First off, I didn’t realize check-in was at 7, not 8:30. It was just the beginning of a series of disasters that led to my living out one of my nightmares: showing up late for ... anything.
I abhor being late. I have recurring nightmares about it, and normally I’m the spy who shows up an hour early and chats up the host, eyeballs everyone coming into the party and snags a decent seat up front. But nothing was working for me the night of Harlem’s Fashion Row’s 10th-anniversary show on Wednesday honoring director Spike Lee, Fashion Bomb Daily founder Claire Sulmers and the Editor of the Year Award recipient, Vogue’s Chioma Nnadi. My unnecessarily elaborate dress broke, so I had to fix it, which took 20 ungodly minutes. My nails broke, so I had to run to a salon to fix them. And it rained, rained, rained and rained.
(It also didn’t help that the email letting me know that I needed to be there by 7 p.m. didn’t show up until the day after the event, at 6:45 a.m. Thursday. I might have wrapped my mind around the day differently if I’d known that I needed to be dressed and out the door, heading to La Marina, where the event was being held, by 6:30 p.m. and not 8.)
But that’s beside the point.
Hello, I’m Danielle Belton, and this is Antisocial, the society-and-events column for people who have no clue what they’re doing and don’t know who anyone is ever.
Let’s drink and be glamorously awkward together!
A little background: For the first 32-odd years of my life, I was a hard-core extrovert. Like, borderline delusional extrovert. (I had no shame and no filter.) Nothing made me happier than making lots of friends, working a room and talking as loudly as possible. I liked being a big fish in a small pond and enjoyed all the perks that came with that. But somewhere—I guess around age 27 to 32—it got harder and harder to be social, thanks to a very crippling social anxiety disorder that gradually developed alongside my ever-present bipolar disorder (which I was diagnosed with in late 2005).
Suddenly, the idea of being tossed into a room of strangers became less and less appealing. Still, I powered through, often fueled by alcohol, pretending to be what I once was. But because I’ve decided that I don’t want to be an alcoholic, I curbed my drinking at events years ago and started barreling into these soirees stone-cold sober.
What a horror.
It’s not that I’m not fun sober. I’m capable of a dry wit. I have the capacity for charm. I’ve been told I have an approachable face and a friendly smile. But I’m more of a mystery box of late, where you literally have no idea what you’re getting on any given day. I could be a social butterfly or have the personality of a block of wood.
Harlem’s Fashion Row’s 10th-anniversary show honoring Spike Lee, among others, had me as an occasionally fun, mostly sober block of wood with broken wings, wandering around the party (which was outdoors underneath some tents during a downpour), often talking to myself and wondering, “Am I overdressed or underdressed?”
Somehow, I managed to be both in a room full of interestingly styled dresses, lacy knee-high boots and lots of vibrant colors, mixed with the army of black-clad stylish New Yorkers who often frequent these sorts of events.
I was neither colorful nor “dressed in all black like The Omen,” because after a year of living in New York City for the second go-round (the first was in 2012, when I was head writer for a short-lived talk show on BET), I still have no clue as to how to dress for these things.
Problem: I’m a full-figured woman. The way I’m shaped, I can’t just throw on black pants, black boots and a chic black top without looking like I still work at Macy’s. (Shoutout to my employer from 2008 to 2009!) I also regularly struggle with walking in heels, still cursed from that time I went on my first newspaper reporting assignment in Bakersfield, Calif., that involved me standing on concrete in stiletto boots, for hours, waiting for the police to pull a submerged car out of a ravine near the old Rockin’ Rodeo.
Unlike Washington, D.C., where I lived off and on for six years, the New York party dress code is more “whatever you think looks good ... in shades of black,” and less “government/corporate dull suit and boring dress with kitten heels” after work. It’s also definitely not Atlanta’s “LOOK AT ME in 10 pounds of makeup” or Miami’s “see and be seen ... while sexy” social scene, either. So I quite honestly never know what to wear.
I debated wearing a Falcon Crest-esque, throwing-champagne-in-someone’s-face-in-the-1980s dark-blue dress with high shoulder pads and my old standbys: various African-print dresses that, depending on what shoes you wear, look either dressed up or dressed down.
Since Harlem’s Fashion Row was both a fashion show and an awards show, I chose to err on the side of “awards show” and dress like a Jackie Collins novel.
I mean, it is what it is. Once you’re there, you can’t exactly go back home and find some ripped jeans, artistically dirty boots and an African-print top and start over.
Harlem’s Fashion Row was founded by Brandice Daniel, a woman who ditched studying premed to immerse herself in the world of fashion. She founded Harlem’s Fashion Row, a platform for multicultural designers, in 2007, leading it through year after year of hot, on-the-rise, ones-to-watch fashion designers of color during New York’s September Fashion Week.
I’d tell you about their fashions, but because I was so late to the show, my view was comically bad.
I mostly watched it, half getting wet, from some bushes.
During the reception afterward, I fared slightly better but ran into the drama of what happens when you go to these sorts of things alone (never again), just hoping you’ll run into a few people you know and meet some new folks down for chatting.
Unfortunately, I barely knew anyone, because my world is media, not fashion. Of the few folks I knew because I’d met them a handful of times—the always glamorous entrepreneur and author Lauren Maillian, style and beauty expert/TV personality Paul Wharton and columnist/syndicated radio star Flo Anthony—it had been so long since I’d seen them that they didn’t recognize me at first.
Or at least that was the case with Flo, with whom I spent most of a trip to Los Angeles for the African American Film Critics Association Awards about six months ago. (I don’t think it helped that I have drastically changed my look—cutting off my trademark long, dark, oft-straightened mane and turning it into a short, blond, bouncy natural cut ... but it could also be that I wasn’t memorable! The woman meets so many people!) For others, like Paul, it had been so long (like six years) since I’d seen them, it felt incredibly awkward to chat them up.
I mean, I did it anyway, and everyone was super nice and chill, but still ...
The people I didn’t chat up were legion, although I did my best to be social, when all I wanted to do was find someone, anyone, I’d met within the last year and had spoken with for more than 15 minutes. I had to settle for sips of wine in between staring at the beautiful people while wondering if the rain would ever stop and whether or not was I doomed to hold a giant bag with an umbrella in it the whole night (I was).
In fact, I ended up with two bags when some woman, tired of holding her swag bag, literally just shoved it upon me as if I were the coat-check girl.
She was nice about it, though.
“Hey, do you want this?”
Because I’m secretly a basic bitch, the only celebs I recognized were the ones from TV shows I watch heavily to escape the dystopian, disaster-filled future we’re presently living in. Namely, Marlo Hampton from Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta (who looked great) and Donshea Hopkins, the kid who played Raina on Power (who also looked great). Both were in black and clearly looked as if they’d done this multiple times before.
I also had the briefest-of-brief conversation with Al Reynolds, one of those folks you know but you have no idea why you know them, who I swore was someone else I knew from D.C. until I was halfway through the conversation in which he actually joked about how awful Washington is. (I actually love the D.C. area—in all its awfulness and beauty—and miss it at times, but that’s neither here nor there.) Anyway, I couldn’t even tell you who I mistakenly thought he was, and I’m sure he’d be horrified to know I thought he was a D.C. person, so let’s keep that between us, shall we?
While the party was all the things I like in a hot New York City party—crowded and fun, with lots of free food and drinks—I knew it was time to go home when one of the waitstaff started hitting on me. I had been worried all night that somehow my short hair had turned me into the invisible woman (I’ve only had one date since I chopped it all off months ago), but what do you know? Random guys with thick accents still think I’m the one.
“Can I take your glass?” he said.
“No, I’m still working on it,” I said.
“Did you have any food? I can bring you some food. I saw you walking around here,” he quickly spat out.
“Oh, that’s cool. I’m good.”
“I’m going to come back with some food for you and get your number,” he mumbled together so fast, I wasn’t even sure what I heard.
“I want to get your number when I come back. Can I get your number?”
Even though the chances were minimal that my outright rejection would not be met with hostility at a fancy cocktail party where dude was supposed to be working, I’d never gone wrong in overestimating the size of a man’s ego when you’re rejecting him.
“No, I’m married,” I said, failing to mention that the marriage was more than 17 years ago and only lasted a year.
He politely bowed out, telling me how great I looked and how “lucky” my nonexistent husband was, and I quickly called it quits, absconding away into the rainy night in a Lyft, where the driver and I indulged our inner basic bitches and talked about Power the whole ride back to midtown.
Got an event in New York City that you want me to attend where I’ll have an existential crisis while I eat all your cheese and crackers, then write about it? Hit me up here!