Knowing What Not To Wear doesn’t mean The Right Things To Wear are available in my size

Posted September 11th, 2009

Physical decay is inevitable. Poor hearing is diminished by the constant whine of tinnitus. Myopia gets more myopic. Bulges expand and gravity pulls them downward.

I’ve been test-driving my new “desk specs” and they improve my posture—I no longer hunch forward and bring my nose up to the monitor screen. My ophthalmologist had recommended trifocals when I complained about my deteriorating vision. Those were a five-hundred dollar mistake. I then asked for a new prescription just for things near and near-ish. He suggested that so specialized a pair of glasses was unnecessary. I insisted.

Dr. N. is a fine ophthalmologist but he is young man with perfect vision. My glaucoma specialist and optician, on the other hand, thought my request was perfectly reasonable. They are also women of a certain age who wear glasses.

At any rate, I was wearing the new glasses to watch television at lunchtime. Not bad. My Dear One surfed past various stations looking for something short and entertaining until I asked him to pause at The Learning Channel’s clothes-closet intervention, What Not To Wear. The English original features London fashionistas Trinny and Susannah. In America we get Stacy London and Clinton Kelly.

What caught my better-focused eye today was a young woman who will look more or less like me in twenty-five years. She was a big girl; I am, or was at some point, five feet ten and a half inches tall and now I carry twenty-five extraneous pounds. She was wearing a long, straight denim skirt and an Eddie Bauer sweatshirt; I buy Eddie Bauer like a parochial schoolgirl buys uniforms. Her flat, fine, straight hair hung limply well past her waist; okay, I hacked mine off a few years ago, but I still have the urge to grow it back.

Was it possible that through this intermediary, Stacy and Clinton were about to renovate me and my wardrobe? Might I at last resemble the erudite professor of art history and the cosmopolitan traveler I pretend to be? I said to my Dear One, “Put The Remote Down, Please.”

Ye gods, every item of wardrobe they chucked into the trashcan could have come from my closet: the long skirts, the shapeless flowered dresses, the pieces identical except for color. I reached for the pad and pen I keep handy by my end of the couch and prepared to take notes.

Stacy and Clinton showed Lynn (a nanny and graduate student) what they thought she should wear: well-structured blazers, knee-length skirts, cropped cargo pants, jazzy footwear, and, above all, gemstone colors that make her fair skin and blue eyes glow. Then they shoved the poor girl onto the streets of Manhattan with five thousand dollars and instructions to spend it quickly and well.

Her frustration was palpable. She went into store after store. She pulled this item and that off the racks and muttered into the camera following her while Stacy and Clinton groaned over her choices. The most constant refrain I heard was, “They just don’t understand. I know what I am supposed to buy but nothing fits.” And it was painful to me to see Lynn presented as a galumphing great girl too stubborn to express her innate femininity rather than as a young woman who has been so marginalized by the fashion industry that the very act of shopping was depressing.

Finally, as is always the case, Stacy and Clinton stepped in. They guided Lynn into—no big surprise here—Lane Bryant. This is a store not even listed on the WNTW website because it’s so unappealing to the fan base. They also began to talk about ways of solving the fit problem. The possibility of a link between the paucity of quality and affordable clothing for women of stature and the tendency of such women to dress in oversized tee-shirts and baggy denim received maybe a nanosecond of attention.

The timing of the show was perfect. In a fit of desperation, I had just spent a couple of hours and three hundred dollars at Lane Bryant. I left with four bras, one cowl-necked jersey and a pair of black pants. Two pairs of jeans and one pair of brown slacks should arrive in the mail in the new few days. What I want Stacy and Clinton to tell me is whether any similar stores might be worth a visit next time I bite into the Big Apple.

In the end, Lynn rejected all efforts to restyle her hair. She accepted a full coat of war paint, but said a little lip gloss was, in all probability, the most makeup she would ever use. At the unveiling back home in Washington DC, she donned some lovely ensembles, things I might even consider wearing myself.

In the end, Stacy and Clinton did acknowledge that dressing well goes beyond WNTW to WTFTTWTF: Where To Find Things To Wear That Fit.

However I still have a problem. If Lane Bryant is the only retail option I have, am I merely exchanging my Eddie Bauer uniform for a different one?


BLOG CATEGORIES: General, Popular Culture, Shopping

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