The hiking boots trimmed in faux pink fur weren’t meant to be worn with rhinestone-zippered sweaters accented in red.

This didn’t exactly come as a surprise to me as I tied the thick laces tight one Wednesday night, seeking to sooth the soles that previously stood on three-inch heels in gravel and maneuvered through an uneven, soggy hillside riddled with briers and burrs long enough to wish for something that would keep me on solid ground.

These shoes stay in my car every winter for occasions such as that night — the times when my schedule says I’m an editor, but the real world may have me spending hours outside a fire, following a lead or trekking through traffic on foot to photograph a crash. There’s usually not time to change into the shoes, but it’s nice to know they’re there.

That particular night was the exception, as I rushed to the scene of the Thorn Street Bridge, only to realize all I could do was wait.

While the big news unfolded under the nearby bridge, the fuzzy boots, my sparkly sweater-and-black-skirt set and I made our way back to the spot the Times staff staked out to wait for the words that would write our stories.

Between the grim discovery of a body, the meticulous nature of investigation, quickly cooling conditions and members of every media outlet in the area, I doubted anyone would have the time to check out the kicks that kept my toes warm and the rest of me upright.

I was wrong.

It wasn’t five minutes before I caught someone staring at the conspicuous winter shoes and making a valiant, but futile, effort to keep from smiling.

Before long, several someones had commented. One liked them; one asked if I was expecting snow, but most just looked at my dress-code departure with slightly amused confusion.

The jokes were all in good fun, particularly considering the people cracking them emerged either soaked from the knees down or wearing waders out of the creek-side scene they had just worked.

But as I thought back on the day, I wondered what it would be like not to possess the tools that create the clothing combinations that say so much about what I do day to day.

I made the choice to relinquish my polished pumps for the fuzzy, funny boots because I already had the job and the rapport that I’ve worked on since getting it.

But, what if I those snow shoes were the only ones I owned when I set out for a job interview, or my suit simply wasn’t suitable for a business meeting?

A friend once told me that a woman’s career hangs in her closet, and if first impressions really are everything, she’s right.

That’s why Women In Search of Empowerment formed, seeking to promote dignity and self-sufficiency among disadvantaged women by providing them with business attire and practical fashion advice.

The non-profit agency aims to enhance appearance in order to increase their confidence and self-esteem. It is the mirror that helps them reflect the professionalism necessary to gain employment, maintain a career and improve the quality of life for themselves and their families.

WISE’s Success in Image offers free business attire to low-income women seeking employment. Referral clients receive a consultation with a fashion pro, and they learn about personal style, makeup application, appropriate attire and interview techniques.

In short, they get a professional wardrobe to help them dress for the job they want and the confidence they need to make it happen. Because the clothing and consultations are free, fund-raising is a top priority.

Saturday night, Oct. 16, WISE and a group of volunteers and sponsors will show off a little of what the organization is all about in hopes of expanding its network of support.

‘Chocolate & Couture’ will indeed showcase ideal attire for confident women, and there are some sweet attractions in store for audience members. During intermission, chocolate confections and wine will flow freely, as long as they last.

The clothing, provided by Bunny’s Suburban Shop, Casablanca, Elizabeth’s Boutique, Lady J’s Boutique and Leslie Ann’s, will outfit volunteer models in casual and snazy looks that help build better lives, beginning with a 7 p.m. reception and fashion show at the Bluefield Arts and Crafts Center.

Tickets for the fund-raising event are $20, and they’ll be available at the door.

I’ll be on the runway that night beside a host of other local women who have found our individual styles, careers and things that make us smile. I’d love to see you in the audience, because community support is one of the things that makes us all stronger.

And, though I’m glad my audience from a few years ago enjoyed their debut, I promise to leave my hiking boots at home — or at least in the car — until the next story breaks.

It just wouldn’t do for them to steal the show.

Tammie Toler is Princeton Times editor and general manager. Contact her at

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