Monday, December 7, 2015

What we wrote: @HallieEphron costuming for invisibility

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm writing, yes I am. Really I am. But I'm not ready to share. So instead here's one of my favorite passages from NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT. Deirdre Unger, a young woman whose semi-famous father has just been murdered, has to go to Beverly Hills City Hall but she doesn't want the press to recognize her. So, glamorous movie star Bunny Nichol (think: Joan Collins) who is also Deirdre's best friend's mother, dresses her for invisibility.

(BTW I set this scene in my mother's dressing room which had mirrors on facing walls and little crystal sconces and smelled of orange blossoms from her Elizabeth Arden skin cream. Her closets were filled with full-skirted shirtwaists, boxy suits, and chiffon cocktail cocktail dresses. And rows of high-heeled shoes.)
Bunny swept her arms like a conductor silencing the instruments. “Magic,” she said, gazing out in front of her, eyes unfocused, as if watching the word hover before her. “It’s all about misdirection. Make the audience attend to what you want them to see. What will be compelling enough to divert their attention or, in our case, make them tune out—that is the trick.”

Delicately Bunny tapped her chin with long red fingernails and stared at Deirdre in the mirror. She opened one closet door, then another, and another, finally emerging with a half-dozen garments slung over her arm. None of them were cocktail dresses. “Stand up straight. And, please, would you take off that appalling top. It’s making my teeth itch.”

Obediently Deirdre pulled off Henry’s Harley T-shirt and stood there in her bra and drawstring pants.

“Hmmm.” Bunny held up what looked like a gray cotton mechanic’s jumpsuit and squinted. She pursed her lips in disapproval and dropped it on the floor. A pale purple sweatshirt minidress with a
hood met the same fate. A black-and-gold floor-length African dashiki joined the pile. Next she held up what looked like a stewardess uniform—navy pencil skirt and tailored jacket. “Maybe,” she said, and set it aside.

Finally Bunny considered a simple shirtwaist dress, starched and pressed gray cotton with an A-line skirt, white snaps up the front, a white collar, and short white-cuffed sleeves. She held the dress under Deirdre’s chin, narrowing her eyes as she gazed into the mirror. Then she broke into a smile. “Perfect,
don’t you think?” She didn’t wait for an answer.

Fifteen minutes later Deirdre was seated at the makeup table, wearing the dress with a pair of saggy white opaque tights and orthopedic nurse’s shoes. She’d stuffed the toe of one shoe with Kleenex to keep it from falling off her smaller foot. Bunny tucked Deirdre’s hair into a hairnet and secured it with a hairpin. She applied a foundation much darker than Deirdre’s natural skin tone and brushed powder over it, then created hollows beneath Deirdre’s eyes with dark eye shadow. Finally she gave Deirdre a pair of glasses with black plastic frames.

Deirdre put the glasses on. The lenses were clear.

“Up,” Bunny commanded.

Deirdre leaned on her crutch and rose to her feet.

“Stoop,” Bunny said.

Deirdre hunched over.

“Not that much. Just kind of roll your shoulders stick your head out. Think turtle.”

Deirdre adjusted her stance. The mousy woman gazing back at her from the mirror looked like a Latina version of Ruth Buzzi’s bag lady from Laugh-In. She started to laugh. “This is ridiculous. It will never work.”

“Hey, what’s going on?” a man’s voice called from Bunny’s bedroom.

“You don’t think it’s going to work?” Bunny said to Deirdre. “Watch this.” She handed Deirdre her crutch and led her into the bedroom, then threw open the door to the hall. Out on the landing stood the young man Deirdre had seen earlier. He was barefoot and wearing jeans and a stretched-out black T-shirt.

“What’s up with you?” Joelen said.

“I . . . what? Why are you two looking at me like I did something?” he said.

“It’s not what you did. It’s what you’re not doing,” Joelen said, pushing past Deirdre.

“What are you talking about?” The man looked from Joelen to Bunny.

“See?” Bunny said, turning to Deirdre. “Not a single glance your way. It’s as if you’re wallpaper. I’d say the disguise is working.”

So think like a mystery writer! How would you dress a character to HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT!


Joan Emerson said...

Thanks for sharing this . . . I really enjoyed this book!

Joan Emerson said...

Dressed for non-invisibility? Probably something loud or eye-catching. Not too sure what that might be, but . . . .

FChurch said...

I'd give them a sense of confidence, of self-assurance--it doesn't matter what else they are wearing. People notice.

One of my favorite scenes, too!

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

I would have loved to have seen your mother's closet Hallie! I'm trying to think about this question vis a vis Key West, which is filled with tutus and crazy hats and too much skin. I think you were right on target with the service industry outfit. That would work here too--maybe someone with a leaf blower LOL.

Hallie Ephron said...

Oops: My bad!
What I meant to ask is how can you dress a character to hide in plain sight (the early draft of my blog said the opposite.)
Suggestions? Because I'm taking notes.

Hallie Ephron said...

My granddaughte would love your closet, Lucy!
And that closet was MY mother's. She didn't let us wear any of her wonderful clothes but we snuck the high heels and tottered around in them.

Hallie Ephron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hallie Ephron said...

Oh, and I used to wear her fox stole and opera-length gloves. Over my flannel nightie.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Hallie, that sounds like such fun! Love the Ruth Buzzi shout-out....

Mary Sutton said...

Nobody ever notices a delivery man/woman. Or a utility worker, day laborer, groundskeeper, etc.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

SO great. Yeah, I have gone in disguise many times.and I agree, it's all about the attitude. And, ah, no makeup.

Once, at a deception auction event, I wore three sweatshirts, one over the other, and bad shoes, and floppy jeans, and my glasses. Random hair. NOT A PERSON even acknowledged me. I mean--it wasn't like they looked me up and down and dismissed me. I simply was not there. It was really consciousness raising.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

ONce in AIR TIME, Franklin wears a pink shirt and stands near the airport Terminal Ci Dunkin Donuts. (Dunkins employes sometimes wear pink shirts.)

He tells Charlie that that no one noticed him. "Black guy in a fast food uniform?" he asks. "I don't exist."

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Deceptive auction, not deception auction. :-)

Hallie Ephron said...

UNIFORMS! People just register the clothing and don't look at the person. Especially when the setting is congruent with the uniform (scrubs in a hospital).

Hank, I'd recognize you without your makeup but not in bad shoes. ;-)

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yes, uniforms. When I worked at Channel 2 in Atlanta, one mid-summer I went to a hospital to try convince someone in the news to let me interview her.. I was wearing a white linen jacket over a pale blue and white striped silk dress. I was carrying a clipboard. I got yelled at by the hospital PR person who accused me of trying to impersonate a doctor. Which I was NOT doing!

FChurch said...

Have you seen the do-overs in the magazines? Soccer-mom wants to look more professional, etc.? Jeans, tee-shirt/sweatshirt, sneakers, ball-cap/ponytail optional, no make-up. As a woman, you become invisible. For a guy, add the ball-cap, and you're one of a million guys.

Deborah Crombie said...

How about adding a camera to the jeans/ballcap/pony tail (male or female)? Nobody notices a photographer, right? And if they do they assume he/she has a right to be there.

Hallie, what's a deception auction? I'm assuming you mean an auction organized to deceive someone?

Hank, I cannot imagine you in that get up. Really the perfect disguise!

Kathy Reel said...

Hallie, I loved that scene in your book, which was such a great read! And, how amazing it must have been as a kid to sneak into your mother's dressing room with all those glamorous clothes.

Hank, I don't suppose you have a picture of you in that layered invisibility clothing? You are always the glamour entering the room, so it's hard to imagine you as invisible. Lucy, the out-of-the-ordinary is so the ordinary in Key West that it seems there would be lots of choices to go incognito. Of course, the leaf blower is a great idea, as I can imagine walking right past one without a glance.

Susan said...

A few books ago Laura Lippman introduced a middle aged woman who works part-time for her detective, Tess Monaghan. She remarks that she can sit out in plain sight in nondescript clothes with knitting for hours and no one ever notices her, nor could they describe her later. Since I am undeniably middle aged myself, I admit I have found it to be true. If I choose not to draw attention to myself, I can become pretty invisible indeed! (But the trick is keeping my mouth closed, which does not come naturally.)

Edith Maxwell said...

My mother was not glamorous nor did she own a lot of fancy clothes. I STILL loved exploring her top drawer, where she kept underthings and her pearls. And her bottle of Woodhue, which she wore with her (probably only) black dress when she and my father went out.

Add "mom jeans" to the invisibility thing, and maybe Crocs.

Fun post and comments! Yeah, Hank? Sorry, hard to imagine.

Hallie Ephron said...

Yes, Mom jeans! Good, Edith.
Susan, I think it's one of the silver linings of aging... no one looks twice at you. When you're a teenager you're sure they're ALL staring, which they're not.

Reine said...

What are mom jeans? Being out of style is bad enough, but the thought that I might be wearing mom jeans is scary. Tell me. Tell me. I can change.