Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Desparately Seeking Style

In Which, Gentle Reader, I Consign Myself To Fashion Fuddy-Duddydom

I've always had a love/hate relationship with clothes. ("Who among us does not?", might be a better question.) As I near 50, I'm not sure that I'm making peace, but I think I'm getting better at sorting out the wheat from the chaff.

Love: As a kid, I used to design dresses for my paper dolls and sewed costumes out of squares of felt for my Troll dolls. I started reading Seventeen magazine when I was about twelve (apparently right on target) and occasionally tried to copy the styles. I continued to read fashion mags pretty regularly up until my late 20's (I know, I know!) and would covet or dissect the styles presented on those glossy pages. Even when I had no money to spend on clothes, I used to pore over the Spiegel catalog looking at the clothes and daydreaming about how I'd someday be able to dress, when I was rich/thin enough, which leads to...

Hate: Growing up, there were still a lot of ironclad sartorial edicts. You didn't mix prints, you didn't wear white in the wintertime, and for the non-skinny girls, there were extra rules: no horizontal stripes, no shirts tucked into skirts, no big patterns. It took me many years to let go of those, but two fashion rules I still follow are no big prints (I'm short and they overwhelm me) and not mixing prints. Every year, commencing with the very first day of summer vacation, my mother would begin the excruciating process of shopping for the next year's school clothes. Put yourself in my shoes: it's hot, you'd rather be outside playing or in the shade under a tree somewhere reading a book, you're being forced to spend hours trying on clothes and being critiqued on whether they make you look fatter or not, being chided for being fat, having someone tug and adjust to see if they can be made to look right, and repeating this process at least a couple of times a week all the way through August until your mother is satisfied with her choices. All the way through my 20's, I was convinced that nothing I put on ever looked right on me, plus from the time I went to college until my mid-30's I made crap wages and had to do most of my clothes shopping in thrift and discount stores, so was limited by whatever was available in my size. "Personal style" meant that it fit and I could afford it, so shopping remained a teeth-gritting experience, and usually left me in such a state of self-loathing that I wanted to go home and binge.

After many years and working on my self image and body image, and having to live and work in the real world, what I've come to is that I like stylish clothes, but that I don't care much for Fashion, other than as kind of Kabuki theater. Most of what is "fashionable" is totally inappropriate for work anyway. You don't really see people dressed up like the women in Sex And The City, even in midtown Manhattan. (Maybe if you go out to clubs, but certainly not in offices or restaurants or on the street.) Most women have the sense to dress, well, more sensibly. And though dressing like a sexbot may initially garner some women attention, ultimately I think it prevents them from being taken seriously in the workplace, or at least in the types of workplaces I've been exposed to.

My taste these days runs mostly to "classics" (think Talbots ) but I struggle not to cross the line into "frumpy." It's tough sometimes to find clothing that's somewhere between the Teenage-Hoochie-Mama and The-Golden-Girls-On-A-Cruise extremes. A lot of younger women in my office have no problem with the THM end of the spectrum; last year I had to explain to one of my staff that a midriff-baring camisole with BOOTYLICIOUS in glittery letters across the chest wasn't really appropriate for the office.

So yes, Oprah and the What Not To Wear women would probably have a field day with my closet. I mean, I think these are cute shoes, Maude help me. I can appreciate different, more trendy looks on other people, but have come to the conclusion that they don't work for me. Plus, I mean who can really walk more than 2 blocks in these????


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