Wednesday, August 16, 2006

My life in costume

I think I need a stylist.

Someone who looks and talks exactly like Mario Cantone in his Sex and the City days, who can come to my house, peer into my closet and say things like, "Why do you still have THAT three button blazer?" or "What's with all of the stiletto heels, you know that you can no longer walk even half a block in them; it takes practice, honey, and you aint been practicing that" or even "Hey, wait, look at that pair of boots gathering dust. Have you ever thought of pairing them with those Citizens of Humanity capris, rather than searching for that supposedly perfectly boot-tucking-friendly but ridiculously expensive pair of Seven for All Mankind Cigarette Leg jeans that don't even have the pockets that you like?"

I'd be all, "That blazer still fits me! And it's a size 0! You can't throw away something that still fits me despite being the smallest humanly possible adult size! That is fashion sacrilege!"

He'd be all, "Honey, where have you been? They're making Double Zero's now. That's OH OH to you," he would say, making quotation marks with his well-manicured fingers and looking down his nose at my chewed up fingernails and cuticles, "so it's time for you to give up that Ghost, or Calvin Klein or whatever it is." His nose would wrinkle in a way that reminds me of the Husband when he smells curry.

I'd look sheepish but kind of like his honesty, asking conspiratorially, "But don't you think that those boots that you want me to pair with the capri jeans kind of make me look like a hooker?"

He'd be all, "Who's the stylist here? You want to be a stylist?! Fine. You be a stylist. I'll teach yoga. How do you think that will work out?! Now put on the Citizens and the hooker boots, walk down your hallway like the supermodel you are and give a little twirl."

And I would obey. For a little while, at least. Until it was time for me to do my usual rebellion/I'll do it my way thing.

But in the meantime, he could go out in search of the perfect looks for a stay-at-home-mom slash yoga-student slash yoga-teacher slash recoverin fashionista. He could scout out all of the Scoop stores on Third Avenue, and Intermix on Madison, without my having to endure the salespeople there. He could find me one really amazing and comfortable pair of black platform wedge boots that zip up the sides and leave room for tucked pants so that I wouldn't have to keep buying boots that approximate the look I want but never quite hit the mark (as I did with my sandals this year...over and over and over I kept buying similar pairs of sandals, knowing that I was not really finding what I was looking for until one day last week, I stumbled into Stephane Kelian and found THE SANDALS...high black platform wedges, their signature style sole...with soft, thick leather straps crisscrossed over the instep and a flattering ankle strap. Basically, they were Kelian's answer to the Kork-Ease craze, and they were half price!!!).

He could find me the perfect white blouse that won't pull or sag between the buttons, one inspired by, but less costly than an Anne Fontaine, one, which fits perfectly into my fantasy of me as Laura Petrie from the Dick Van Dyke show, waiting for the Husband to arrive home from work, my perfectly starched white blouse, draped "just so" over the waistband and hips of my little capris, Vodka Collins straight-up in hand, wry smile on my face, children well-behaved in their rooms.

There was a time when I used to dream of being an actress, and I was pretty good for someone of my age - 13 or 14. But in truth, what I was really good at was dressing up as a character. Once in costume, I could be the person to whom that costume evoked. Thus, when I played Anne in The Diary of Anne Frank, it wasn't until dress rehearsals that I finally felt myself inhabiting my role. I could see my director sighing her relief as well. When I played a "terpsechorian" with a "nom de plume" and an aggressively Brooklyn accent in Noel Coward's The Night of January 16th, it wasn't until I finally got to don my purple satin catsuit with some pointy toed heels and a feathery boa that I became that trashy dancer/witness for the prosecution.

I remember watching an episode of Sex and the City, where Carrie cries to Miranda about how in her relationship with Big, she can't just be herself. Instead, she dresses up in costumes and becomes different personas that she thinks will appeal to him. Thus, one day she might be (I'm paraphrasing here) Sporty Carrie in a silky track suit, Hogan sneakers and aviator sunglasses, and another day she might be Swiss Mountains Carrie in a pinafore dress, her hair in braids and even eyebrow-pencil freckles dotting her nose. I totally got that. I saw myself.

For my years in high school, I was Tiny Barbie Doll Lauren, wearing clothing, including my cheerleading uniform that I accompanied with hair in, yes, pigtails, that accentuated my cuteness and my untouchable perfectness (clearly, an illusion I was attempting to perpetuate). It hindered my friendships to a certain extent. It made me less "let's hang out" ready. It distanced me from those who I might have been closer with. But I was a teenager. What did I know?

In college, it was the Big Sweaters/Stretch Pants/Big Hair 80's college girl look. In law school, I acclimated to being in New York City's Greenwich Village by adopting the leggings under skirts thing that is coming back this season and by shifting my entire wardrobe to black on black. But the easiest costume change was after I graduated from NYU Law and became a lawyer at Rogers & Wells, which has since been absorbed by the UK's Clifford Chance. Since Rogers & Wells was a rather stuffy, W.A.S.P-y kind of place, I collected a wardrobe of stuffy, W.A.S.P.-y suits and dresses, which I accessorized simply with the highest heels I could find. At night, to go on dates or out with friends, I simply paired the suit jackets with leggings or jeans. I carried a Coach soft leather briefcase with me as my handbag in those days. What better way to define myself as "Busy, Career Girl, High Level Corporate Lawyer with No Time To Shop for a Real Handbag." In reality, my costume was just a solution to my essential fashion laziness. At the time, I was workin 80 hour weeks. Who had time to think about fashion? Hence, the costume worked well for nearly every occasion.

Later on, lawyers were bestowed the ultimate favor slash inconvenience: Casual Attire. A whole new costume needed to be assembled. One day, early on in the Casual Attire days, I settled in at a Boutique on Lexington Avenue in the high 80's, called Nellie M., and I purchased a new costume. It consisted of black, grey and navy flat-front, ankle-length, cuffed pants and cute litte blouses that almost looked like jackets. I paired the look with dark stockings and high-heeled pumps or slim-ankled boots. Friends of mine who dressed similarly referred to it as "The Uniform." In time, the Casual Attire costume began to feel a bit androgynous. It no longer seemed to capture a persona with whom I wanted to identify. And so, the morphing into Amanda Woodward from Melrose Place began. Casual shift dresses were added to the mix. An array of suede skirts in ice cream colors to be worn with dark tights in the winter and bare-legged in the summer. TeenFlo suits with exaggerated waists. The shoes got higher. The toes got pointier. The jackets became more militaristic, a la early 1990's Prada, and I became "Look at That Hot Mom Who Also Has a High Power Career".

That was probably the fashion highpoint for me, the time when I became well-acquainted with shoes by Kelian and Clergerie, hats by Miu Miu, when I first became aware of the Hermes Birkin bag. And then one day four years ago, breast cancer surgery made it to the top of my agenda, followed by six months of chemo, and I stopped going to the office. The then-current costume no longer made any sense at all. And yet I continued to shop as if it did. To make matters worse, I couldn't even fit into the clothing I was then-buying, since inactivity, steroids and a constant nausea that made me want to nibble on crackers and cookies all day long had begun to pad my body in such a way that I did not even recognize myself. In my mind, I was still "Look at That Hot Mom Who Also Has a High Power Career." But to anyone who saw me, I was a short, oddly pudgy (puffy face, sausage-arms and legs, but almost no breasts) girl in track pants, sweatshirt and wig. Even when I looked in the mirror, there was so much dissonance that I couldn't even see myself. I just saw what I wanted to see. Had I not had that coping mechanism, perhaps I would have been a lot worse off than even I understand myself to have been.

Stretchy clothing began to sneak its way into my repertoire: the stretchy velvet ankle-length skirt, the stretchy faux suede button down shirt, the stretchy Seven for All Mankind jeans that were stretched to the point where I couldn't pull them all the way up over the ass that I refused to look at in the mirror. I wore them anyway. Still trying to sell the Look at That Hot Mom" persona, even if it didn't include "a High Power Career", I would go to events at my kids' schools, wearing my long TeenFlo jackets with long stretchy skirts, the jackets open because I could no longer button them. When I came down with a terrible case of orbital cellulitis (a really, really bad eye infection), I donned a pair of Jackie O sunglasses and went to the Mock Seder at the Hebrew School anyway and then checked myself into the hospital the next day, where I was placed into isolation due to post-chemotherapy immune deficiency (in medical jargon: neutropenia).

And so began the next costume change: Yoga Lauren. This one is easy to describe. Yoga pants and a camisole. Every day. With high platform shoes. It lasted quite a long time. It still is there, but another look is trying to emerge, one which involves really good jeans and really flattering tops, and mostly one which does not always involve the yoga, one which allows me to move about freely in my city without strangers coming up to me and asking me if I am a yoga teacher (Flattering? yes. Creepy? Absolutely). And this is where I am stuck.

Hence, I need a stylist.




Anonymous said...

Aaah, always remaking ourselves. It's a bit scarey (who do you really want to be? and have you dug your heels in too deeply into one niche, such that who you are (or want to be) is apparent from what you wear, alone?), but a bit exciting, too, aye?

Anonymous said...

Time to get rid of those are not 12 anymore! As always, I could help you out, but in the past few years I have fallen out of fashion mode. Probably b/c my mom is no longer dressing me or paying for me or maybe b/c I do not find it important anymore.

Your sister in law (yes, that one)

yoga chickie said...

Said mom left me a message to the effect that I am quite the Eliza Doolittle or some such. I think she is referring to my blossoming from daughter-in-law to art-consultant's client for an afternoon in West Chelsea. Next time, YOU'RE on the schedule!

Asana Bear said...

My friend Bruno in SF could fly in for a consult...while he is a now theology student at the ripe age of 50, he once said of some very cool shoes he was wearing, in reponse to my comment - "comfort is not the point."

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Northern Westchester, New York, United States
I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


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