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As I watched the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday night, my attention was constantly diverted by the co-stars of the production. Which is kind of ironic because the real stars were something else!

There were big dogs with cuddle-factors that were off the charts…

Mid-sized models with outsize glamour…

And one Komondor whose irrepressible natty dreads were groomed to turn heads!

Naturally, it took a village to get these pups ready for primetime… with endless standing around…



And some last-minute whisker management.

When all was said and done, a five-year-old affenpinscher named Banana Joe won Best in Show. Westminster judge, Michael Dougherty, apparently had a soft spot for the little fella’ “with the muscle tone of a big dog,” as he put it.

While the runaway crowd pleaser was Swagger, an Old English sheepdog.

 And yet, I could not take my eyes off of the handlers: who ran a sartorial gamut from the sublime…

To the ridiculous.

In an arena where prudence and practicality obviously had no place in the quest for glory, I could not fathom why so many of the handlers had a personal style that could only be described as painfully pragmatic. In fact, the pattern was so pervasive that I started to theorize that perhaps dog breeding and handling attracts a certain demographic… like former nuns or prison matrons. (Having attended Catholic schools from 2nd grade through high school– where the sisters wore civilian clothes that looked a lot like what I saw at Westminster– I feel I can speak on the subject with some authority. As for the matrons, I watched enough bad TV in the 70’s to pontificate on what Big Mama wears in the big house.)

Eventually, it dawned on me that there might be some unspoken rule that penalizes handlers for making an effort to appear attractive to anyone not tethered to a leash. But then this dynamic duo dashed across the screen: blowing my theory to smithereens.

Ditto for Swagger’s handler: who was downright swaggalicious himself, with that bald head and perfectly manicured goatee.

Which is not to say that all the guys were as keen to put their best foot forward.

I hadn’t seen clodhoppers like the ones above since graduating from college– where the-thicker-the-rubber-soles/the-more-tenured-the-professor seemed to be the case on our small campus in New England. And yet, for all the missteps among the menfolk, an apparent competition for Worst in Show by the women was so vigorous that I felt compelled to research Westminster’s dress code. Who knew? Maybe the fairer sex was officially discouraged from dressing in a fashion that might make the most of their feminine charms and prejudice the judges. A quick Internet search revealed that no such rules are stated or implied; and also yielded a video that proves my curiosity about this particular breed of woman is not unprecedented.

It’s anyone’s guess as to how long the combination of ill-fitting, nondescript, knee-length skirts with nude pantyhose and sensible, black flats has been en vogue at the dog show. And why any woman would voluntarily embrace this de facto uniform is a complete mystery to me. Granted, the Women of Westminster (WOW) are not the sportiest specimens to commandeer the floor at Madison Square Garden– all four versions of which have hosted the Westminster dog show for it entire 137 year history– so I wasn’t looking for contestants to bust a move in the latest Lululemon activewear and Addidas trainers. But with Fashion Week taking place just 30 blocks north of the Garden, under the tents at Lincoln Center, I suppose part of me harbored the fantasy that a smattering of aspirational influence might trickle downtown and make the WOW aspire to appear as if they actually gave a damn about how they looked in public.

Boy, was I wrong.

Perhaps, like too many women, the dog handlers reached the wrong conclusion that great style precludes comfort, and vice versa. Or maybe they operate under faulty assumption that a woman’s vanity has no place in the workplace. To which, I say, even if one’s job description includes getting slobbered on, having to kowtow to an animal with more idiosyncrasies than a rock star, or keeping one’s pockets filled with smelly doggie treats– this is no excuse for allowing oneself to go to wrack and ruin. Besides, if you know the lower half of your body is going to appear on TV– why not dress for the inevitable close-ups?

Sturdy, untanned calves featuring oversized paw-print tattoos, for example, might cease to draw unwanted attention if cloaked in a floor-length skirt, or wide-legged trouser. The more voluminous and diaphanous the fabric, the better. And while black is always an elegantly slimming choice, the color should coordinate with that of your dog’s coat to minimize any stray hairs standing out against your garment, as you and Snoopy trip the light fantastic around the ring.

Another easily avoided faux-pas was the prevalence of amorphous, black flats against pale, white skin. It’s worth noting that such pairing are not renown for catapulting any woman into the Fashion Hall of Fame, to my knowledge. And while the need for a shoe that facilitates speed, mobility and comfort at Westminster ought to be paramount; all three goals can be met with a sassy little heel.

Whether a kitten heel like those favored by Michelle Obama (who knows a thing or two about the value of a solid but stylish shoe that can go the distance), or t-strap, or ankle wrap favored by tango dancers (who know a thing or two about turning up the heat when it’s showtime)– both classic silhouettes flatter all leg shapes and sizes. Even the most  moderate heel will elongate the wearer’s leg and make thick ankles appear more slender; while the solid construction ensures comfort for hours on end.

And nothing says footloose and fancy free like a splash of red.

Peep-toe shoes are another great alternative. In which case, pedicures are a must– lest a lady risk losing style points for baring claws that are less polished than those of her pooch. Nudes (as in a flesh-toned shoe) are another surefire way to create the illusion of a longer leg, and a shoe that shimmers under the footlights is a great way for even the most demure handler to pump up the volume and channel her inner-Beyoncé.

Pride in one’s personal appearance notwithstanding, perhaps the most compelling reason for any reluctant showgirl to elevate her game at Westminster might be to uphold dog’s reputation for being man’s best friend. Because after seeing what went down between these top dogs and the women who love them, I have to admit that my only recurring thought was With best friends like these, who the hell needs enemies?!

No doubt, if dogs could talk the ones competing for Best in Show would have said “You’re wearing that when we go out tonight?!,” to their mistresses before prancing into the spotlight. But until that day comes, I think I’ll just stick with my two-legged besties– upon whom I can rely to give me the 411 if I ever lose my fashion sense.

Well, maybe not my actual best friend, Collette. Because when I emailed her the image below and asked what she would say to me if I wore a similar getup on our next girls’ night out, her immediate response was “I would still love you!”

Whereas my sister Dee Dee (who has never been one to pull any punches), when asked the same question, fired back an email response within seconds saying, “I think I would have to borrow one of Maggie Smith’s lines from Downton Abbey: ‘Don’t be so defeatist, Dear.’ 

Harsh, I know…

But that’s what best friends are for!