April is the pearlest month day sixteen: On authority of Aunt Myrt, Jackie O and Ann’s Fashion Tarot

Cynthia Bemis Abrams will tell you that Lisa Birnbach’s 1980 The Official Preppy Handbook profoundly influenced her life. So, natch, pearls have long been a part of Cynthia’s mix. But it’s deeper than prep. Deeper, smarter, leadershippier. Here is a guest post.


Cynthia. Pearls implied.

If the rest of an ensemble says you’ve got your act together, pearls will work every time. Decision made. People will think “classy.” Problem solved. In many variations, they’re a staple of my casual, professional and social wardrobe and have never let me down.

Undertaking the enormous project of converting photos and slides to digital files, I’ve had the chance to enjoy a rich look at mid-century Minnesota lifestyle and fashion, complete with cameo appearances of pearls. They contain clues to my fashion DNA, which is really helpful because otherwise the Lutheran women in my family have fallen way short in handing down fashion advice.

My Great Aunt Myrt was a stylish, gentlewoman who was in perpetual motion.

Aunt Myrt. Duluth.

Aunt Myrt.

She is remembered in the family for chatty letters and birthday remembrances and gracious hospitality. She and Uncle Dewey lived in Duluth, where he was a lineman for Arrowhead Electric. Legend has it that Aunt Myrt declined many of my grandmother’s invitations to come visit Minneapolis, as Myrt felt Minneapolis summers were just too hot.

My grandmother Berniece perfected her own Mid-Century Modern look courtesy of her employee discount.


Those were the days when millinery departments served your hat, gloves, scarf and needs. Grandma and a dozen other ladies held down Millinery at Donaldson’s Department Store in downtown Minneapolis. This kitchen knew how to sling pearls.

Donaldson Dept Store Berniece

In my early 30s, wearing a strapless ball gown and sequined jacket, there was only one choice for jewelry. With this picture, I figured out that I can wear pearls.

CBA DRA 2000

There are things I know better now than I did at 30. For example, an important principle of leadership is enabling others to act, which means recognizing another’s strength and leveraging it for the greater good. Plenty of well-heeled women have mused about pearls. Maybe it’s age but I am now to the point where if someone I respect is going to give me good advice, I’ll take it. That’s why I consult Ann, via text photos, from department store fitting rooms from around the world.

ny consult

Coco Chanel: “A woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls.”

Lady Sarah Churchill: “I feel undressed if I don’t have my pearls on. My pearls are my security blanket.”

Grace Kelly: “I favor pearls on screen and in my private life.”

Jackie Kennedy: “Pearls are always appropriate.”

Jackie. 1962.

Jackie. 1962.

Always appropriate, whispers Jackie O.

Always appropriate, Aunt Myrt reassures me with a wink.

Always appropriate, Ann directs, with accessory suggestions, thought-bubbles and encouragement.

Cream leather jacket

Oh the fun we had that day! The day Ann’s Fashion Tarot overhauled Cynthia’s closet.


Cynthia Bemis Abrams is a Bloomington, Minnesota City Council member, a leadership trainer and communications strategist for private clients, and the person who took me to see Stevie Nicks a couple years back at Mystic Lake. Here is a post on Cynthia’s blog, co-written in the afterglow.

Tomorrow: What to wear to an exhibition reception, and what one even is. A public service announcement.



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