this doorway provided me. 

When I ventured out of the basement into the hotel, it was like leaving black and white television for technicolor. The amber lights in the sparkling chandeliers, golds and burgundys in the carpet, brassy buttons on the doormen, glistening white teeth on our smiling concierge, and giant green olives floating in frosty martini glasses all danced around my head like a chorus of sugarplum fairies. I began to feel brave in this time of my life – after all I was backed by the engineering superheroes. I could walk through any door and speak to any member of our hotel team from our bartenders to our executive committee. At times I even crossed the threshold of the carefully guarded office of Mr. General Manager. His executive assistant was like the gatekeeper to the kingdom and held just as much clout as the entire engineering team. She helped me with many things  – most of which involved knowing everyone’s schedule in case I needed to meet with them, or in some cases wanted to drop something in their in-box when they were not around. The Queen Bee – that was her position. 

After a short time I recognized an opportunity to move into a new role. I was not sure I was qualified, though I knew I had all the qualities needed to learn and be successful in this new space. This was the world of hotel sales. They walked through the hotels like royalty. Wherever they went, people parted to make way, all the while smiling, and accommodating any need possible. Normally I was backstage, making sure rooms were maintained, walls were painted, meeting rooms smelled fresh and the lights were bright. Meanwhile, the royal court pranced through the building with their prospective customers. I wanted to be one of them. In a stroke of confidence I approached the Director of Sales and Marketing in the first of many attempts to convince him to hire me as his office manager. Once I opened that door, each subsequent visit became easier. That was in part because each time I visited I uncovered a reason he might be doubting me as a capable candidate, and during the next meeting would have prepared a viable response to overcome his doubts. 

The post-Katrina renovated lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel, formerly the Fairmont Hotel New Orleans
Image Credit: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/32175340/ns/travel-destination_travel/t/new-orleans-hotel-reopens-years-after-katrina/#.Xg90ey2ZNQI

The most challenging objection I encountered in the meetings leading up to this point was the issue of personal presentation. You see, frumpalicious was NOT going to work for this new front facing role as a member of the royal court. This was perhaps the most terrifying roadblock of all. I was a new mother, and the breadwinner at this time of my life, making around $10 per hour. I lived in a small community east of the city of New Orleans referred to as “the parish.”  If you know anything about this area you know it’s not a booming shopping metropolis and finding appropriate work attire between full time work, part time weekend work, and daycare pick up and drop off was NOT going to be easy. I upped my slacks game, threw in a blouse and even pantyhose and a skirt, and in the blink of an eye I looked like an office professional. Within a month or so I was seated in my little nook directly outside the office of the Director of Sales and Marketing as the new Office Manager. 

“I was in love with this building, this city, and the opportunity this doorway provided me.”

The result of this opportunity was a career that now spans 18 years, starting with one person giving me a chance. Little did I know that these skills of persuasion and overcoming objections would come in handy many more times. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans. I had just started a new job – a promotion to a senior sales position – and this new gig had been cut short by the terrible storm. My home was destroyed along with everything in it. In our haste to evacuate, coloring books and PJ’s seemed more important than my new wardrobe of business attire. After all, we would be back…

You already know how that story ends. We never returned to that house and all my brand new slacks and skirts were ultimately shoveled out of the guts of the soggy frame of our then home on Maureen Lane by a group of volunteers from the Lutheran Church of the Missouri Synod. I will never forget the name of this group of college students spending their spring break among the must, mildew and rot of our homes while we tried to move forward and piece our lives back together. By this time I had decided to take my son to spend some time with family in South Florida. Life had to go on and I needed to find a new job until I figured out what was next. After everything I did to get into the position I had achieved, I was hopeful to get myself into something similar and not backtrack. Polishing my resume and hitting “apply” on the job sites was not going to be sufficient. Eventually I would get an interview – I had hoped – and the Old Navy PJ pants and t shirt I had donned every other day were not going to suffice. 

With the help of my Aunt I set out on an overwhelming feat to get an interview worthy suit with a very, very, very small budget. I have never been a good shopper. I don’t really like spending money and like a lot of women I am not a huge fan of trying clothes on and peeking into that 180 degree mirror in most fitting rooms. The sight of this mall was overwhelming. It smelled expensive and I felt it might be impossible for me to find anything I could afford. As I still do to this day, I began the search on the circular clearance rack, organized by size, in the back corner of a large department store. I flipped the hung suits passing all the weird colors and designs that made it obvious how they found their way to the clearance rack, feeling more discouraged with the screeching slide of each metal hanger. And then I saw it. The cutest skirt suit, black with tiny pale pink dots embroidered in. I am not a fashionista and I don’t know the names for collar styles and button styles and all of that, but this was a cute suit. I was almost afraid to try it on because I liked it so much on the hanger, and it was the only one in this style on the rack. But, almost like a movie scene, as I slid the suit on behind the closed doors of my dressing cubicle, it seemed to confirm perfectly to my body. In the following days as I knocked on doors and dropped perfectly curated resumes into the hands of people who could make impactful decisions about the future of my career, I felt magical. On a pivotal day, I sat in the bistro of a hotel across from the Director of Sales and Marketing, answering questions that would lead to him hiring me for a business development position. From the moment my heels clicked across the lobby, to the final handshake of the interview, I knew that I put everything I had on the table and did so with confidence and poise.  Though I wasn’t sure where this confidence came from I had some clues. It was partly from desperation in knowing I had to support my toddler, partly from the recent lessons learned in getting myself into a similar position just a few years ago, and in great part from this magical suit. 

“From the moment my heels clicked across the lobby, to the final handshake of the interview, I knew that I put everything I had on the table and did so with confidence and poise.”

The suit has kept a space in my closet for the last 15 years. Each time I have worn it I’ve reflected on this story, and the many many other things around this time in my life. Each time I relive the magic this moment brought to me. Now it is time to let the magic suit go, and share this magic with someone else who might need a little supernatural lift in her current situation. What it represents for me is all the people that helped me and my son when we lost everything. It represents the power of believing in yourself. It is a cape of sorts for the superwoman that I felt I became by wearing it. It is a token of celebration and persistence, resilience and facing reality even when there are obstacles and roadblocks in your way. If you need a little magic, or know someone who could use a cape for their next superhero journey, send me an email at sharon@emcowo.com. This suit is a Size 8 made by “Le Suit” it’s fully lined, in great condition – and it comes with MAGIC! Happy New Year – and here is to YOU!

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