One writer had to pull together an awards show-worthy look in 24 hours — here's how she did it. 

By Isabel Jones
May 31, 2019 @ 1:45 pm
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

Posing before a bank of eager photographers. The sound of fans hoarsely calling my name barely audible over the din of flashbulbs. Greeting all of my industry friends with effervescent double kisses. All of it has a certain appeal, but then again, I’m not exactly the red carpet type. My footwear of choice is Allbirds and I’m still not quite sure how to apply eyeshadow in a way that doesn’t give the illusion that I’ve recently lost a fist fight or contracted a flesh-eating disease.

So when I was invited to the Peabody Awards by sponsor Mercedes-Benz, a cocktail-attire ceremony held at New York City’s bourgeois event space Cipriani Wall Street with a guest list that included red carpet veterans like Billy Porter and Rita Moreno, I knew I had my work cut out for me.

As you may have gathered, I’m a writer — and not the kind whose last name is Rowling or whose work has inspired an 8-season HBO series — so my formalwear budget isn’t grand. When I need to shop for a particular event, I typically start weeks (months, if possible) in advance. I’m picky and a bargain-hunter by blood (thanks, mom), so I like to weigh my options carefully, for as long as humanly possible. I didn’t have the luxury of time this go around, and thanks to an unexpected recent weight gain, my previous staples were out of the question.

RELATED: People Who Stand on Their Feet All Day Swear By These Viral $79 Sneakers

Forced to quiet the urgings of my inner plan-loving Capricorn, I ended up shopping for my Peabody dress the night before the event. I tried on approximately 12,000 dresses at the sorts of stores that make me feel like I should break out a copy of my bank statement to prove I belong before I realized the answer to my last-minute shopping dilemma was with me all along: Nordstrom Rack

I soon found myself in the familiar annals of discounted formalwear at my outlet of choice, rifling through LBDs on a Friday night. The Rack has endless options, at all different price points, and best of all, they carry one of my favorite designers for major events: Cinq à Sept.

Generally, the brand is not what I would call affordable — the bulk of pieces range in the mid-hundreds — but with that sweet Rack magic, I found a $500 dress marked down to $75. Oh, and you can apparently now buy it at Walmart for $39.99!

Isabel Jones

Cinq à Sept is a great option for formal events because the fabrics tend to be fairly durable and also generally thicker, making the pieces feel structured without being restrictive or painful. They also serve up a lot of classic silhouettes, which even an incredibly picky shopper like me can't deny the style and versatility of. I found my Peabody dress on the first try — I tried on two Cinq à Sept pieces and I actually liked both of them, which is a first for me. 

Here are some of my other personal Cinq à Sept faves from Nordstrom Rack — perfect for a summer wedding, dance, or any other semi-formal occasion:

RELATED: The Brand Behind Summer's Biggest Handbag Just Launched Its First Swimsuit Collection

It wasn’t just my dress that made me feel Peabody-ready, though — it was my purse: a Cult Gaia small ark bamboo handbag, which I also got from Nordstrom (who didn’t sponsor this post, I promise).

I don’t think I’ve ever gotten more compliments on a single item. If you’re going to splurge on a going-out look, focus your capital on standout accessories — they’re what’s ultimately going to pull the outfit together. Cult Gaia’s a great place to start — their pieces are classic without being boring or traditional, plus they’re known to have killer sales at Nordstrom (sorry).


I paired my dress and clutch with a pair of suede Draper James x M. Gemi sandals, which are admittedly on the higher end of the price spectrum, but there are plenty of similar and less expensive styles from other brands.


As for the other typical expenses of a formal evening (hair, nails, etc.), I skipped the salons and opted to paint my own nails and straighten my own hair, indulging in the SK-II face mask I’d been saving for the perfect occasion. I may not have looked like Blake Lively, but for a bright-eyed red carpet rookie, I think I fared OK. I was even comfortable enough to shift my focus from my appearance to the more pressing matters at hand: ahem, the food:

Isabel Jones

RELATED: Flip-Flops Are Back, and This Brand Is Making the Only Pair You Need

And also, you know, the entire reason I was there at all … the awards! I watched writers, creators, and actors from my favorite shows receive Peabody’s for their groundbreaking work (an honor considered the TV and radio equivalent of a Pulitzer). I was sharing a room with Ryan Murphy — like, we were both supposed to be there and subsisting off the same diet of perfectly-cooked red meat (unless he got the salmon).

And after the main event was said and done, FX threw an after-party post-show wherein I sipped cosmos off a balcony while eavesdropping on the cast of Barry. Sometimes, life is good — and an outfit you can feel confident in makes it that much better. 

Isabel Jones