I like to think I’m not a complete philistine, so went outside today in search of culture. TimeOut New York, the bossiest guide around, informed me that today is the last day of the Fashion & Politics exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum, so I hopped a southbound subway to midtown.
Listen, I had no idea fashion could be so political. Here, you could find a 1995 Vivienne Tam polyester dress with Mao faces in a checkerboard design (the positive and negatives images, the designer commented, represented the positive and negative effects Mao had on the Chinese culture).
On the capitalist side,you could find a 1950s-style shirtwaist with IKE printed all over it and a Nixon sundress. But the most alarming fashion statement, to my mind. was Hubert H. Humphrey’s egg-like face beaming out from a dummy’s cleavage, surrounded by the stars and stripes. Looking at it kind of gave me a migraine and later, over coffee, I began to wonder whether the HHH dress had perhaps inspired the riots at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago; you never knows how extremely bad taste is going to affect some people.
Having OD’d on political fashion, I wandered up Seventh Avenue and stumbled upon an Andrew Marc sample sale. Andrew Marc! I love Andrew Marc! The scent of his leather coats makes me euphoric. Besides, I’d never been to a sample show before and needed to investigate. After handing over my coat and packages, I took an escalator upstairs to find sample heaven. Andrew Marc as far as the eye could see — marked down severely.
“Does this look good on me?” a woman asked. She was wearing a skintight leather jacket, looking at herself in the mirror.
Actually, it looked kind of shitty, but what’s the etiquette of a sample store? I told her she might try a bigger size and she glared at me, then turned back to gaze approvingly at her mirror image. Well, all right, honey. Fine. Make a fashion mistake, if you want.
I’d always heard about thundering, hellbent crowds at sample sales, but everybody here was pretty civilized. I thrashed through coat after coat — leather, cloth, down, shearling, with fur, without fur. Then I began the process integral to every fashion foray: justifiation.
Hadn’t people been warning my husband and me about the upcoming winter?
Hadn’t I heard, with my own ears, a woman from Siberia complaining about how harsh and miserable New York winters were?
Isn’t my birthday almost here?
Wasn’t this chocolate-colored down coat, with the fur collar, the hood, the zipper severely marked down? Wasn’t it, in fact, practically free?
Sold! I left the store with my purchase thinking that, for once in my life, I was going to be disappointed if it weren’t a cold winter. It’s not political, it’s personal.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about the shortcomings of genetic testing