in her shoes

The Community Activist Who Dresses to Celebrate Her Heritage

Rosita Romero wears Tory Burch pumps. Photo: Victoria Stevens

In Her Shoes is a column about what real women wear when they need to get things done.

Back in 1988, Rosita Romero, along with eight other women, founded the Dominican Women’s Development Center in Washington Heights, Manhattan, as a family-based organization supporting gender equality and social justice. Thirty years later the organization remains an active part of the neighborhood, offering a wide array of services including childcare, English language classes, and health-care advocacy. Romero serves as Executive Director, a busy role that involves everything from visiting office sites to meeting with city leadership, to attending fundraising galas on behalf of DWDC.

Growing up in a working-class family in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s capital, Romero developed an early awareness of gender inequality as an inquisitive child who wasn’t afraid to question authority. At the University of San Juan in Puerto Rico, after a philosophy professor noticed how passionately she argued, Romero found herself joining a women’s advocacy organization called Mujer Integrate Ahora — her first taste of grassroots activism.

Romero moved to New York City in 1979 and went on to get a master’s degree in social work at Hunter College. After settling in Washington Heights, she decided to devote herself to serving the community and co-founded the DWDC with eight other Dominican women activists. Everything was a trial by fire — Romero quickly learned how to write grant proposals to help fund projects, act as her own publicist, and negotiate contracts. Today she says the experience taught her to be nimble, scrappy, and capitalize on opportunities. The Cut caught up with Romero in her office, where the walls are covered in the organization’s many awards. She talked about how she dresses for both comfort and style, celebrates her heritage every day, and why she’ll always make time for lunch.

Rosita Romero wears Tory Burch pumps. Photo: Victoria Stevens

On her daily shoes: It depends on the season — in the winter I’m in flat dress shoes or boots to protect my feet from the cold. Plus I want to be able to keep a good back posture. After a certain age health is more important than fashion! In the summer I love open sandals — both the flat and low-heeled kind.

On lessons from her mom: I love pumps for dressy occasions, particularly in black. My mother always said that black shoes and purses go with everything, so I still use that as a guideline for dressing. I love wearing heels, but nothing above two inches. I think they just make everything look more elegant. That said, I do keep a pair of flat sandals in the office for after big meetings. I also bring sneakers on days when I do a lot of walking between office sites.

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On Mondays: I actually like to dress down on Mondays! For me that means slacks with a nice blouse and flat shoes or sandals.

On dressing for formal events: My job requires that I go out to galas, dinners, and receptions. I look for dresses or trousers that accentuate my figure and show the sexy aspect of my personality without showing too much skin.

On her hair: I’ve had my hair in dreadlocks for 27 years. I like to describe my style as Afro-centric, simple, and elegant. It’s my way of reaffirming and showing pride in my heritage.

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On her average day: I have a lot of meetings! Sometimes it’s with staff that I supervise, other times it’s with other organizations we work with. The first thing that I do every day when I come into my office is check my email with a cup of herbal tea. I’m usually really busy reviewing work and making phone calls but I always take my lunch hour between 12–1 p.m. It’s important to take time out for yourself!

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The Community Activist Who Dresses to Celebrate Her Heritage