Monday, October 13, 2008

On fashion disasters

I base most of my fashion sense on what doesn't itch. ~Gilda Radner

ROBERTA: I know we have very serious concerns in our world, but we can't think about big problems all the time! Hence, fashion disasters...

A few weeks ago I overheard Hank talking enthusiastically with another writer about “Project Runway,” a fashion reality show. I went to check out their website and learned that the show is already in its fifth season. And that about sums up my knack for fashion. By the time I’ve converted to shoulder pads and puffed sleeves, the well-dressed woman is outfitted in pencil skirts and tuxedo blouses. Frilly girl dresses in style? I’m wearing pinstriped man suits and those stupid silk bow ties that were in vogue in the eighties. I’ve had to come to terms with the facts: I’ll never be on the cutting edge. And part of the problem is that comfort always trumps trendiness when I’m shopping. Anything tight, abrasive, or even with an itchy tag—forget it. An old friend recently sent a photo from my days in Tennessee in the late 70’s. I went to grad school dressed in these overalls—this is what we call a fashion disaster. And now we are ready to hear about yours.

Cutting edge isn't always a good thing. I bought this shearling coat from the window of a chic Newbury Street store -- with the proceeds from the first big feature I sold to Boston Magazine. (Literally, I was walking back from the BM office and the check burned a hole through my purse.) When my mother first saw me in this coat, she rolled her
eyes and asked if I was trying to look homeless. I chalked it up to her lack of fashion sense. A few years later when we were going to an evening event, my husband, who rarely comments on my outfits, asked if I would please wear any other coat but that one. Again, what did he know about fashion? Finally a couple of years ago, my daughter confided she thought the coat was the ugliest thing she'd ever seen. She'd actually been photographed and named the most fashionable girl on her college campus, so I had to listen. Or maybe it was the rule of threes. Anyway, it's still in my closet, but won't be making an appearance this season.

RO: This is hard for me. Not because I'm so fabulously stylish, but I feel like I've been wearing the same things since the fourth grade. Different lengths, tight, baggy, low rise, high waist, I probably have a hundred pairs of black pants and just as many black tops and jackets. I friend actually told me I was starting to look like Johnny Cash a few years back so I've tried to integrate some color into my wardrobe (hence the red fishnets last weekend.) Problem is, that's not what I usually reach for when I get dressed. Every season I buy a few magazines and tell myself that this year I'm going to look a little spiffier. Never really happens, but I keep buying the magazines.

Last year I was on a flight from San Francisco to New York and the guy from What Not to Wear got on the plane. I swear, I thought my friend had set me up.

I did have a pretty excruciating perm in the 80's but mercifully no pictures survive.

This is my fourth grade picture (I think..) A black and gray blouse that I wore as often as my mother would let me. I'd wear it today if I still had it. It was cute. And I wore that headband, or something like it for about a year. Pretty hideous.

HALLIE: I am a huge Project Runway fan, but geeze Louise, I wish they’d deep-sixed Kenley. Talk about annoying and quel cloying, deja vue fashion sense. On the other hand, our waitress last night at the Ashmont Grill was wearing a red leather flower on a strap around her head, a la Kenley. With her baggy red South Boston T-shirt and jeans, I thought it looked pretty silly.

But I’m hardly one to talk—I was wearing black sweatpants and a bright orange zip-up sweatshirt hoodie. Celebrating early Halloween? It was cold! Still, not a fashion statement worth repeating.

Hey, I remember when we wore overalls. And later parachute-material jump suits (I had one in turquoise which was, as I recall, adorable).

Here’s me on vacation in purples and pinks—that was the decade when we tucked in our shirts. My favorite part is the sunglasses stuck over the babushka.

HANK: Rosemary! You were absolutely darling. You all are. And that attitude is so Jan. No nonsense.

Ah, well, you got me here. I spent lots of my teenaged years drawing fashion designs. I really wanted to be a designer, of some kind, though if I remember my drawings at all, the clothes were more suited to Barbies than real people. Think: mermaid skirts. I had Cyd Charisse paper dolls, and loved to cut out the clothes and tab them on.

When I was 15, I think, I cut my hair in an asymmetrical Vidal Sasson, up over one ear. I thought I was so mod. My mother never recovered. (Imagine! You walk into your bathroom and your daughter has hacked off half her hair. That's how she saw it, at least.) Blue eyeshadow, Cleopatra eyeliner. I do wish I had a photo. But, alas, no. And I ALWAYS got sent home from school for having my skirts too short. Once was with a white lace dress and white lace stockings. I was SO mod.

Anyway, now I'm on TV, and have to be kind of careful. And in the past, actually, until maybe 10 years ago, that has resulted in my "look" being a bit--prim. Don't I look like a dorm counselor here? With kind of Farrah hair. And oh yeah, my hair is brown. Imagine that. This is from 1976. (And I still have that blouse. Which, ta dah, is now back in style. And the pearls)

And um, I like Kenley. Yes, her voice is annoying. But she's really talented.

ROBERTA: Oh good job with the pix this week ladies! I think you all look cute. And Hallie, I remember wearing exactly those colors--I had a pink blouse and a maroon skirt that I was so proud of...


  1. I keep fighting the urge to grab Kenley and ask if her head is sprouting feathers. And as far as I'm concerned, she's much too one-note--and much too young to be channeling the fifties, Mad Men notwithstanding.

    Hank, how did you even try to get away with such short skirts? At my high school the hem had to touch the floor when you kneeled--and sandals were considered obscene because your toes were naked (no, this was not a Catholic school, and we were only an hour from New York). Of course, my first year in college everyone was sporting eight-inch hems.

  2. Exactly, the hem had to touch the floor. And I measured skirt length my putting my arm against my side, and where my fingers hit, that was the correct length.

    How did I try to get away with it? I was just...devoted to fashion? (Ha ha ha..more like just a problem student.)

  3. OK, I guess I should watch this show. Margery Flax and Marcia talley were yakking about it and I felt like such an outsider. You guys were so cool.. all of you....I was definitely the nerdy kid. toes? You hussy.

    We should get some of our readers to send in fashion disaster pix.

  4. Ro, you think they would humiliate themselves if they didn't absolutely have to???

    And Sheila, at our junior high, the principal had to be able to stuff his fist up the legs of boys' pants (to the knees), to make sure they weren't too tight. Weird...

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  6. Oh, Roberta. Imagine if a principals tried to do that today. Lawsuit city.

    Oh, Margery and Marcia watch, too? Gotta go email them...

    Know what I don't understand?
    Ruching on blouses.
    Asymmetrical hemlines.
    One shoulder dresses.
    Handkerchief hemlines.
    Shoes that have peep toes AND lace-ups.

    And this:
    You wear jeans. And they're impossible because on the fashionable ones, the waists are way too low.

    So you wear a longish t-shirt to cover the naked distance between the pants and your actual waist.(At which point it no longer matters whether the waistline is low or not.)

    Then you wear something shorter over the long t-shirt, and then something even shorter, like a shrug, over the top that's over the t-shirt.

    That looks terrible. Doesn't the longest thing go on the top?

  7. All those things you mentioned Hank sound pretty good, esp. the peep toes and lace-ups. I'm loving those shoes. Nearly brought the high-heeled booties to Baltimore..

  8. Really, Ro? Huh. And that's what makes the world go round.

    (Really?? I love lace ups. And I love peep toes. But not on the same shoes.)

    Back to writing. Gotta hit my quota.

  9. DAMMIT, I missed the conversation about Project Runway??? Rats. I have a secret crush on Tim Gunn. (Yeah, it's a relationship fraught with problems from the getgo, huh?) Let's start a Kill Off Kenley movement.

    Count me in the Johnny Cash club. Except I look terrible in black tops. But I have so many pairs of black pants---most of them folded over the bannister outside my bedroom--that my aunt came upstairs and burst out laughing. She said it looked like a bunch of Amish farmers had left their pants outside and were waiting in my bedroom.

    Everyone's a comedian.

    Fabulous to see everyone looking so stylish in Baltimore!

  10. Annette Dashofy and I ran into Hank and her husband in Starbucks Sunday morning. Hank was stylish and gorgeous. I was wearing jeans, sneakers, and an old ratty t-shirt.

    I went to a Catholic high school and we wore gray pleated skirts and white blouses, but we had no restrictions on the length. Mine (I was skinny back then) barely covered my rear end. An interesting combo with argyle knee socks!

  11. Your photos are all just beautiful--and Hank, your photo is way hot and so not dorm counselor-ish!

    I love Project Runway so much--I, too, think Kenley has great potential, but I think she's just awfully young/immature and if she wins she'll be ruined for life. I've found the show rather uneven this season. No one really stands out.

    Oh, I heart Tim Gunn! I have this desperate desire/horrible fear to be one of his makeovers. Pick me, Tim, please! I threw out a tie-dyed shirt as an offering to you!!!!

    (And Jan--I say wear the coat if it makes you happy. Definitely.)

  12. Hi Laura,
    The coat makes me feel warm, I'm not sure about happy anymore. Unfortunately, now I see that baglady effect my mother mentioned all so many years ago.....

    I'm really feeling left out on this Project Runway thing. Will have to give it a peek when baseball is over.

    And Hank, the thing about the way-too-low jeans is this. If you are tall, like me, and have a long waist, they are actually the most comfortable jeans you can wear (no pinching). But yes, I had to purchase a drawer of those extra long tees -- and have had to coordinate all that layering.

  13. Funny thing I have a similar blouse on that fourth grade photo. It is a breath of fresh air and it reminds me of a time when I was young .

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