Did you have a rough Fashion Month? Imagine covering fashion during the Depression, when people couldn’t even afford to buy clothes. Meet Victoria D. Schmidt, the 94-year-old author and motivational speaker who’s made her career in print journalism, PR, has written novels, and now writes self-help books for people of all ages.
If that’s not enough to sell you on Victoria’s credibility, Meryl Streep was her daughter’s babysitter. We chatted about changes in the workplace for women, and why you shouldn’t waste your time doing something you don’t enjoy.
What has been one of the biggest challenges of your career?
When I was working in publicity, I got pregnant. I hid it as long as I could. Finally when I met with my boss, he said “it looks like you’re pregnant,” and he fired me. When I mention that to people now, they’re shocked. Even men get paternity leave!
Wow, that’s crazy to imagine now. How about one of the most rewarding times?
From the time I was about 3 years old, I always wanted to write. I’ve become a good writer. I don’t feel I’m a great writer, but I’m a good writer and I’ve finally found my voice. My first book is Triumph in Exile: A Novel Based on the Life of Madame de Staël, the Woman Who Challenged Napoleon. She’s a woman more people should know about.
What was fashion coverage like coming off the Depression when you worked at Women’s Day?
It was all very different from what it’s like today. Ready-to-wear clothes were very expensive. It was during World War II and the Depression, so people viewed fashion differently. When I was in grade school, I went to 4-H club and learned to sew. We had a section in the magazine called “Found Money,” about how you would redo clothes that you had. I wrote an article about redoing a fur coat. We produced and sold patterns in the magazine.
Even now fashion coverage can feel ostentatious–did you cover luxury at all?
We did stories on top designers. I did one on Pauline Trigere, who introduced the basic black dress. I did one on Givenchy. I worked on all of them. I have two big volumes of clips.
Do you have advice for women my age working in journalism?
I feel very strongly about this. I feel that those in fashion and fashion journalism should make sure that as you progress in your job, you should always be open and accept the changes, whether you like it or not. They’re there. They have changed so dramatically from when I started to now. Also: Be current all the time. If you feel that it’s something you don’t really enjoy, move on to a different area. Not that I don’t really enjoy fashion, but I found that I enjoyed working in home furnishings more.
Learn more about Victoria on her website.