Beautiful and brave ...  Sally Obermeder arrives at the 2012 Women Of Style Awards.

Beautiful and brave ... Sally Obermeder at the 2012 Women Of Style Awards. Photo: Getty

Sometimes life surprises you.

As I slipped into my black frock on Tuesday night and headed to InStyle magazines ‘Women Of Style Awards’ I didn't know that I was getting dressed for a night full of life lessons. But I was.

Is pain, challenge and hope the best accessories a woman can have? 

Just hours later I sat transfixed as the lovely Sally Obermeder spoke honestly and passionately to a room that gave her a standing ovation. Sally is a successful television journalist, a new mum and she’s also fighting for her life. Diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer just months before giving birth to her baby daughter Annabelle, she’s still deep in that fight. Everyday.

Miranda Kerr at the 2012 Women Of Style Awards.

Miranda Kerr at the 2012 Women Of Style Awards. Photo: Getty

Sally was dressed in a sunshine yellow cocktail dress, pointy black shoes and earrings that framed a face filled hope and determination. Even with her hair long gone from months of chemotherapy she looked beautiful but more than that brave, strong, magnetic...

Sally talked about style and what the word actually means. What makes a woman stylish? She spoke of how before her diagnosis she thought it meant how much money you spent or what labels was you were wearing. Her illness stripped her of these luxuries and forced her to find a new meaning. She's learned through the hardest, most unfair of circumstance that true style lies in grace - how you manage tragedy, cope with pain and harness your courage.

Sally held up a virtual mirror to the audience. I could see everyone asking themselves – would I be capable of that?

Broadcaster Jessica Rowe continued the conversation speaking about fashion and how clothes can sometimes be a woman's best amour when the going gets tough. She admitted to using clothes as a protection when life had thrown her curve balls. She'd used clothes to steel herself from the outside world until she was ready for the internal battle. I think we all do that sometimes. I know I have. Women are fortunate to have dresses, lipstick, shoes – all the silly frivolous things that allow us to escape, play a character or retreat when we need to protect ourselves from what’s going on in our private worlds.

Getting dressed for Alison Thompson, the winner of the “Charity and Community” category is a ritual few of us will ever properly comprehend. Alison is a humanitarian who was awarded the Order of Australia in 2010, has made a documentary film ('The Third Wave') about her experience volunteering in Sri Lanka after the tsunami and now works in Haiti with children who drink and eat in the sewers of the worst slums in the world. She said that everyday as she gets dressed for work she prays she’ll be granted one more day to help these kids. She also straps a Samurai sword down the back of her dress '... just in case anyone tries to mess' with her.

I couldn’t tell you what Alison looked like or what she was wearing – her eloquence and journey superseded every part of her exterior - and yet, she’s absolutely one of the most stylish, graceful, beautiful women I’ve ever encountered. Ever.

Supermodel Miranda Kerr was also a winner. Recognised in the Beauty Category for the development and success of her organic skincare company Kora. With her mother and grandma by her side she was sincerely overwhelmed to be awarded for achievements beyond her physicality. She never had been. I’d never seen Miranda look more beautiful. A new grace appeared on her face that night, a sparkle that I now realise comes not from success but from gratitude.

As I closed my eyes on an evening filled with learning and with the poster girls for how the world should be swimming in my head, I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps pain, faith, adversity and challenges are the very best accessories a woman can have?

Paula Joye is Editor of www.lifestyled.com.au or you follow her on Twitter and Facebook.