Friday, December 10, 2010

Dating My Clothes

One of the many things I love about San Miguel de Allende is that people take the time to dress up. Perhaps it’s because there’s a preponderance of women here and women like to show off for each other; or maybe it’s because the beauty of the place inspires people to step it up so as not to sully the landscape.

Can you imagine doing this in sweatpants?

In any event, it’s common to see women bedecked, bejeweled, and be-hatted.  Styles you see on the street range from trendy to classic to Santa Fe hippie to Frieda Kahlo.
 
San Miguel diva Eleanor Piazza

This all suits me just fine.

I’ve been a bit of a clothes-horse since age17 when I made myself a Nehru-style jacket from an old brocade curtain. This sartorial adventure was not inspired by Scarlett O’Hara but rather by early Sonny and Cher in their hippie days, before they went all Vegas-y and Bob Mackie crazy. I saw the duo on television in the mid-60s singing “I Got You, Babe” and was quite overwhelmed by their outfits. I didn’t actually remember all the details, but I had an impression of a fur vest, hip hugger pants, stripes, and mismatched prints. It was in black and white so I don’t know what colors they we were wearing.

My Sonny and Cher inspired era:
I made that skirt from some old jeans and scraps of fabric


Then I thought to search on YouTube to see if I could find that performance. There were actually several clips of them singing that song from 1965, including this one and another from English television also featuring the Beatles. (I love technology! This memory would have been lost to me without it.) The outfits were every bit as insanely cool as I remember and I’d still wear them today if I didn’t stand to look ridiculous. And yes, I remembered more-or-less correctly, there was fur and stripes and frills galore.

They clearly influenced me because my taste has always run to off-beat vintage clothes and exotic ethnic garments made, I hope, by craftswomen contributing to the economy of their village and not 13-year-olds toiling in a sweatshop. You’re more likely to find me rummaging at an estate sale than at Barney’s sale.

In fact, I’ve done more than just buy this stuff. In the 1960s my friend Liza and I had a stall on Portobello Road selling old clothes: and I mean really old; Victorian, 20s. Later, I had one at Camden Lock market dealing in army surplus clothing. And more recently, I had booths in Antique malls in California where I bought and sold vintage clothes. It’s a bit of shocker to find that 80s styles are considered vintage now!

But here’s the thing: I was chagrined to realize a while back that my own wardrobe was more interesting than me. I tended to buy clothes for the life I’d like to live, rather than for the life I actually live. What was I thinking when I bought that silk shawl with flowered embroidery and a beaded fringe at a yoga convention? I must have been in some blissed-out state to have fallen for the sales lady’s pitch about how great it would be over a strapless dress after a night of dancing. At the time I hadn’t been out dancing since about 1992 and have never in my life worn anything strapless.

And what about that faux leopard skin vintage coat? I sprang for it because I’d seen a fashion magazine story about how leopard print was the hot look that season. There were photographs of hip looking people in New York swathed in leopard at swell events: scenes right out of Serengeti and the City.

Wow, I thought when I spotted the 1960s version at a garage sale, I’ll wear that next time I go to a swanky event. Since it only cost $12 it didn’t seem worth dry cleaning, so I tossed it in the washing machine. It came out resembling a predator with a bad case of bed-head. But after a couple of hours of grooming it was quite spiffy. After all that trouble, a year later it was still hanging unworn in the back of my closet. The implications were quite depressing. I assessed each unworn outfit and tried to remember what fantasy scenario I had in mind when I bought it. There must have been some subconscious longing to be the person who would wear it and fulfill the promise that it held.

Clearly, I had two options: throw a garage sale, or let my clothes out to live the life they deserved. I had to assume that my clothes would be a pretty good guide and companion to the social life of my dreams.  Of course, I did neither. I wasn’t really ready to relinquish my cherry-picked wardrobe, nor was I likely to change from being a homebody who was not very proactive about making social events happen.

I eventually opted for a third scenario: I moved to San Miguel with pretty much nothing but a couple of suitcases full of clothes. Finally, I found a place where wearing just jeans and t-shirts and staying home are not an option. There’s too much going on to miss, and my clothes have turned out to be a pretty good guide and companion to the social life of my dreams.

Out dancing in my 1970s vintage
Diane von Furstenberg silk shirt

My only regret is that I left my faux leopard coat in storage, not realizing how bitterly cold it gets here at night. You can be sure it will be coming back with me next trip down.

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