Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dressing Up Blues

My mother will turn 92 this month. Because she cares a great deal about her looks, I went to one of the outlets in a nearby town that caters to weekend skiers and bought her a silk top by that designer for ladies of a certain age--you know who I mean: Eileen Fisher.

Now I don't care if Nora Ephron says, as reported in the Times, that once you start buying Eileen Fisher it's a sure sign that you've given up. I love Eileen Fisher, and have done so ever since I read in an interview that she got her inspiration from the habits of the nuns who had been her teachers. (We're talking pre-Vatican Council habits here, the long elegant ones derived from medieval peasant costumes.)

I realize that the fact that a designer's creations resemble nuns' habits may not recommend them to everyone. But I really like Eileen Fisher clothes--their long, fluid lines, their simplicity, their fabrics. They are a kind of blank slate, and they don't hog the conversation. And as I looked through the racks of sober but luscious (not a contradiction in terms!) tops and dresses, all drastically reduced and with an additional 10% off because it was Tuesday, I really really wanted to buy something for myself. A slinky dress, an all-enveloping cardigan, a scoop-necked top with long sleeves and flared bottom....something that would make me look and feel like a very together abbess--Hildegarde of Bingen, say.

But I didn't. Why? Because I live in Vermont, that's why. In the best of times, in this place, you can only dress up from the waist up. For most of the year, from the waist down your limbs will be encased in dark colored pants--so they won't show the mud marks from where your calves hit the car as you get in and out--and boots to protect you from the snow, ice, and mud.

This limitation has a damping effect on people's enthusiasm for dressing up, so that in 98% of occasions dressing up is optional. Vermonters being a freedom-loving people, they won't laugh at you if you show up at the game supper wearing heels, but you will be the only one not tromping around in sensible footwear. Paradoxically, this is one of the things I love about this state--the genuineness, the lack of pretense, and all the endless meanings you can read into a populations' near-universal preference for bluejeans.

Time was when I used to dress up every day, to go to work. It was a challenge--I didn't have much time for shopping, so my wardrobe was limited--and it was fun. I remember putting myself to sleep at night planning the next day's outfit. I worked in some pretty strait-laced academic environments, and getting dressed for work allowed me to start the day with a small creative act.

So, if in reading these pages you occasionally find yourself disgusted by my adoration of all things Vermont, know that when I pull on my mud-spattered jeans and my worn turtleneck (why buy a new one when only the chickens will see it?) for the umpteenth time, I long for the days of glitz and glamour, of pantyhose and heels, of tight skirts with long slits, and jackets and scarves and earrings, bracelets and lipstick, mascara, perfume, and that crowning touch, the eyelash curler.

6 comments :

  1. Truly, we need to have a catered dress-up party (so that no one has to cook/serve in their good clothes!). But it should happen after mud season, probably... (there's that Vermonter...)

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  2. Yes, in that narrow window of opportunity between mud season and the summer downpours, which start mud season all over again.

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  3. nora ephron said that??? blasphemy! i love eileen fisher and have for years.

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  4. She did. She also wrote a book about aging, I Hate My Neck, that wasn't very wise or inspiring or even funny. Too bad, because I used to like her.

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  5. I've heard of Eileen Fisher but don't know if I own any of her clothes. Maybe though -- I shop at Feline's basement and I think they carry her stuff.

    I don't like to dress up so I'd like Vermont for that reason.

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  6. ...and for many other reasons too, I bet!

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