Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I am not a frump

I got an email today from my friend, Audrey, about the blog. We had a long talk about it when I was in Seattle and she said she didn't get blogs, but in this message she said she found it interesting, which I take a high praise. I value Audrey's opinion--in fact, she used to be one my first readers for fiction--and I would love her to read the blog, but I certainly don't expect it.

Audrey liked the non-love life stuff best. We probably talked about my love life enough when we were teenagers to last a lifetime. She also had this to say:
I disagree with how you characterize the way you used to dress, by the way. I remember quite a few skirts, and you make it sound like you were a frump, when you actually put quite a lot of care into projecting a particular image. Maybe you are talking later than I'm thinking though, because you sort of eased off that in graduate school and beyond.
She's right, of course, and I'd been thinking about this the other day. I wanted to add that, historically, I haven't dressed to emphasize or de-emphasize my chest. I just don't think about it very much. I would also agree that I'm not frumpy, though I am a touch modest, which tends to keep cleavage to a minimum. At my worst dressed, I was sporty. That was during the early grad school years when I was rowing competitively. I gave up on trying to be stylish and started wearing work-out clothes to school and putting my hair in a ponytail all the time.

When Audrey says I, "put a lot of care into projecting a particular image" she is right. She witnessed the perfecting and dismantling of this image. When I met Audrey, I was dressing in a vaguely "new wave" style. I never had an asymmetrical haircut but I did have very short hair with bangs in my face. I wore a turquoise cardigan and turquoise over-dyed ankle-length jeans--with zippers! I can't forget the red flats, the crazy patterned sweaters and the pleated mini skirts. I admired the kids who dressed punk but it was never for me. Too messy, too beat up and the hair--the dying, cutting, molding--I just couldn't take that much trouble with my hair, ever.

By the time I was 14, I'd appropriated as much of my mother's clothing as I could, which meant a few straight skirts (still my favorite style) and some hand knit (not by her) sweaters. I was trying to do something, but I had no focus. I liked everything that was vaguely '60s or '70s in her wardrobe but I didn't know where to go with it.

My style goal crystallized when I met Curtis. He walked into a party wearing a black overcoat, skinny tie and a red sweater vest. He rode a Vespa. And that was that--Curtis and Quadrophenia became my guides and I began my quest to dress "mod." My obsession with Vespas also began that night and I did, in fact, buy a Vespa several years later. At first, I didn't know much about The Who or Vespas, but I interrogated Curtis as subtly as I could to figure out why he dressed the way he did. When I finally saw the movie a few months later, it all came together.

In my understanding of the "movement," only boys could BE mods, so my goal was to dress as mod as possible for a girl. That meant: straight skirts, black pants, and a trench coat. It also meant cool coats. One of the highlights of my college years was when Curtis came over to me at a concert and said, "You're looking mighty mod, J." I can tell you exactly what I was wearing that night: yellow mohair "golf" sweater, black jodhpur style pants, man's white dress shirt (from Dad), skinny tie and ankle boots.  I don't remember what coat I was wearing, but it was probably the double breasted, knee-length, wide collared black "pleather" model. It seems odd to me now that I wore a tie, but I searched and searched for the perfect, iridescent, faintly patterned tie and I would break it out for special occasions.

I also had a penchant for colorful stockings and socks, which fit right in with the mod theme. How I loved the patterned tights! I have dozens of pairs of tights, most of which I never wear. I've kept all of my favorite colored and patterned tights, including: black and white checkerboards, red and black plaid, sparkly black, ribbed red and slate blue.

When I went to London for a class trip, over-the-knee socks were popular and I bought a couple of pairs. In fact, I'm wearing one of those pairs right now: black with a vine-like maroon design on the sides. They are wool and warm. The other pair have black and white horizontal stripes. Usually reserved for Halloween these days, they used to make up an everyday part of my wardrobe. They give a "wicked witch" effect. Both sets of socks were normally worn over tights--mostly because they stay up better that way.

Dressing that way took dedication. I made regular visits to the vintage clothing stores looking for exactly the right things. The right leather jacket, golf sweater and overcoat. I rarely stumbled across something and made an impulse buy. I had a mission.

I had a lot of conflict with my mother about what I wore. Even before the mod phase, I was wearing a lot of black. I suppose it was my way of making a teenage angsty statement without doing drugs, having sex or staying out late (except for that one time). Audrey used to tease me about it too and I'd say, "My shirt under this black sweater is white!" or, "Only my pants, shoes and coat are black--this shirt is blue!" But Mom and Grandma thought the look was funereal and they wanted me in prettier colored clothes. I wouldn't budge. Mom would sometimes talk me into getting something that she liked, but I would never wear it--one particular red shirt comes to mind. Back then, she didn't understand my style.

The mod thing only lasted a few years. By the time I bought my Vespa, it was pretty much over. I could still put together one or two mod outfits, but many of the treasured items were gone. The mohair sweater grew such enormous holes in the elbows that it was unwearable. The nifty overcoat never shed it's "old clothes" smell and I grew tired of it. The double-breasted pleather jacket was good for many years of wear, but it eventually became scruffy and I got rid of it. I even gave away that lovely tie to a cute boy who needed to wear one for his job.

I don't have a focus or goal anymore, but I still wear a lot of black. Today, I'm wearing a blue cashmere sweater with a hood and white stripes on the arms. My slacks are black and I'm wearing short boots. I dress pretty casually at work and only wear a suit for important meetings. I have two pairs of jeans, which I might wear with running shoes on the weekends, but most of my other pants are black. Most of my shoes are comfortable and black and I only wear heels for special occasions (I used to wear them for dancing, but they bother my feet too much for that now). I still don't like to be sloppy, but I rarely tuck shirts in--so few styles require that now and it's much more comfortable not to. Even in the mod days, I only wore comfortable clothing. I suppose that is my guiding principle--to look put together AND feel comfortable without being frumpy or square. By my standards, I just barely make it.

Grateful for: a (more) relaxed attitude about clothing.

Drop me a line.

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