Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Outfit to be Tied.

My mother has a very tidy mind. I don't mean to say that she is a clear thinker, or a deep one. I mean that it is swept clear of distracting details, bits of ideas, or fragments of plans. She thinks in themes, in motifs, and in monochrome.

When I was a child, she never bought me clothes, she bought me outfits. Before I was old enough to protest, my outfits matched not just themselves, but hers. In a photograph I unearthed this week, I am fishing with my father while I am wearing a dress. With a fish appliqued to its front. Because she stayed behind at home, I don't for one moment believe she was wearing a fish dress herself. My mother believed in costuming.

In 1975 she bought beautiful lacquered Korean furniture from a young military wife who was tired of reminders of her old life and wanted new American furniture. So, my mother acquired enough furniture to fill our house. The new shiny black hutch held colorful bridal dolls from Seoul. Our intricately-inlaid dining table stood thirteen inches high, and we sat on satin pillows to eat. She did her makeup at an extravagantly lovely vanity piece that also needed a pillow on the floor.

I didn't mind this; I agreed it was exquisite. Then the accessorizing began. The carpets needed to be red or black. Throw pillows, blankets, plates, cookware - all had to pass chromatic muster. Because she knew of no Korean cat breeds, she brought in the meanest Siamese she could find, and hoped the thematic disruption wouldn't be noticeable. It's unclear how the Pomeranians and I escaped the western purge.

Once, she decided to decorate her bedroom in orange, and so any item - useful or not - was welcome as long as it was the right shade. The right shade was orange. Look at the fruit. Books, lamps, curtains, rugs, picture frames, perfume bottles, knick-knacks of any kind. A gift needn't be useful or fun in any way, it needed only to be orange. A still-life for her dresser? Oranges are the only fruit.

Photographic evidence suggests I carried on the tradition into my first marriage. My clothing continued to be outfits. Skirts in suits, trousers in pantsuits. My kitchen was done in strawberries. A well-meaning friend gave me an apple cookie jar - a tragic misinterpretation of the theme - and I proudly displayed it on my counter until she left.

Today, the pendulum has swung to the edge of its arc. I struggle to match shirts and pants in cases of dire necessity (weddings, funerals, job interviews). They don't pass as outfits, but, I hope, as tastefully coordinated separates, thrown together in an appealing, devil-may-care recklessness. Roxanne is always thinking about more important things than her clothing. Go on - ask her about Spinoza's God!

Neither can I be accused of having anything like a tidy mind. I'm no clearer a thinker than my mother, but I do harbor mental shelves full of bits, fragments and distracting details. I keep them around in case I can make them into an outfit.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Watkins Glen marina

Watkins Glen marina, originally uploaded by ¡Vizcacha!.

Slogging around like a tourist, wearing clothes to match.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dressing to kill

I used to think about my clothes a lot. You will be surprised to know that I still do. That’s enough surprise – now you’re just judging. Now I think about whether it’s time to throw away the Provincetown t-shirt I got during Women’s Weekend seven years ago and have worn twice a week ever since. Or, I wonder if I should make it a dusting rag, but who am I kidding.

When I was 20, I made myself a dress designed by someone named McClintock. The dress was pink and had many layers of lacy frills and satin ribbon. It had an unforgiving set-in waist panel so that I looked lovely but felt miserable. So I wore punishing high-heeled white sandals with it, the ones I wore in my sister-in-law’s wedding. That’s a bonus triple misery score.

I must have looked fabulous, though, because Nancy made one just like it in white. Hers was two sizes smaller, looked just as good and caused her the same pain.

I got these pants at K-Mart for $5. I never buy new clothes (it’s my way of interrupting the flow of consumption), but they were $5. I think someone wore them and brought them back – a workman’s prom with tags tucked inside – so they don’t really count as new.

I bought a beautiful dress from a catalog when I was 24. I loved it so much on that willowy model. Pale Sahara-brown flowers on a creamy background, and when I put it on I was a mortified pig in a blanket. The Pillsbury dough boy in a wraparound. I didn’t send it back because it wasn’t the dress’s fault and another ten pounds would certainly solve the whole problem.

I always buy my underwear new. I know what I said before, but there are limits. Panties’ demise aren’t easy to predict, either. Not like socks. You see it coming with socks. My favorite ragg wool socks strove to live up to their description, until I could feel the floor through the threadbare parts. Come on. Just be a hole so I can move on with my life, but the socks just got thinner until I had to make the hard choice.

But, underwear is stealthy and hides its infirmity until you are on a job interview and they begin a southward migration. Oh job interview panties! How you have betrayed me!

I used to own body smoothers. I wore them so my real body could not be seen beneath my fitted ivory dress. They worked, of course, until I actually needed my liver or a lung. Those were the days I wore high-heels because a look that hot should never be marred by comfort. I was a body-smoothed, mincing size 10, but fashion doesn’t follow the Geneva Convention. We drove past Laser & Brewer last Sunday, where a sign shouts WE HAVE SPANX! DO YOU? I muttered to Annie, “Fuck Spanx.”

True Fact: If you wear pantyhose tight enough to “slim and support” you, your inner thighs will actually extrude out through the knit and rub together anyway.

I still think about my clothes, but now I think “is this shirt clean?” and “can I trust the elastic in these underwear?” Today I’m thinking, “Did that workman get lucky in these pants?”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I knew a man who was afraid of feet. I wondered, for a while, if it wasn’t just revulsion, but no. It was fear. His close friends teased him by putting their own bare feet near him, but I thought that was better left to them, since frightened fists aren’t in control, and then there’s the trial. “Your Honor, I invoke the Piggy Defense,” and then I would have to show my feet to the jury so they could understand his terror and acquit. I hear he has married. His bride agreed, before God and these witnesses, to wear socks at all times when they were together. His own feet he just pretended were not there, the way I avoid my face in the mirror in the middle of the night.

My son’s feet started out miniatures of mine, broad chubby things with fat toes attached higgledy-piggledy. A little pigeon-toed, so I bought him white high-tops until the bird stage flew past. Fat feet stuffed into tall shoes; he became sturdy and fast. Those feet grew into his father’s feet and beyond, and today he is proudly stylin’ in his 13s.

I can’t pass by baby shoes without comment, and filled with baby? Irresistible. Shoes so tiny Annie says they should hang from a rear-view mirror. I admire the sneakers, so short and broad that they’re round. She favors the work boots. The wee Mary Janes are sweet, but I’m alarmed by their slick soles and inferior athletic potential. Send a child out in patent leather and she will not make the track team.

When my husband relaxed, his feet were perpendicular to his legs. Ninety degrees of bone and tendon. I teased him, commanding his foot to point; his toes contorted as though they intended to manage with or without the foot. Later he didn’t think it was funny anymore, and I started to see him as one big, rigid ell.

I’m fond of my own feet – my toes are cute. I don’t decorate them, though, because they are shy and avoid attention. They perform well whenever they are needed. They remember dance moves I’ve forgotten. They walk around like champs. When I swim, so do they. I don’t turn my back on a friend, so when one started to hurt, I bought them both the best arch supports the aisle at RiteAid had to offer. No excuse was too flimsy to wear Birkenstocks. I installed insoles inside my fluffy slippers. All this and more I would do for my feet.

I can’t remember owning a pair of high heels after 1986. [I first wrote high hells. This is the degree of my animosity.] My son was born, and it seemed as good a time as any to take the vow. When you’re carrying something plump and unpredictable, like a baby or a slippery Virginia ham, the more rubber on the road, the better.

I heard a story about a chicken who had no feet, so I stopped feeling sorry because I had no shoes. His owner wraps his feet so he has better traction on his stumps. I learned a lot from that chicken, and now I’m satisfied if my own stumpy feet are wrapped for traction, if not for style.