You know those months like April where sometimes it snows but usually it doesn’t and then all of a sudden, kind of without warning, a blizzard swoops in and the weather people on the news act like they totally knew it was gonna happen even though their exact words over the last several days always involved expressions like “just a dusting” and you know for sure that a snowy emergency was definitely never declared because there’s still bread on the shelves at the supermarket and, when a storm is threatened, apparently the general public believes that a carbohydrate might be the very thing that can ward off the impending apocalypse? That’s the environment I found myself in a bunch of years ago on the freezing morning of one of my friend’s engagement parties.
The party was taking place in Westchester and my sister lives there too, so I’d decided to drive up the night before and stay over and then go to the party from her house. I tell you – any time I can avoid having to wake up early, I will do whatever it takes to make that happen. My best friend would be taking the train from the city to Westchester and I’d pick her up before the two of us headed over to the party and I packed myself a bag of clothing and some makeup and my flatiron and whatever I’d gotten the almost-bride as a gift and I threw all of that into my car along with my dog and her yellow stuffed duck and a bag filled with her kibble because those were the days Wookie was still invited to spend time at my sister’s house. Eventually, Wookie’s invitation would be revoked for reasons that still threaten to send my blood pressure through the roof and off to the moon, but she was not yet doggie non grata then.
It was colder than usual in April and I kind of tried to stuff Wookie into something that resembled a snowsuit, but she hated it. I’m sure her big issue with it was that it was binding and she did look a little bit like a stuffed sausage in that thing, but she also looked beyond adorable and I wished she’d let me dress her more often. As for me, for once in my life I’d packed light. The party was to be casual and I literally only took one outfit with me and one pair of shoes and when I got out of the car with just one small bag, my brother-in-law looked shocked.
But that one experience is why I can tell you that packing light is a fool’s game. Yes, it once took me and two of my friends to lug a duffel bag off the Martha’s Vineyard ferry because I’d found it prudent to bring fifteen pairs of shoes for one long weekend. And sure, when I went on a cruise, I should have reserved a separate stateroom for my clothing, but who can determine in advance what one might wish to wear while at sea? What it all comes down to, I suppose, is having some options, and I awoke that morning in Westchester to an absolute fucking blizzard and I found out that the party was still on and I took a snowsuit-less dog outside and dug her a hole so she could pee and when she began to shiver, I tried to use the moment as a learning experience to tell her that this is why she should let me dress her more often and my sister stood at the back door holding a mug of steaming black coffee in her hand and she yelled out to me, mid-lesson, “The only thing that dog thinks you’re saying is, ‘Blah-blah-blah-blah, Wookie.’ She understands nothing but her own name!”
She might have been right, but more pressing was the realization that the outfit I’d packed was not exactly made for a day in the snowy tundra. I guess my sister could have let me borrow something, but we have very different taste and we wear different sizes, and she was never all that excited to let me borrow anything and that’s probably because I used to take her stuff without permission back when I was in middle school and she’s apparently still recovering from the trauma. So I just kind of shook my head and pulled on jeans and open-toed slingbacks and a pink shirt that was flowy and romantic and made entirely of chiffon. I’d gotten it recently and I wasn’t sure where I’d wear it but then I thought that it would be perfect for an afternoon engagement party and I walked downstairs and my nephew was in the kitchen and he turned to me and he smiled widely and he pulled on the bottom of my shirt so I would look at him and then he asked, “Is your costume a fish?”
Was my costume a fish.
“No, Michael,” I responded sweetly, but then I turned to my sister and I whispered – so as to keep the child’s ears unexposed to verbal filth – “Do I look like a fucking goldfish?”
“He’s four,” she said.
“That’s not really an answer to my question,” I said back, but I kind of had no choice other than to embrace that somehow I resembled a pink fish that day and snow got into my shoes the second I stepped outside and I weaved my way to a party with my friend in the passenger seat and the snow never stopped falling and, I don’t care what the commercials said, my Pathfinder was never great in the snow.
But really, the only thing about that day that always stayed with me was the comment from my nephew because it was hilarious and so random – though I think it’s worth mentioning that I never wore that shirt again and I’d dig it out for Halloween, but I really prefer to wear something with either a tutu or some garters on that holiday and, though I’ve managed to pull off a slutty ladybug, I think it would be pushing it to dress as a slutty fish.
Over the years, I have gathered a really impressive collection of clothing and shoes and bags and jewelry, but it can’t always go right and sometimes it has all gone extremely wrong. Like the time I decided to wear a long skirt to work because I usually only wear short things and I pulled a black jersey tube skirt from a hanger and thought to myself, “God, I don’t think I’ve worn this in four years,” and I slipped it on to make sure it fit and then I hung it back up and put it on the next morning after my shower and it felt a little loose but I figured that maybe my weight had settled differently that day and it wasn’t until I got to work and started teaching eighteen year olds that I realized the elastic in the waist of the skirt was no longer there and I could feel it slipping beyond my hips as I wrote on the board and I kind of thrust one hip out to try to keep it up, but that didn’t work and I finally had to stop and say, “I’m going to need a minute here because my skirt is about to slip right off so please don’t kill one another or set the classroom on fire while I go into the hallway to try to solve this problem because if my skirt falls down in public, I will die and then I will quit this job.” I literally said exactly that and they just kind of nodded seriously at me and I grabbed some safety pins I had in my desk and a few rubber bands and I went into the hallway and I pinned and bunched my skirt into a way that looked utterly ridiculous, but at least nobody would see my thong-clad ass as we discussed the qualities of a femme fatale.
From that day on, I tried really hard to never again experience any kind of wardrobe malfunction at work – and I’ve managed to pretty much pull it off – but there have been all kinds of other scenarios that have made me consider saying fuck it and just becoming a nudist. Like the time I bought that seamless white tank top that came with its own built-in shelf bra that was great because then I wouldn’t have an extra set of straps to have to think about. And it was great – except for the fact that you could see my entire nipple through the shirt. The. Entire. Nipple.
Thank God my nipples are kind of impressive.
Then there were the accidental tan lines that crossed my entire body because of just one day when I exposed myself to a sun far more powerful than I’d expected it to be and I had worn a very low-cut halter top and my chest and my shoulders and my cleavage turned a bright, scary red color and it would eventually all transition prettily into a golden tan, but for a few days there I would look at myself in the mirror and if I was wearing anything that had so much as a slight v-neck, my upper body looked remarkably similar to a container of Neapolitan ice cream where there were only two flavors left: the vanilla and the strawberry, and let’s face it – the chocolate is always the best.
But it’s not just severe weather that can cause a major wardrobe problem. I once wore this pretty black cardigan someone gave me as a birthday gift to work one day. It had been hanging in my closet for almost a year and it was kind of dainty and I liked it, though I tend to veer more towards edgy than dainty, and one night I pulled it from a hanger and I tried it on over a tank dress and boots and it looked great and I wore it the next day and I got compliments on it that included things like, “That’s not a Nell-sweater, but I like it!” I liked it too and I still liked it when I removed it from my body later and I thought again how pretty it was while I was working out and then I got in the shower and, as I let the conditioner sit in my hair, I reached for the soap and began to wash my arms and I opened up my eyes and stared in horror at my own body. My arms were a dark purple, almost black. I didn’t know what was happening, but with all these veins popping out, I figured that I might actually be dying, and I decided that I had to be calm and I quickly washed the conditioner from my hair and got out of the shower and I used a towel to dry myself off and I tried not to hyperventilate as I considered whether I should call an ambulance or drive myself to the hospital. But as I rubbed my vein-exploding arms with the towel, some of the purple color moved across my arm and I reached up and rubbed again and I looked down at my yellow towel and saw that there was some dark purple dye on the towel and so I frantically covered the towel in soap and started scrubbing myself and the color began to come off of me and it was then that I realized that I was not dying imminently but I was also never wearing that dainty sweater ever again.
Weddings have brought forth a ton of clothing emergencies, so much so that I think that someone should start a service that is basically an emergency triage for bridesmaids in crisis – and they should charge extra if part of the crisis is the desire and real need to have the bride bumped off. But matrimonial massacres aside, how great would it be if a bunch of people swooped in to the scene like they were fucking superheroes and said things to the bride like, “Nobody other than a serial rapist should be forced to wear closed-toed shoes in late August,” and “Why does every bridesmaid need to wear the same shoes anyway when the dress is floor-length?” I’d also love it if those saviors could maybe mention that a pleat that goes vertically up the back of the dress will only result in making an ass of any size appear enormous, but I don’t want to press my luck.
I’ve worn bridesmaid gowns in colors like petal and pewter and egg cream – which just means the dresses have been pink and grey and beige, but if you call something buttercup, you can apparently charge more than if you go ahead and call it yellow. I’ve worn shoes picked out by someone else and had it mandated to me in no uncertain terms that I would put them on my feet and walk down that fucking aisle and some of those shoes have literally caused my feet to bleed. I’ve spent two hundred dollars on “alterations” with the bride’s seamstress and the alterations basically involved her shoving foam cups into the top of the dress which I don’t need anyway because – though I’ve definitely got my collection of flaws – not having perky breasts is never something I’ve been plagued with, but I spent that money and I didn’t say a word and, sometime around the moment the Best Man made his toast, I plucked those foam pads from the top of my dress and plopped them on the table and when someone needed something to put his chewed-up gum into, I handed the guy one.
I was asked to attend a “casual wedding” in Virginia in the blazing heat of summer, and I brought three possible dresses that might be appropriate for a rustic wedding for people I’d never met in a state I’d never been to before. One of the dresses was a vivid pink and it was strapless and flirty. One of the dresses was green and had a neckline so plunging that when I tried it on for my boyfriend, he asked me if I had it on backwards and he didn’t wait for my answer before he bent me over while I was still wearing the dress. And one of the dresses had a black corset top and a white tiered skirt and an exposed black zipper running across the back of it and I decided that I’d wear that one because it would be my first time meeting these people and I guess that I wanted to kind of blend in, so I stuck the dress in a garment bag and decided I’d wear it with these insane cage booties I have with a skinny high heel and we drove down to Virginia and I was wearing a little sundress and wedges and we actually ended up pulling over to a rest stop before we got to the area in the woods where the wedding was being held, and I would rather strip in public than so much as enter a bathroom at a rest stop in the wilds of Virginia because I’ve seen Deliverance more than twice, so I stood by the car and pulled off my shoes and shimmied off my sundress and pulled on the other dress and even changed both my bra and my underwear and my boyfriend watched me do it all in under twenty seconds and I don’t think he ever was more impressed by me. But when we arrived at the wedding and pulled the car into the field where people were parking, we both kind of stared at each other because he was wearing a nice suit and I was in that strapless dress – and everybody else was in jeans.
“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me,” I said to my boyfriend and I managed to pull myself out of the shock that some weddings that are billed as casual are actually reallycasual and I went to the trunk of the car and pulled open my bag and dug out a cotton strapless dress and a pair of shoes more appropriate for walking across dirt and branches and I changed right there in my second parking lot of the day.
One thing that still manages to surprise me is how surprising and confounding the moments I have with my clothes can be. I have literally never been hit on more in my entire life than the night I didn’t even feel like going out but ended up giving in at the last minute and we all wound up at the bar at the Soho Grand and I was in jeans and a tee shirt and my hair was pulled back into a simple ponytail and maybe I’d remembered to put on mascara and that was the night the men looked at me like I was catnip. There was another night when I decided to try garters for the first time for my first real boyfriend and I got the whole set: the bra, the thong, the lace-topped stockings, the garter belt itself. And I snuck off into the bathroom and I fully intended to pull it all on quickly and then slink into the other room as a happy visual surprise for a boy I adored, but it turned out that pulling up those stockings and attaching them with the garters and not having the straps be all twisty took a serious amount of time and effort and I finally exited that bathroom kind of sweaty and incredibly frustrated and, as my boyfriend unsnapped the garters and rolled the stockings down, I couldn’t help but almost be annoyed at how he hadn’t even spent all that much time enjoying the outfit that had almost caused me a concussion to pull on because he’d taken it off of me so fast.
It’s all gotten better recently. I’ve learned to simplify. I’ve embraced the act of giving away clothing that I rarely wear. I try to keep everything organized by season and by style and I have learned to slip garters on and off quickly by now. I have accepted that it’s just who I am to often get a little dressed up and the truth is that I am in a skirt or a dress for about ninety percent of my life. It’s how I like to look and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, though I’ll admit to often being far colder than I probably have to be.
Just the other day, I was breaking one of my classes into production groups for a project that will eventually be worth fifty percent of a two-year grade. I explained the essential components of preproduction and how to produce during the earliest of stages and then I asked if there were any questions and one girl put her hand up in the air.
“Do you walk your dog in heels?”
That was her question: do I walk my dog in heels? And look, I would have loved it if her question had maybe been about production design or how to steal a shot from a location you don’t have permission to film at, but, as one teacher after another told me over the years, there are no stupid questions – which I always kind of saw as kind of a moronic statement. But I smiled at my student and I told her that I often walk my dog while wearing flip flops, but that my flip flops have a wedge and she laughed and said, “I knew it!” and I guess it’s good to know that my wardrobe is able to provide some stability into someone else’s life.
But if that girl ever starts to really annoy me, I will just smile sweetly at her on some random Thursday and ask if her costume is a fish.