You learn a lot dressing in the dark – about who you think you are, who you think you should be, and where you thought you might be going – which, by the light of day or your now opened eyes, might not correspond as elegantly as you would like with what you’re actually wearing. I used to make a point of putting on make-up in near darkness or using only the tiniest mirror so I didn’t have to look at my entire face. I’m a bit more accepting now, but I can’t say it’s ever really a thrill to behold the ‘moi.’ Similarly, I don’t really want to know how the look has come together until I’m actually ‘on set,’ so to speak. The ‘lights’ (of reality) usually wash out the more egregious mistakes, and in the meantime, I’m focusing on the camera’s ‘red light’ and trying to act as if I know what my lines mean.
To look at my standard issue shroud, I appear to be a lapsed preppie, with some serious (mostly Northern) Italian and French damage, who’s now an early middle-aged widow trying to learn Spanish in Cuernevaca or somewhere like that, and pick up a Mexican boy or two in a local cantina or cabaret, while she’s at it.
Did I say ‘widow’? (Well of course there’s no man in this picture.) I meant ‘cougar.’ You know – a classy sort of cougar. Who naturally favors the ‘classics’ – those pieces that hearken back to preppy stand-bys and the things you and Diana Vreeland loved and your parents hated – and the classics of your own devising. (Hey, if you can improvise a cadenza to a Mozart sonata, you’ve earned some rights.)
Anyway, the part about trying to learn Spanish is true.
Okay, here’s what we think we look like. We’re wearing a blue/off/white-ish quasi-tailored dress shirt – it could be Giorgio Armani, Etro, Equipment, Dolce & Gabbana or an old Brooks Brothers button-down. Maybe a tank or t-shirt under it. La Perla for, uh, support, or fuhgeddaboudit. We’re wearing black or charcoal gray straight leg pants or jeans (Levis) or Dolce & Gabanna tuxedo pants, or some Saint Laurent knock-off, or, uh, Brooks Brothers. Loafers, court shoes, ankle booties, driving mocs, huaraches, Converse high-tops (black). A jeweled silver cuff (opposite our Tiffany elephant hair bracelet) that could inflict some serious damage (though probably to one’s own clothes). Silver earrings – maybe a bit dangly. Ferragamo or Hermès scarf. (Or maybe something we picked up in San Miguel de Allende – to blend in, right?)
Who knows what it comes out looking like? That’s the thing – we usually end up looking more or less like ourselves. Or at least that’s what our friends and colleagues tell us. If we don’t, there’s usually some tip-off. “Interesting” is the dismissive cue of choice: “interesting” shoes, pants, scarf, etc. – meaning, “Are you kidding?” You know it’s seriously dérangé when they ask you when you’re seeing your therapist this week. That translates to, “Are you just coming from, or on your way to, the looney bin?” (If you’re wearing a big pink bow in your hair, you know to ignore them.)
If we use dressing in the dark as an index, we can see that ‘classics’ – the standard wardrobe staples and accessories or those of one’s own devising – are usually defined by strong shapes or readily identifiable contours. Which is why you reach for those standard tailored items, the straight and narrow, the shift or perfect sheath, the Chanel or Jil Sander suit, the easy shoes or perfect booties. But classics morph and evolve; and more importantly an individual’s look (and repertoire of ‘looks’) evolves over time – which is why we keep tweaking the classics, and discovering new possibilities to further refine or amplify our silhouettes – in other words, the stuff that frames our evolving personae.
Of course the other thing about looking at what we’ve put on in the light of day (or camera lights) is that we’re suddenly connected with the moment, the passage of time, the press of events (and pressure of peers), the Zeitgeist – which is where, as Anna Piaggi’s doppio pagine so often reminded us, the art of dressing begins.
That’s the good thing about dressing in the dark: you’re dressing out of time. But it’s also the drawback. Connecting that dream-classic persona with the moment, the current, the pulse – that’s where we connect the classic with the contemporary. And you don’t have to be Beethoven or Stravinsky to do it (though it doesn’t hurt). And that’s where we’ll pick up when we re-convene in this space.