1. Jones Bag 2. Oscar Dress 3. Tulip Queen Tea Jacket 4. Pyramid Bootie
I remember walking through the women’s section of a Department store with my mother as a child and thinking, “How on earth could anyone ever want to pay to wear this stuff????” Sensible slacks. Mock turtleneck cable knit sweaters in shades of carnation pink, powder blue, and mocha. Boxy blazers. “Twin sets”. Brown pumps. Ew. Going to the mall with my mother was brutal. Shopping at its absolute worst. It involved a 45 minute drive to get to the mall, 15 anxiety-filled minutes touring the sadistically sprawling parking lot for an ideal parking spot that didn’t actually exist, hiking across miles of hot tarmac to get to the door (“Mama, I’m thirsty!” we would whine. “Drink your spit,” she tenderly replied), then a minimum of 3 hours inside the windowless, muzak-ed purgatory of the department store of choice, where we swam not in the water and the sun, but in a pool of metallic fluorescent light and grimly beige carpet that was perplexingly riddled, absolutely riddled with loose staples and pins. I would creep into the center of one of the revolving clothing racks and pry shards of metal from the carpet with my fingers while I pretended to have been kidnapped until I was forced to miserably crawl out when it became apparent that no one was looking for me, while my sister gloried in acting like a grown up who was terribly humiliated by my shenanigans. And my mother would try on skirts. Black skirts. She tried on the same. Black. Skirt. Over. And. Over. Again. Occasionally, but not often, she would make a purchase. Occasionally, but not often, she would decide to keep the purchase. More often than not, she would bring the purchase back for an exchange, at which time she would try on more sizes and slightly different cuts of the same black skirt. After we left the mall, bedraggled, dehydrated, cranky, and mildly suicidal, we would begin the trek home, but not without stopping at the grocery store, since we were already out. There is no more piquant despair than that of a child who has been imprisoned in a mall on a sunny day and is then forced to see the last of the sun sinking beneath a grave of suburban sprawl as she is forced to then enter a violently air-conditioned grocery store. Such was my woeful plight one such summer night, and then I saw her.
From a wasteland of pleat-front bermuda shorts and sleeveless polo shirts emerged a vision of hope. She walked spritely across the parking lot, the clip-clop of her heeled boots cracking through the muffled resignation of the squeak of shopping carriages. The boots were calf-high and Victorian, lacing all the way up the front. And they were white. Her lace dress swished and twirled about her knees. And it was red. Her velvet jacket flowed luxuriously over it all. And it was purple. Her hair was shoulder length, bouncy, and platinum. She looked up and saw me gaping at her, and smiled at me. And she was in her 40’s.
A tremor of shock ran from the soles of my feet to my weakened knees, and I numbly caught hold of my mother’s shopping carriage and hazily walked through the rest of the evening like one sleepwalking. My extremities were cold, but a lively fire had been ignited in my heart. The purple woman seemed to me an angel, a pillar of light that shone through the fog of beige, unraveling the yarn of the dreaded short-sleeved mock turtleneck sweater twin set, banishing its scorched and screaming fibers to the shadowy corners of the hell from whence it sprang. I realized that growing up didn’t mean you had to resign color, playfulness, and fun. Indeed, it means you have the liberty to indulge your unique sensibilities to excess, to never enter the groaning den of the department store, and to use your style as the angel’s voice that breaks through a sea of apathy. Bring your children to sunlit boutiques where they will hear the dulcet tones of Harry Belafonte. Wear different boots, screamingly colorful jackets, and swishy dresses. And for the love of god, please fill your adorable, perfectly-sized handbag with juice boxes.