On Style: Charlotte leader Jill Dinwiddie talks about ‘prissy,’ ‘conservative’ and letting one thing lead to another

Jill Dinwiddie: jacket by Lafayette 148, pants by Piazza Sempione and shoes by Stuart Weitzman.
Jill Dinwiddie: jacket by Lafayette 148, pants by Piazza Sempione and shoes by Stuart Weitzman.

Detroit native Jill Dinwiddie spent three months as an exchange student in Turkey when she was 16 years old. “It opened my eyes to the world,” she says. Dinwiddie’s career spans teaching kindergarten at a U.S. Defense Department School in Germany to director of the International Center of UNC Chapel Hill to deputy finance director for Dianne Feinstein’s Senate campaign. She just finished two years as board chair of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, which under her leadership grew to a $20 million organization operating in four states. Dinwiddie is a feminist and a political activist who advocates for reproductive health care and the prevention of domestic violence. This year she celebrates her 75th birthday, and her 25th year of marriage to Bernie Hargadon.

Q. What’s something you remember from your childhood closet?

A. I have a picture of myself in a very prissy dress. I’m posing with my sister and my two grandmothers. It is the only picture I have of both my grandmothers.

Q. Did your parents affect your style?

A. The emphasis from my mother was to always look nice, because you might only have a chance to meet someone once, and they will judge you by your looks. She was very interested in appearance. As a result, I think I have inherited that.

Q. What sort of uniform did you wear as a young professional?

A. I have a picture from when I was working in Chapel Hill; I have on a red linen short jacket, and a black pencil skirt and heels.

Q. Did you wear suits?

A. No, I wore jackets and skirts. Universities tend to be more informal than corporations. In those days there weren’t that many women in visible roles. The school attorney, Susan Ehringhaus, and I were about it. There were no women deans, or women department heads in those days. So we were pretty conservative in how we dressed.

Q. What does style mean to you?

A. Style means how a person presents herself. It’s what she stands for, what her values are, how she thinks of herself in relationship to her environment. There are people whose style is presented in the clothes that they wear. Sometimes it is flashy and attracts attention. Sometimes it is disheveled and attracts attention.

Q. How did your style evolve throughout your career?

A. I’m more bold now. I consider myself to be a bold leader. I am willing to take risks in the roles that I’m in, that maybe I wasn’t willing to do when I was younger.

Q. Does your sense of style help you do your job?

A. The work that I do is not corporate work. It is focused on assisting and improving the lives of women and girls. Planned Parenthood is an organization that is always under attack, and at cross purposes with a significant part of the population, so I have to be a bold leader to lead this organization. The same is true with the domestic violence work that I did.

Q. What piece of clothing was a game changer for you?

A. An Etro dress that was kind of low cut, a beautiful, colorful silk print. I bought it to wear to something at the Mint Museum. I had never worn a low cut dress in public. It was a game changer because I got so many compliments.

Q. What thing do you wear every day?

A. I wear my wedding ring, and a little gold chain with a diamond hanging on it.

Q. Do you have favorite designers?

A. I love Etro dresses. The fabrics are so beautiful and unique and colorful. The pants I like best are Piazza Sempione. I like Armani jackets. They fit me perfectly.

Q. Do you wear a lot of designer clothes?

A. I limit the number of pieces I have, and try to combine them with less expensive things, which I think is the trick to developing your own style. I have a black and white blouse that I bought off the rack at Macy’s and I wear it with my Armani jacket.

Q. What are two staples in your wardrobe?

A. A black Armani pants suit and a black Akris dress.

Q. Describe your look in three words.

A. Tailored, neat, interesting.

Q. Tell me something odd in your purse.

A. My key ring with a fur ball on the end of it. I decided it was the only way I can easily find my keys in my purse.

Q. Where do you buy jewelry?

A. This is a Clara Williams necklace that you can wear long or short. It is carried at Donald Haack Diamonds. They can open up a strand of pearls and put a magnetic clasp connector on them so you can add a centerpiece and change the look. You can add variety without spending a lot of money. I have a few pieces from David Yurman, mostly gifts from my husband.

Q. Do you always wear the same watch?

A. I have two watches. One I wear around during the day, and this one, which is a Baume & Mercier, which I’ve had for a long time.

Q. What are your essential beauty products?

A. Bobbi Brown moisturizer with color. Chanel eye brow pencil that has a brush on the end of it. I wear Chanel lipstick because I like the texture of it.

Q. What’s your biggest shopping challenge?

A. Keeping within my budget.

Q. What wouldn’t you be caught dead wearing?

A. Short shorts.

Q. What can you not believe you once wore?

A. A pink outfit that was a jacket with shorts to a wine stomping party.

Q. Is there a particular artist to whom you are drawn?

A. Carl Plansky. He uses a beautiful palette of colors and you can’t say that he has one particular style. I also like Stephanie Neely’s flowers. She is from Charlotte.

Q. What’s your favorite meal to cook?

A. I like to cook a recipe called Chicken Country Captain, which is in the Fearrington House Cookbook. Jenny Fitch was a good friend of mine, she and her husband R.B. started the Fearrington Village. She died of breast cancer. When I make it I think of her.

Q. What music do you listen to?

A. Classical music when I work. But I also like David Bowie and Adele.

Q. What vacation spot could you return to again and again?

A. I can always go back to northern California. I love the Galapagos Islands. I love Tuscany, everything about it.

Q. Where haven’t you been that is on your list?

A. Scotland, which is where my ancestors are from.

Q. What inspires you?

A. Flowers. Their beauty, the meanings that they have in different cultures, the comfort they bring.

Q. What’s your favorite?

A. Tulips.

Q. What advice can you give to women?

A. Find a style that speaks to you and tells other people who you are.

Q. How did you get involved in politics?

A. I was living in California and watched the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings and was very upset by how the all-white male judiciary committee treated Anita Hill. I had an epiphany to help more women get elected to office.

Q. What’s a great piece of advice you’ve received?

A. It’s from Madeleine Albright. In life, one thing leads to another. That’s how her life played out, and that’s how my life played out.