RALEIGH, NC–The 2001 North Carolina High School Teachers Association Awards ceremony, held Saturday at the Raleigh Civic Auditorium, was proclaimed "a fashion nightmare" by style pundits covering the event.
"I haven't seen this much plaid since I was in Edinburgh," said comedian and E! commentator Joan Rivers, standing outside the auditorium. "Forget the fashion police–this event needs a fashion SWAT team."
The three-hour event honored 21 teachers from around the state and featured a performance by the Gastonia High School Swing Choir, as well as a presentation by North Carolina Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Spirits ran high throughout the evening as award recipients collected their plaques and enjoyed an evening of camaraderie with their fellow educators.
"This is our one night of the year to pat ourselves on the back," said Roaring Gap High School history teacher Sherry Spinks, who wore a red polka-dotted dress and brown Hush Puppies to the event. "It's always a fun time for everyone."
Reporters and photographers were stationed outside the auditorium to snap pictures as the nominees arrived in Ford Tauruses and Ford Windstar minivans.
"Frumpy and unflattering were definitely the watchwords for the night," People style editor Steven Cojocaru said. "Outfits ranged from drab, shapeless pantsuits to headache-inducing floral-print frocks. Most shocking, though, was the dearth of name designers: Other than one Liz Claiborne dress from her abysmal '92 career-wear collection, everyone went with complete unknowns."
Added Cojocaru: "These teachers could use a few lessons themselves–in accessorizing."
Rivers, flanked by her daughter Melissa, was even less charitable. Throughout the evening, she dished out critiques of everyone from English Teacher Of The Year Frederick Bowles, whose tweed sportcoat was "about as colorful as Barbara Bush and almost as wrinkled," to 50-Year Service Award recipient Florence Webb, whose gray poly-cotton dress "made her look like a battleship–one on the verge of sinking."
According to Rivers, some of the biggest sartorial sins of the evening were committed by NCHSTA president Bernadette Karcher, 68.
"In that white ruffled collar, Mrs. Karcher was a dead ringer for George Washington," Rivers said. "I cannot tell a lie: That's the worst outfit I've ever seen. Ack!"
Added Rivers: "Apparently, not all teachers have class."
Karcher was not the only target of Rivers' scathing fashion eye. Lenoir High School teacher Sharon Grunwalt, who took home a plaque for her development of a summer-science program for learning-disabled students, was given the thumbs-down upon arriving at the ceremony in an oversized beige sweater.
"Perhaps Mrs. Grunwalt thought the extra-large sweater would camouflage her size-20 backside," Rivers said. "Sorry to tell you, honey, but there's not enough fabric in China to hide that caboose."
"And next time," Melissa chimed in, "try shopping for your jewelry somewhere other than the row of gumball machines at the supermarket."
According to fellow fashion commentator Mr. Blackwell, Social Studies Teacher Of The Year Janice Ranieri was the biggest fashion victim of the evening.
"Ms. Ranieri should have dug a little deeper in her closet, past the hideous maroon stirrup pants and oh-so-'80s shaker sweater," Blackwell said. "And, although some women can pull off the no-makeup look, Ms. Ranieri simply does not have the classic good looks required. Ms. Ranieri, I sentence you to six weeks of fashion detention."
In her acceptance speech, Ranieri dedicated her award to "all the wonderful students and faculty members of Greensboro South High School," where, in addition to teaching, she serves on the scholarship committee, the student-teacher mentorship program, and the standardized-testing goal-setting committee. She made no reference to her critically panned ensemble, which Rivers said "made me wish I was Stevie Wonder for a night."
Ranieri, like most of the evening's winners, was unavailable for comment following the ceremony, reporting that she needed to head directly home "to finish grading papers."
Reflecting on the event, Cojocaru recommended that a five-block radius surrounding the Raleigh Civic Auditorium be closed off and declared a Federal Fashion Disaster Area.
"Talk about your horror shows," Cojocaru said. "I finally understand why the Teacher Of The Year Awards generally aren't televised and receive no attention from the media at all."