Chicago’s unseasonably warm weather has decided it has indulged us long enough: today is a day cold enough to require a Serious Coat. (We’ve been in the high 60s for weeks, now, and temperatures in the high 60s allow for Somewhat Frivolous Coats, at least around here.)
I have a couple winter coats to choose from. There’s the black puffer coat with the furry trim, the sporty-looking Helly Hansen zipper-upper great for ice skating (it’s almost time!), and then there’s the camel-colored wool coat that makes me feel like Jessica Lange in any movie from the 1980s. Which do you suppose is my favorite?
Well, it really does depend on the weather, but if I had to go live on a desert island where winter coats were suddenly necessary, I’d have to pick the that boxy camel-colored coat. It makes me feel like an adult — but in a good way, like someone could come and ask me for advice and I would have something substantive to say. That coat makes me feel like paying the gas bill and picking up a gallon of milk is kinda sexy. Does anyone out there know what I’m talking about?
When I put on the coat, I felt in the pocket and found half a Ritter Sport chocolate bar!
I haven’t decided if I should eat it. Chocolate keeps pretty well, but it’s been at least six months since I wore this coat.
There’s something touching and sweet about the things we find in our winter coat pockets a season later, don’t you think? Who was the girl who ate the chocolate bar? What was she thinking about? Was it terribly cold or did she think:
“I think it’s time to switch over to a Frivolous Coat. Spring is here.”
You can wear white clothes to work tomorrow. You can wear them this weekend. White pants, white jacket. White shoes. White shoes are hard to pull off, but bless your heart if you can and if you can, go for it. The idea that a person can’t wear white after Labor Day is a myth. It must be squished.
Labor Day was several weeks ago, but this comes up because I overheard a woman at the airport talking to her husband about the no-white rule. “I couldn’t believe it,” the woman said, selecting a french fry from a McDonald’s bag and popping it in her mouth. “Barb was wearing white after Labor Day.” The lady was dressed in a sweatsuit with be-pom-pommed Uggs on her feet.
The notion that it’s gauche to white after Labor Day is about 100 years old and was kind of a trick played on people by a bunch of mean girls who didn’t have to work for a living like the rest of us for heaven’s sake. Rich folk in American cities around the turn of the 20th century had things like sideboards and china; their children were given dolls and Turkish delight for Christmas; they also decided to turn “summer” into a verb. Summering meant leaving the city for the country for the hottest months of the year. August was dismal enough without having to direct the carriage through all those sweaty proletariats, after all — and those stinky factories! Best to go to Lake Geneva or the Hamptons and wait till the steaming, teeming masses cooled off.
White clothes made from lightweight material do feel cooler than clothes made from other colors. The lady in a white linen dress seems quite at home at a picnic table in June; the lady in brown crepe is clearly trying to ruin everyone’s fun. But the choice of white clothing in the time period I’ve just described was not just for the purposes of body temperature; it was a status symbol. Could you afford to summer? Could you afford an entire new wardrobe for three months out of the year every year? No? Gosh, that’s too bad, Julia. I’m sure I have a dress from last year you could — oh, actually, no: I dropped a lamb chop with mint jelly on it during the Sumnter’s garden party last July and Hilde had to throw it out. How is your mother?
Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894 and it made sense to the mean girls to use the day as the cut off date for white. Anyone who wore white after Labor Day clearly wasn’t cool enough to know the rules, so they could snicker and stuff because there are rules, dummy. In the 1950s, the whole Jackie O., Dior silhouette, let’s be ladies thing perpetuated this old rule and so all of us still think it’s a thing. But it’s really not. I get upset about it because it doesn’t make sense and I love wearing white. The colors I look best in are white and black (but never together.) To cut white out of my wardrobe for the majority of the year is silly. So this is personal, you see, this archaic notion.
Tomorrow’s challenge: white pants to the office. Do it. Come on! I will if you will. Have I mentioned I work at home?
The mere mention of overalls on women in yesterday’s post inspired comment from both sides of the pant leg. I had no idea this would be so polarizing an issue!
The issue: Can a grown woman wear denim overalls and be taken seriously?
We could phrase the question many different ways. I initially conceived the issue to be, “Can a grown woman look attractive in denim overalls?” but that’s easy: Of course she can. A woman in love can look stunning in a paper sack.* A happy, healthy pregnant woman in denim overalls can look glowy and radiant, too. And if you’re someone with a thing for it, you’ll find any female in overalls (that original onesie) to be straight up hot. To each his own sartorial kink.
We could also ask, “Is there a grown woman on the planet who feels attractive in denim overalls?” but this shows my personal bias. When I have worn overalls, I have felt about as attractive as a caterpillar’s ass. This is due to the realities of my body shape. I have an ample bust and a derrier to match but I do possess a waist — for this, I thank Zeus every day. What overalls do to me is cruel. They eviscerate any hint of a waist. I become a stovepipe. A meaty, Viking, insty-stovepipe who looks like she ought to be butchering a moose with one hand while folding lard into biscuit dough with the other, all while sweating something smelly, like…goat’s milk. None of what I’ve just described makes sense. But neither do overalls on women in urban places in 21st century America! They’re confusing! They don’t understand their reference point! There’s absolutely nothing that works, here!
Are you working? In dirt? No!
Do you have breasts? Yes! You do! A square panel that rests mid-boob is uncomfortable and aesthetically problematic!
I have worn high heels that were impractical and painful but man, did my legs look fabulous because the shoe’s shape elongated my leg. I have donned chandelier earrings from time to time because dammit, I look like Cleopatra in them. Fashion is frequently impractical and silly, but in the case of almost anything other than denim overalls, there are reasons we suffer. Lines are lengthened. Curves are accentuated. The female shape is celebrated or made more mysterious. I’d like to challenge any female on earth — yes, every last one of you — to make denim overalls look mysterious.
Mm-hm! Didn’t think so.
Every few years, Fashion declares that overalls (“coveralls” if you hail from certain farming communities in the Midwest where such garments make perfect sense because that’s who they were designed for) are “back.” Pictured above, overalls currently on offer from company that I adore. Reformation makes clothes out of materials considered “deadstock” by other fashion companies: when clothing manufacturers and designers order way too much fabric (this happens all the time) Reformation will use that material for their designs rather than have more made/shipped, etc. It’s a green strategy and the clothes are so great.**
But Reformation. Come on. That model is so pretty. She is so thin. And those overalls are made of nifty denim, possibly taken from some high fashion house like Isabel Marant or Band of Outsiders. You all have done your best! But… I mean… The crotch. It’s so squinchy. And this young woman, she has such tiny boobies, but they are still managing to slowly seep out the sides of her little denim overall’s…frontispiece. I reject your stylist’s choice of shoes here, but could I do any better than that plasticky clog? What is better? Sneakers? A strappy sandal? No! Nothing works. Nothing works because the overalls are all wrong.
I open it to you, reader. Defend your position. Because I’m over(all) it.
Get it? “Over” it? “Over(all) it”? #stoptyping
*I love to think about a woman so in love, she forgets to get dressed when she leaves her lover’s house in the morning. The baker sees her, gasps, and hands her a number of paper sacks to put on. All day, everyone wonders where she got her outfit, if she’s lost weight, what’s new with her, etc.
**I’m wearing a polka-dot Reformation skirt as I write this. I feel very attractive in it!
I take several magazines, but I’m editing. Elle has got to go.
Elle is good at what it does, reaching with almost surgical precision into the hearts and minds of its customer: the female of the species. Though the world of fashion publishing is slightly more fickle (and fraught, and funded) than the quilt one, I am a magazine editor and I can assure you: getting into hearts and minds is the difficult and never-ending job of any magazine that wants to succeed. Elle makes it look easy. Published by Hearst here in the U.S. since 1945, Elle wins industry awards frequently, and the number of ads inside speaks to its profitability. The editorial is solid (mostly), the photography and the layouts are tops, and if you want to know what’s fashionable these days, you will find out in Elle.
But it’s over, and it happened yesterday morning.
I was staring out the window, thinking about the concept of study hall and noticed the latest issue of Elle in my mail stack. Lovely! Historically, I have enjoyed fashion magazines, thus the getting one in the mail and all. I pulled the magazine to my lap and spent 20 minutes — not a moment longer — flipping through the pages and feeling increasingly ill. Page after page of peacock colors, nail lacquer, hair product, handbags, oils, skin cream, more shoes; miserable fourteen-year-old girls, hostile ad campaigns, backstage “candids” that took thirty minutes to set up; “up and comers,” “ones to watch,” and reanimated has-beens who have been given a page because it’s ironic to see a now-haggard Jennifer Beals in a leather jumper posing with Miley Cyrus. Or something.
What the hell are they doing to us?
The fashion industry is an easy target. It’s foolish, it’s vicious, it’s myopic, it’s preposterous: I am saying zero new things. I’m also not saying that fashion is frivolous. I care deeply about style and apparel. This is precisely the problem. The New York Times street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham said once, “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life,.” Correct. Every morning, I decide who I will be that day by choosing what I’ll wear. My mood and my mien are directly tied to what I’m in by 7:00am. I’m not alone in this. Fashion is powerful.
Fashion magazines are not. That’s why I’m done. Fashion magazines take the awesome power of fashion and kill it dead. Fashion magazines show one, itsy-bitsy tier of fashion: the one that proclaims, “Price is no object. Neither is location.” I don’t begrudge the people who take up this space; I’m genuinely happy they can access it. But I turned to a picture of a woman in a skirt that cost $6,995 and with deep conviction, I rolled up the magazine and banged it on the couch with a whap! whap! whap! I was furious. You know who buys and reads Elle? The 27-year-old admin assistant who just got a modest raise. She lives in the west suburbs and drives an hour in traffic twice a day. The married mother of two getting a mani-pedi in Omaha. The single girl in the city who has some disposable income but also student loans that wake her up at night. The aging sun-tanner. They all love fashion, too, so they look at fashion magazines. But the message shared with them isn’t one of inclusion: it’s either a) this isn’t really for you; or b) you should be able to buy this, eventually.
Shame on you, Elle. Shame on you and your brethren for totally obscuring fashion with money. I have an idea: you take that $6,995 skirt and you wear it. Go ahead. Put it on. That’ll be punishment enough. It looks as ridiculous on you as it would on the Omaha mom. Floor-length silk pleats? Are you drunk?
Silver lining: the rise of the street fashion blog. These blogs show actual citizens of Earth doing fashion and showing style, mixing the high and the low, getting bourgeoise a little smutty or classing up what’s grungy. In these images, the power of fashion returns. Consider me clicking — and not leafing — forevermore.