[Note: this is a somewhat rehabbed post from my “other blog,” which I am in the process of dismantling, since I no longer need a place to write about things other than food. All apologies if you’ve “heard this one before…”].
I’ve been watching a lot of things on TV that have made me think about my clothes, past and present. (Before I tell you what I was watching I must say, in my defense, that since I have actually read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in Middle English, I am allowed to watch whatever garbage I want to watch on TV, particularly when I am not in a very splendid mood).
First I watched “Gossip Girls,” which I never get to see any more because it’s on opposite “Two and a Half Men,” and I’m outvoted. It is the perfect genre of mindless, visually appealing, meaningless dreck with excellent music that I love. (Have I mentioned that I am a big fan of “The O.C.?”) During this turgid drama, a mother remarked to her daughter that she should wear a certain dress to a fund-raiser because “it was the thinnest and prettiest she would ever be.” Later, I watched “The Devil Wears Prada” which. as you may know, is all about fashion and clothes and the relationship between who we are and who we appear to be based on our fashion choices.
So I was thinking about the clothes and shoes and bags that, over the years, have been significant in my life. Here are the things I remember, and why.
- The brown corduroy jumper with a purple satin heart patch pocket which I wore over a purple turtleneck and purple tights for my fourth grade picture. I was quite pleased with all of the colors, and it was comfortable.
- The forest green ensemble with which I started the 6th grade. This collection included a cabled turtleneck, stretchy Levi bell-bottoms (not corduroys), a green tweedy skirt and tan Earth Shoes. Oh, and a necklace with a white enamel seagull like Jonathan Livingston. Everything came from the Jacobson’s “Miss J Shoppe” and I was dying to wear it all right away. It was too hot for wool, and I spent my first day of middle school sweating, red-faced and itching. I will say, though, that forest green is always a good color for me.
- The Famolare shoes that had thick, rubber soles with waves on the bottoms. I wanted them desperately (mine were like Mary Janes on top) and I loved them with a passion all through middle school.
- The leather jacket from high school. It was very 70s chic; tan, belted, mid-thigh. My hair wouldn’t feather and I didn’t look good in jeans with Hiney-Binders, but my leather coat smelled like a million bucks (especially mixed with a little Jovan Musk) and I looked like, maybe, one of Charlie’s dumpier Angels.
- The Gunne Sax dresses. I had two; one was a long dress which I wore to play my senior recital, and the other was shorter, but still long-ish and full. Both involved the button-down-the-front bodice, the scooped neckline trimmed with lace, and the lace up bodice in the back. The shorter dress had a vest to match. I felt curvy, and pretty and always on top of my game in those dresses. I got my first kiss in the short one and my worst kiss in the long one.
- The terrible dress which nevertheless (I think) looked lovely on me, which I used to wear at my first college, in Boston. It came from Lord & Taylor, and involved a burgundy slip and a floaty, patterned over-dress. I wore it with burgundy T-straps (Van Eli, I think, from Pappagallo) to concerts at Symphony Hall, and for holiday gatherings. I really shouldn’t have.
- The black Katherine Conover dress, from my second, more Bohemian college experience. It was a perfect shape for me: tight (and a bit bosom reducing) through the bodice, sleeveless, and full from the waist down. It was middle calf-length, and black cotton. For three springs I wore that dress with black flats and (usually) a vintage black beaded cardigan from a thrift store in Oberlin. If I could replicate the outfit right now, I’d do it. I’d buy 4 of them, and rotate.
- Dead Uncle Dave’s overcoat, which I also wore during my Bohemian years. Dead Uncle Dave had given it to my father at some point, and since my father was about a foot taller than Uncle Dave, it was not, shall we say, a “pearl of great price” around my house. I co-opted the big, salt and pepper tweed thing, rolled up the sleeves and wore it for years with my uber-80s (more CBGB than Valley Girl) jeans and flat, black ankle boots.
- The Banana Republic Skirt. When Banana Republic was still novel (before they came fundamentally indistinguishable from J. Crew and Ann Taylor), and they had those nifty, narrative catalogues (kind of like the old Peterman catalogues) they offered a long, full, tobacco-colored skirt that promised adventure, romance and a little Isak Dinesen action if you were lucky. I bit, I bought, and for years I wore that skirt with cropped tops and boots, feeling all the while as if something wonderful might happen. Sometimes, it did.
- The Suit of My Dreams. In law school, it was often necessary to wear a suit – for moot court, for interviews, and for legal clinics which involved working in the court system. In my second year of law school, I purchased from Filene’s a beautiful suit that was flattering, unusual enough to make me feel un-cloned, and formal enough to be ladylike and appropriate. It was a tiny dark forest green and black Houndstooth check with a cropped jacket and a long-ish skirt with pleats that were stitched down through the hips and then opened gracefully. With a black scoop-neck blouse and heels, I was Susan Dey on L.A. Law. Well, she would have worn a shorter skirt; perhaps I was Susan Dey on L.A. Law crossed with my New England grandmother? Regardless, I felt smart and pretty and jurisprudential.
- The Sexy Retail Clothes. For two years after law school, since there were no law jobs in Boston and I didn’t want to leave, I ran a very high-end store in Copley Place, in Boston. During those years, I was the thinnest I have ever been in my life, and my mother came for a conference and took me on the best shopping expedition of my life, featuring Ann Taylor (also cooler back then), Neiman Marcus and Talbot’s. Of the many wonderful things we bought (or, more accurately, she bought) my favorite was an extraordinarily expensive knee-length black linen sheath from Neiman Marcus, marked down 50%, which I wore constantly with different long, shaped jackets – a bright yellow, a bright orange, a cream, black tights, and very high black heels. It was tight enough that it made me look a little flatter and a little thinner, and it always looked good no matter what. I love my mom.
- The Beautiful Clothes of the Professional Years. After returning to Michigan, single, 30 and a little desperate, I opened a law office and did LOTS of dating, including men who worked in the same building. I had to look good (in my opinion) from the second I left the house until I actually crawled into bed. I had two “best outfits,” one of which consisted of a long, A-line floral skirt and a cropped, very fitted black jacket worn buttoned up with nothing underneath and a pair of black Stuart Weitzman heels called “The Tipper Gore.” (Tragically, the Tippers were subsequently eaten by a beagle puppy). This outfit was heavily influenced by Julia Louis Dreyfuss’ clothes on “Seinfeld;” I even wore a brooch sometimes. My other favorite, apparently influenced by Robert Plant’s backup singers involved a tight-ish, black knee-length skirt, black tights, black suede heels, a neutral shell and a hip-length black jacket.
- The Terrible Sweater. After I became a mother and gave up my law practice, I fell under the spell of the casual and sloppy clothes often worn my similarly situated persons. I liked the elastic waistbands, I liked the fact that I could sleep in whatever I was wearing, wash it if it had Spit-Up Shoulder, etc.. Towards the end of the Years of Dressing Badly, I made a friend who gave me a giant blue chenille sweater she no longer wanted because she had lost weight. It was cozy and huge and hid everything, and I imagined that I looked thinner and sort of “fun.” On mature reflection, I am aware that I probably looked as if every exploited Asian child responsible for the manufacture of the sweater was in there with me.
- The Magic Skirt. I am currently in possession of a recreation of my long, black, pleated skirt. I think it came from J. Jill. It’s a knit so it doesn’t wrinkle, its lightweight so it moves beautifully, and it is absolutely life-transforming with a red sweater or a black cashmere cardigan, and a pair of high-heeled black boots.
What do you remember?