Jody Spangler DeFord Gives Us a Sneak Peek of Her 2022 Zoobilation Outfit

Zoobilation’s 2022 theme is “Rockin’ With the Roos,” and Jody Spangler DeFord figured out how to turn a kangaroo-printed quilt square into a black tie masterpiece.
Featured Image quilt square and elements of Jody Spangler DeFord's Zoobilation outfit copy

Jody Spangler DeFord is one of Indianapolis’ most stylish women, hands down. If you’ve been to Zoobilation at The Indianapolis Zoo, you can’t miss her; she’s the woman in the most fantastic, jaw-dropping outfit that perfectly matches the event’s theme. Since Zoobilation is coming up on June 10, we asked DeFord to let us in on what she’s planning to wear this year. The theme is “Rockin’ with the Roos,” and although she can’t reveal her entire ensemble just yet, DeFord gave us some exciting hints of what to expect. Here’s what she said:

woman wearing black long sleeve dress with floral headgear in front of steps
Jody Spangler DeFord’s macaque-themed outfit; photo by Lenny White

“I’ve always maintained that fashion is only what you buy; style is what you do with it. And sometimes style can be created using things that didn’t even start out as fashion, or at least not fashion in the traditional sense. This is especially true when it comes to creating black tie outfits that embody a particular and out of the ordinary theme. Take Zoobilation, for example. The state’s largest black-tie fundraiser, which is attended by more than 4000 people and raises more than $2 million dollars annually to support the Indianapolis Zoo, has a different theme each year that celebrates a new animal experience or exhibit.

Jody Spangler DeFord in a snake themed outfit
Jody Spangler DeFord’s previous snake-themed Zoobilation outfit

“While leopard print gowns are fairly easy to spot (see what I did there?), a black-tie ensemble that includes references to monkeys and kangaroos is a little harder to find off the rack. I take it as a challenge, and a way to really exercise my creativity! The year the event featured macaques? I spray painted little plastic monkeys from a Barrel of Monkeys game brilliant gold to swing from my live tropical headpiece. When snakes were the featured species, I didn’t want to settle for a simple snakeskin print, choosing instead to work with local designer extraordinaire Nikki Blaine to create a jungle green sequin gown with a life-size, three-dimensional reptile curling around my body from head to toe, which was constructed using random things like an old dog blanket, a couple of freebie paint stir sticks from Home Depot, a pool noodle, and zip ties — not that you’d ever know from the finished ensemble.

The “Kangaroo Dreaming” painting that inspired DeFord’s Zoobilation outfit

“This year the theme is “Rockin’ with the Roos” in celebration of the Zoo’s new red kangaroo experience. Some years it takes me a while to settle on the direction I want to go, but this year I knew right away. Fresh out of law school in 1998, I spent a few months in Sydney, Australia working with Aboriginal artists on ways to protect the integrity of traditional Aboriginal art and to guarantee authenticity to buyers. The kangaroo is a common theme in traditional Aboriginal art and one such work, titled “Kangaroo Dreaming” hangs on our living room wall, a gift from one of the artists with whom I worked. That painting was my inspiration. What I did not anticipate, however, was how challenging it would be to bring my vision to life in black tie gown form.

quilt square made of black and orange colors with a kangaroos
Elements of Jody Spangler DeFord’s 2022 Zoobilation outfit

“It turns out there just aren’t a lot of kangaroo-themed fabrics out there that don’t look more like they belong in a nursery than at a gala. I finally ordered a large yet inexpensive quilt square from Australia, designed by an Aboriginal artist, with elements that embodied my vision. It was made of quilting cotton (definitely not evening gown material) and there was only one of them, but I was undaunted.

orange dress with hood and woman with red hair smiling
The original dress for DeFord’s 2022 Zoobilation outfit

“I love to upcycle unworn pieces in my closet (both to save money and as a personal challenge), so I worked with Nikki to completely recut and reuse a vintage 1970s polyester dress that I haven’t worn since 2013 — when it was perfect for a 70s themed event at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The updated burnt orange dress will serve as the base to showcase my favorite elements of the quilt square combined with pieces of burnout lace to create an allover pattern, and disparate fabrics will be tied together with a crystal mesh overlay to give it evening glam and a few additional kangaroo elements to really make the final design pop (or is that hop) on Friday night.

“I’ve also got the “rockin’” part of theme covered with a fun crossbody bag that will also be echoed in my husband’s ensemble. This is my 12th Zoobilation, and every year I see more and more attendees really stepping up their style game and embracing the theme as a way to get into the spirit and add some pizzazz and fun to traditional black tie dressing. I can’t wait to see what rockin’ roo looks this year’s event will bring!”

Stephanie Groves is the Executive Editor of Indy Maven and she’s excited to see what everyone wears to Zoobilation this year.

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