My daughter gives me a Vogue magazine to read on the plane ride home. I peruse the stories about socialites and designers, trendy restaurants and travel destinations, film stars and their charities, exorbitantly expensive creams and treatments for the skin; about giving up a Greenwich Village duplex (!!!) for a Tudor “farmhouse” in the Berkshires festooned (my word) with an “eclectic display of artwork;” about finding solace after the death of a parent in the ancient art of falconry.
I don’t identify with any of them. Many of the fashions exhibited are absurdly impractical or downright bizarre. They’re shown in exotic locations or derelict buildings. I assume the latter is to exaggerate the contrast between ruin and glamour. A few of the “costumes” are lovely, Marni, Armani, Prada, Balenciaga…But the prices are beyond my capacity, more than my monthly rent; some are more than my yearly food expenses! There’s a simple black bathing suit for over $1000 dollars! (I wonder if it has a “dry clean only” tag like many fine garments.)
Until I was out of college my mother made all my clothes. An accomplished seamstress and knitter, she made everything short of undergarments and pajamas. Each fall and spring we chose patterns and fabrics. Linings were precise, prints matched at the seams, buttons were carefully chosen. I never learned to duplicate her skill as she had no patience for my imperfect attempts, but I did acquire a taste for fine things. I moved to a city where I could purchase clothing at sample sales and clearances in chic shops. My all-time prize purchase (at least fifteen years ago but still wearable) was a butter-soft red leather jacket, originally $800. It had been discounted twice and they deducted another 20% for a coupon I’d received from the store. The final cost was $100.
Many years ago, my mother-in-law, who was very fashionable and willing to spend much more on her wardrobe than I, gave me a few of her cast-offs, a Karl Lagerfield swing coat and three Chanel suits (“dry clean only”). Though “Voguish” these are considered vintage, which is fine with me. I still wear them.
My daughter is both fashionable and frugal. She spends a great deal of money on pocketbooks, has a few Marc Jacobs pieces for work, but might pair these with a fake leather jacket from Target that somehow looks fabulous and fools everyone. She favors neutral colors and simplicity. My two granddaughters (eight and two) favor sparkly things, Hello Kitty, and prints with hearts. The eight-year-old likes peace signs and slogans, the two-year-old, Dora and tutus.
In the airplane bathroom, I contemplate the arch of my eyebrow before going back to my seat. The designer I appreciate most is Ralph Lauren, as his “looks” can be replicated in affordable stores: flannel shirts, jeans, Nordic wool sweaters.
Toward the end of the magazine, the Vogue “taste makers” propose a few “stylishly inspired” recommendations: clothing, jewelry, footwear, gourmet food products and a cookbook that looks intriguing and is in my price range. But I’m a picky eater, a careless cook, and I don’t want to have to purchase a lot of exotic ingredients.
I try to picture myself in “statement-making trousers,” to feel relieved that a red lip goes with everything. I consider bejeweled denim, custom tea filter bags, and $400 oxfords which are really cute and inexpensive in Vogue terms (if not mine). My head spins with all the “must see, must do, must try…” mandates. The engine hums; the ride is smooth. I fall asleep and dream that I’m unable to open my eyes because of the weight of my diamond-encrusted false eyelashes.