we met when he was 18, barely out of diapers. couldn't even legally drink.
he was The Gap boy to this thrift shop junkie.
he had barely outgrown the Sears threads all the rage in Winnipeg, mandated at home by a fabulously frugal matriarch, and was beginning to spread his cottony wings into Franchise territory.
yes, The Gap, Club Monaco, Banana Republic.
and Kinsk. let's not forget Kinsk.
the boutique clothing store where Kevin worked was tucked away in a teeny, tiny corner on the 3rd floor of the Eaton's Center. he was their reliably unreliable cashier. flipping the "Be back in 5 min.!" sign and leaving for two hours to go to an audition. you'd leave too if you were inundated with ignorant Americans asking questions about our "funny money" and "why is it so many different colors?". but it all ended ceremoniously when the owners showed up in a panic, declaring a "bank run" type clearance on all merchandise, as Eviction appeared on the horizon marching steadily towards the store holding sickles and scythes high, ready to clear out the merchandise with an economic slice.
"Take what you want and run!" the owner whispered in a panic. i'm not exactly sure what happened, but i know i got a sweatshirt out of it.
i, on the other hand, was a fabricated fashionista, stitched together from rags and resources.
one part resourcefulness and two parts necessity, my wardrobe was borne from a material mish-mash of bargains from The BiWay bin and hand-me-downs from my mother and godmother.
i'm not sure when my mother allowed me to dress myself independently; she was pretty great about creative expression. i'd always had my color of choice on my bedroom walls, even when that color became, at age 15, grape juice purple. but at heart, my mother was a pragmatic lioness, dressing her cubs appropriately. so when the time came, she ditched all fashion sense in favor of practicality as any good mother should. "did you bring a jacket?", "are you wearing a vest [undershirt]?", and especially in Canada, "where are your mittens?".
i concede, the invitation probably clearly stated, "Play Clothes, please." and this was where my powers of manipulation vanished.
"But, MU-MMYYY! I don't WANT to wear pants."
"It says play clothes, so you must wear play clothes. You must be sensible."
sensible. ugh. SENSIBLE. is there any word worse than sensible? i'm not sure if my mother pictured private school princesses rolling around in puddles of mud, and french kissing the family poodle, but there was no talking her down.
pants. that's right, PANTS, to a little girls' birthday party.
it was a nightmare. when i arrived, i might as well have been strutting a catwalk naked for all the finger pointing and tittering my "silhouette" created. amongst the frilly frocks i stood out like a stained doily, head to toe in brown. BROWN. dark chocolate brown. brown top. brown pants. a unitard of poo. born to stylish European parents, this 1st gen. Canadian probably looked fairly Micheal Kors chic in a 70's-disco-pantsuit-y-kind-of-way, but to my 7 year-old mind this humiliation was beyond description. not only was i in PANTS, but they were the color of POO.
i was mortified. MORTIFIED.
then there was the first day of school. high school.
is there ever a day in your life when you are more scrutinized than the first day of high school?
and believe me, for as much as i wanted to look like Molly Ringwald in every John Hughes flick, i could never quite master her pouty, effortless chic. if she wore a hat, it tilted ever so "avant-garde". when i wore a hat, i got lice. [true story. another blog]. when she patted on lip gloss she was divine angst, when i patted on gloss, i looked like a porn star. and when she wore pink, she was...pretty.
when i wore pink...
after 11 years, emerging from the bubble of private school fashion is daunting. every day it's the same routine: oxfords polished? check. shirt ironed? check. toothpaste washed from tie? check. - it's predictability a boring bliss. so entering high school at age 13 with no clear vision of my style was a recipe for disembowelment - of the Mean Girl kind. on that first morning in 1982, pumped up in a personal huddle, THIS was my best line of defense; The Outfit that would plow through the line of scrimmage and score the game-winning touchdown...
[enter the pink.]
a hot pink terrycloth [yes, the fabric of towels] polo shirt, bright white terrycloth short shorts, those ankled white tennis socks with hot pink pompoms flirtatiously hanging off my heels and white Keds - the generic kind. they were probably called Kedz. my outfit was a winnah! i knew it! i matched! i was stylin'! i was Phat, before Phat existed. i was Vogue before the song, before the underground dance. i had arrived! until SHE walked by. the ubiquitous Mean Girl. she scanned me quickly, the studied once over through Maybelline blue-shadowed lids, flipped her Aqua-Netted floppy locks back with disdain [why didn't my hair bounce like that?], and quipped...
"where's your tail?"
she burst into uproarious, scornful scoops of high-pitched laughter with her superiorly dressed minions with whom i simultaneously wanted to hang and cast upon some teenage version of a voodoo curse.
i thought bubbled, "bunny? bunny. omg, bun-ny. tail as in bun-ny. she thinks i look like a playboy bunny!!!"
which was funny because i am literally missing a couple of qualifying elements. read: big boobs.
i was mortified. MORTIFIED.
until theatre school.
all bets were off in theatre school. we lived the permanent performance of the musical, "Anything Goes!" there was the girl who shaved her head. the "workshop" where my 3rd years, covered in mud, ran around naked in a circle, reciting something or other to Lou Reed. and then there was the NIGHT. I. WENT. TOPLESS.
theatre school's version of The Prom was called The Bunny Ball, i think because it fell around Easter, or maybe because we were all going at it like rabbits. i had purchased a sheer, read: see through, black shirt with brass buttons laddering up the front. one step up from the mid-80's fishnet fad, it was meant to be classed up with a tank or lacy camisole underneath. i don't know what i was thinking, but i know what i was drinking[!] because after the champagne toasts in my apartment, the "should i, or shouldn't i?" banter in my brain had stilled and i yanked off my bra to the enthusiastic hoots and hollers of "IV-A-NANS!".
just file the evening in triplicate:
"What Was She Thinking?"
Blackwell's Top 10 Worst Dressed List
The Wardrobe Malfunction Before It's Time
i was mortified. MORTIFIED.
it is noteworthy that as i described this blog to my husband, this was the first example of my fashion senselessness to blurt from his mouth.
then one day you wake up and realize you are wearing a "Princess" shirt. you think, "am I too old to be wearing this?" - a baseball-style shirt with navy sleeves and a lighter blue torso with "Princess" scrawled across the front in glittery raised letters. that and pigtails. at age 30. "How long can I pull this off?", you think. sure, you're getting carded everywhere you go, but you don't want to wander into, "WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME!?!?!" territory.
the boy can't win.
"Does this make me look fa- ?"
don't pause. don't think. just answer.
"You didn't even look!"
"Yes, I did."
"Well, now I don't know what you think."
"You look fine."
"But do I look fa- ?"
"Yes, I do."
yeah. the boy can't win.
but, as the boy becomes a man, and you make peace with your scars and satellite cellulite [they can see this from space!!!], you make peace with your wardrobe. even when you hold up a new top and he pauses.
[tilt of head. silence.]
"Well, I like it! Just don't call it a Russian tablecloth!"
"It's more like a Ukrainian Easter Egg."
no. you're even proud.
busting to the couple on the beach who love your new top -
"thanks! i just bought it at a thrift store!"
why, WHY do you feel the need to announce this to the world? is it a mini-ego trip? "See! I conned you! You probably thought I paid a fortune for this fabulous shirt that in no way resembles the national flag of some unknown African nation."
"That woman at the meeting like my shirt", you boast.
"Oh, she liked your bandana shirt?"
if he can't win, you can't win.
some things never change.
and ain't that FABULOUS.