ELLE’s series Clothes of Our Lives decodes the sartorial choices made by powerful women, exploring how fashion can be used as a tool for communication. In her own words, Tamara Keith, NPR White House correspondent and host of this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, takes us behind the scenes of the custom gown she had made for D.C.’s biggest night.
In 2020, my family started doing a movie night. My parents, my brother, and my husband and I would watch a movie, and then do a Zoom call afterward to talk about it. Such a pandemic activity. It was not my first time seeing Broadcast News, but for whatever reason we decided to watch it again.
For as long as I remember, I’ve felt a real kinship with Holly Hunter’s character, Jane Craig—I both relate to and resemble her. She’s driven, with this incredibly strong and perhaps indignant sense of what journalism should be. She has a true dedication to journalism ethics. Her character is a TV producer, but I work in radio. Sometimes, we need to get the sound of something. Like the sound of cows mooing or the sound of the door opening. People are always saying, “Oh, let me recreate that for you.” I’m the one who replies, “No, sound is fact and you can’t just recreate it.” If the cows aren’t mooing, the cows aren’t mooing. We can’t make them moo.
Re-watching Broadcast News planted a seed in my mind: I should wear the same dress that Jane wore to the White House Correspondents’ dinner in the movie.
I’m this year’s president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, which means that, for better or worse, it is my dinner. I picked the comedian, I’m writing all of the scripts, and I’m basically the host of the dinner. I told one of my fellow WHCA board members about the idea to wear the Jane Craig dress and she loved it. So after a lot of Googling, I found what I thought might be a similar dress on eBay.
It was really close. But it wasn’t it. It was too small and tea-length, instead of floor-length. The neckline wasn’t quite right. It was from the 1980s, and the fabric had not held up well.
On a whim, I sent a note and a still from the movie to a local wedding dress and evening wear shop called Zoya’s Atelier. They do custom dresses and significant alterations. Amy, who manages the store, was so excited. She said, “Here are three wedding dresses that have a similar neckline. Let’s try them on, let’s figure out the one that’s right, and then we’re going to get it made in the fabric that matches the movie.”
London-based designer Suzanne Neville custom-made the fabric. They used an image from the movie to measure the polka dots and made sure it matched exactly. I didn’t hear anything after that for a really long time. I started to get nervous. But behind the scenes, magic was happening.
My first fitting was on March 29. I’ve had three more since then. We got the bow into the right position, put some extra lining inside to make the waistband more comfortable, and hemmed for length. It’s just so perfect. I can’t get over how close it is to the dress in the movie, and how great it feels.
I start my main speech in the dinner talking about the dress and what the movie did for me when I first saw it as a teenager. It showed me what a career could look like—that there was this place far, far away where news is life and where people take politics and journalism very seriously.
Part of my goal with the dinner and my speech is to convey to the public that we are all just regular people with dreams who have somehow ended up in this big ballroom wearing big ball gowns and tuxedos. The dress represents a dream of a career that, somehow, through hard work and a lot of luck, actually happened.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Rose is a Senior Editor at ELLE overseeing features and projects about women's issues. She is an accomplished and compassionate storyteller and editor who excels in obtaining exclusive interviews and unearthing compelling features.