So much in today's world is attacking my feminine mystique.
My sense of safety.
My power center.
Last week was the absolute kicker. It started with disgraced comedian Bill Cosby's sentencing that set off yet another wave of attacks against the #MeToo movement and ended with Christine Blasey Ford's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
And just when I thought perhaps there might some reprieve, leave it to President Trump, who, out of the clear blue sky, on Monday spit this venom at ABC reporter Cecilia Vega for asking a question: "You are not thinking, you never do."
Excuse me, Mr. President? Oh, that's right, you said on Tuesday it's a very, very scary time for young men in America.
This kind of nastiness toward women made me think about the armor I wear, carry, or tote along with me every single day.
Because now more than ever, I feel I must be ready for battle at all times. Clothing, accessories, and beauty regimens — whether out there for the world, like a killer red dress, or hidden just for us, such as taking the time to work in body butter — can gird us against the world.
On the days I need to be fully suited up, it's all about the crisp, white button-up under a black or navy blazer, not much different from the tailored royal blue one Ford paired with a matching sheath last week. Other days, I draw my power more subtly by painting my lips wine or squeezing into Spanx — not because I'm intent on hiding my imperfections, but because I'm free from worrying about them. There are also the mornings when the day's strength comes from inner reflection, like the days I kill it in power yoga. You think I murdered those squats? Try me now.
"I always wear suits," said Evelyn Smalls, president and CEO of the United Bank of Philadelphia. "Blue is my go-to color. Blue is the color of our bank, and to many it signifies trust. That is powerful for me. "
Is this really still a necessary topic of conversation in 2018? Some women, like University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann's publicist, refused to chat with me. I wouldn't ask men these questions, would I?
So I asked a few men. And, as I suspected, most men don't really think about their sartorial armor because, they agreed, power is built into the nature of their everyday suits and ties. Sure, details vary based on the man: the Windsor knot, the shine of a double monk, the Rolex he's wearing (or the one he's not.) But for guys, these are solely about the outward expression of status.
True, women bask in the glory of Gucci, but for most of us, the buck doesn't stop at label worship. In no way am I saying that fashion replaces preparation, either. But for many women, our power lies in how our fashion makes us feel. So what some may see as a seemingly frivolous accessory is as necessary as a talisman or as powerful as vibranium is to Black Panther.
This is why Fearless Restaurants publicist Jaimi Blackburn blows out her back-length blond hair bone-straight on the mornings she's taking care of business. It's also why executive director and founder of the Colored Girls Museum Vashti Dubois reaches for her statement amber necklaces and amethyst rings.
"These make me feel safe," Dubois said. "And for me safety is inextricably connected to my power."
Sandra Clark, vice president of news and civic dialogue at WHYY (who used to be my boss as a managing editor) adds a daily dab of musk on her neck. And she never leaves the house without her lipstick because she feels confident when she's wearing it.
Joy Deibert, senior press officer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, finds herself going for pop colors like purple and red when she gets manicures, because she wields power by talking with her hands. And Anne Fadullon, director of the Planning and Development Cabinet for the City of Philadelphia, clips on her FitBit on the days she's in need of an extra boost.
"It reminds me of my strength, energy, and endurance," Fadullon told me.
For many of Philadelphia's most powerful women, their strength comes from a consistent style. For Smalls, that's tailored suits. And though it's expected that nationally renowned local jeweler Anne Lagos would be a fan of the statement ring — stacked or cocktail — she's wears black-and-white separates every day, sending a take-no-foolishness message, albeit sophisticated.
"It's clean," Lagos said of her commitment to the classy hues. "I feel dynamic and sharp. To me, that's powerful."
Patty Tawadros, founder and CEO of the digital branding design firm Studio X, swears some of her mojo comes from the dainty diamond studs she wears every day. Something about their understated dazzle makes her feel like she's the bomb.
"When I walk into a room, I don't want [men] to think of me as their niece or their daughter," Tawadros said. "I'm not their buddy. I'm here to talk about business. That's something I know from the inside. But my earrings … they remind me."
There is, however, one item that all the women agreed made them feel like Wonder Woman: Heels. When my feet pinch in them, I curse the patriarchy for their very existence, but I must admit there's something about the stature they provide me that gives me an on-top-of-the-world feeling.
This was true whether they were small women, like Marla McDermott, the 5-foot, 3-inch dynamo and president and founder of the women's networking organization the Walnut Club, who says she feels unstoppable in her Sam Edelman red high heels. (The Ted Baker neoprene dresses and Charlotte Tilbury Red Carpet Ruby Red lipstick help, too.)
On the taller side is 5-foot, 9-inch Holly Kinser, a lobbyist known for click-clacking on the State Capitol floor. The three-inch stilettos, she said, help her meet men eye-to-eye. There is no denying her strength in them. Kinser's favorite pair: "Probably my sparkling, purple Christian Louboutins. They are both girly and powerful. And to be girly is to be powerful."