Taking a big riskI have been writing in a risk-free environment for too many years. I am starting to look at working on a graduate degree and need to get used to getting feedback again. So, I guess I need a little gentle "needin'-some-lovin'" feedback as Jesse put it on the September W.I.P. thread.
Here is an essay that I just completed after the frustration of shopping for an outfit for my daughter and the assignment to my classes to complete a classification essay. I realized that I had two audiences in mind while I wrote it; that my teenage one might be offended by some of the claims (I'm toning down the language on their version) and the mamma in me couldn't resist sharing with others who have been there. So, ladies, I give you this piece with two requests and a caveat: look at organization and flow of ideas, and I apologize in advance for any harshly worded opinions about fashion. The tone there comes from the frustration I feel as a consumer.
Hopelessly Out of Style
My daughter has a pair of low rise pants. This statement may at first strike no one as unusual, but the circumstances at least bear mentioning. Audrey is two years old, still in diapers, and blessed with one of those darling little baby bodies: all belly when upright and yet with a tiny abdomen when inactive. Her low rise pants defy the logic of diapers. While they may fit from her pelvis to the hip bones when she is dry, they begin to sag as soon as there is something in her diaper. If she were potty trained, they may fit better, but in that case, her little Dora underwear would be at least two inches over the top of the “waistline.” I unwittingly bought two pair of these darling pants for her, for a toddler in a dressing room is a hurdle I have yet to face, in 2T and 3T. I returned the 3T because they were “too big” (in the waist) and never once considered the travesty of having a two year old show off her undies until it was too late.
I have never been what one might term “in fashion,” in part due to a mother thirty years my senior and an overall family penchant for saving money. By the time I was aware that I too wanted an Izod shirt, my family was just getting around to fulfilling my childhood wish for the Wonder Woman Underoos I had asked for three or four years previous. They could not understand why I disdained the gift, but I persisted to reject them so that no one in the middle school locker room would see. And then, when I was eleven, the subject of jeans became a heated debate, moving me into an era of frustration which I once again encounter each time I try to buy another pair.
The eighties brought us stone wash and all of those other finishes to jeans that took them far beyond the realm of basic blue. My mother travailed with me to find a pair in a finish which didn’t cost too much, that would actually fit my body type. After scouring K-Mart, Sears, Penney’s and other tried and true stores, I proved to her that I could not wear any of them. Her frugal nature drove her past the more fashionable stores which stocked Guess jeans, and steered me toward a place where I would pay more than at the bargain basements, but still about half of what the coveted Guess label would cost. And then it happened. In a small boutique store in the mall, a fitting room triumph; I had finally found cute jeans that I could actually wear and that she would actually buy. So, naturally, I went to the shelf and started picking out other slight color variations in the same size. Her response must have gone something like this “Oh no, young lady. You do not need more than one pair.” Those words, to my headstrong preteen self, were marching orders to social obscurity. Just as I was approaching an acceptable level of fashion, just as I had begun to summit this seemingly unsurpassable peak of social acceptance, she flung me down to the base camp of disappointment. No more than one pair? Girls I knew who tried to wear the right pants were mocked cruelly for this very same fashion faux pas she was making me commit. In a world that wore jeans every day, why could I not have more than one pair? I would either have to have a pair, then, indistinct enough that it would look as though I changed my jeans daily, or suffer the heartless jeers of my peer group. But how could I explain this to a woman who had grown up washing her hair once a week?
Oh to have had a role model like Carrie Bradshaw in the eighties. But I suppose it was the eighties that in part made Carrie Bradshaw’s fashion sense what it is. By the time I realized that having a total annual fashion budget which would net my peers two, maybe three, pairs of jeans, I knew I had to do things differently. I accepted the idea of being unlike the others and started to find my own creative mixes. I was either blissfully ignorant, or simply beyond caring, when I purchased not one, but two pair of size zero crop pants from the Gap: one in black with white floral, and white with black floral, on the eve of my college entrance. Were crop pants in? Who knew, and more importantly, I did not care. I had come so far from junior high. As a woman about to enter the world on my own terms, the length of my pants mattered far less than the intellect between my ears.
Throughout my twenties, I went on wearing pants in whichever length I found acceptable, or comfortable, or on sale. My husband and mother in law finally clued me in to the fact that the hem of my pants should reach the top of my shoes, and I started buying slacks that did so. I guess I had not transitioned well from the point in time when I stopped pegging my pants, most likely several years too late, to being an adult who wore pants, or slacks, or jeans. Yes, I even made the transition from the tight fitting jeans, to the ones my thirtieth birthday card joked about: “relaxed fit.” Less than thrilled at the idea of needing extra pleats, but always liking pleating pants, I went through this stage, too, mostly unphased. I was so happy that fashion was something I’d never really have to worry about again. And then I had a daughter. My adolescent promise to myself came slamming back into my face the way thirty degrees feels after an eighty degree car; I would not do the same thing to my daughter. She could have Guess, if Guess was what she wanted; I had promised myself that day at the mall, 22 years ago.
The fashion world has not done women a favor in recent years. Most of our bodies do not retain their pre-pubescent figures, much less the waist lines these styles require. Low rise went from being on the fringe of choices to what seems like the only choice. What the industry does not realize is that very few women can successfully wear low rise pants. Gone are the days of my jeans button irritating my navel; fine. Gone too are the days when I’d need to worry; for here is my body which has borne a child. Now, however, I am wistful for the days when a pair of pants or shorts, or anything I would remotely want to wear on the lower portion of my body would even begin to approach my navel. My goal should never have to be, as it would if I were brave enough to buy a bikini, that my pants will cover my C-section scar, as some of the current styles would not, but that pants should be, heaven forbid, comfortable. On my end of the fashion spectrum, then, I toil to find the right pants and skirts and shorts, but that is now only half of the story.
I read a book recently, entitled Little Earthquakes where a highly comical mother in law buys her infant granddaughter a spaghetti strap tank with rhinestones spelling out the word “Hottie.” She puts the tank on the newborn while she is still in the hospital. This image is so over the top that it is laughable, and thank goodness most infant clothing designers have yet to get to that point. But, in the most terrible turn of fashion events to face me since the advent of Guess jeans, this is where the humor stops. Sizes 2T and up suffer from an insufferable lack of decency. They are now the mini teenage styles, which, while not as yet to my knowledge emblazoned with “Hottie” scream with subtext: Slut in training. These little girl styles forget a very important fact—these little girls have not gone through puberty. The tube tops (excuse my seventies lingo, I’m sure there’s a more flattering name by now) slip right off a little girl’s chest. So, clothing manufacturers make tops with a single spaghetti strap over one shoulder. Why? My daughter is still content on a hot summer day to run around in a diaper. Why does she need to look like the latest tween music video star? Most importantly, why do adjectives for a child’s clothing defy Microsoft’s spell check? It is true that on a recent shopping trip I bypassed the darling little smocked dresses, as I imagine all of the food debris that might accumulate therein. I did have her in Guess overalls (hand-me-downs, not out of my clothing budget) in her nine month picture, I admit. But somewhere in the intervening time between my adolescence and her toddler years, fashion has become not for teens, not for tweens, but for two year olds. When she begins to care, beyond color or comfort or licensed cartoon character, about what I buy for her, I can’t imagine putting my foot down as I always vowed I wouldn’t. But the pitfall of indecency is coming at a much younger age now and I’m going to harness all of my efforts to let my daughter be a child before she becomes a teenager, and dresses like one for what now seems to be all the years of her life.