Sunday, September 19, 2010

When I grow up...

When you were small, did you ever wonder what you’d be when you grew up?  Of course you did.  We all did.  Some of us still do.  I’d better figure it out soon as I only have a finite amount of time to come to the conclusion and final decision.  But there is one area of my life I have conquered.  It took decades (quite literally) but I know now who and what I am in the world of …. Fashion!
 I’ve come to the conclusion that all areas, at least in the United States, whether city, town or farmland, have three distinct types of women:  Prissy, dressy (always perfectly coifed and suitably made up; Bohemian (they don’t even shave!); and I-could-care-less (yeah, no explanation needed).
Generally speaking, I’ve always lived in the prissy, dressy sectors.  Not that I did that by design; I think it’s more been Kismet’s cruel joke on me. 
Growing up in Lodi, New Jersey, a Sicilian community, everyone was always perfectly dressed.  Remember, fashionista does derive part of its terminology from the Italian.  The hair was always perfect (usually because everyone had a weekly beauty parlor routine, which was kept with far more ritual than their thrice yearly church-going routine); and you wore heels almost everywhere, at all times (except to football games, when ballet slippers were then acceptable).  Okay, the guys were different.  After all, this was the age of Grease, and we were in an Italian (forgive me, Sicilian) neighborhood, so the guys either wore the “guinea tees” or regular tee shirts with the cigarettes rolled up in the sleeves (even though none of them even smoked,?)  After all, even guys have an image to maintain.
Oh, I forgot, not everyone here is a Yankee, so for those of you who might not know, I’ve included the following definition found in the Urban Dictionary under Guinea Tee:
A white, ribbed, sleeveless tee-shirt. Known also as a wife-beater singlet or a muscle shirt. Worn primarily as an undershirt, as its name implies, generally worn as a normal shirt on any given day by Itallian-Americans (Guineas, or the New Jersey sub-species of 'guidos') from Brooklyn, hence the name; "Guinea Tee". Usually found in its natural habitat along coexistant species such as the baseball bat, Mets hats, and copius amounts of hair gel.
Uh, yep, that’s a really good description.  Thanks Phillip Nannery (whoever you are).
I, of course, obediently spent all my money on clothes, jewelry and shoes.  My hair was always teased to perfection (I’ll see if I can include a picture from my junior prop to prove it), and the nails were always polished.  I read an article in Redbook (or was it Teen magazine) that teenagers accounted for 90% of the profits of cosmetic companies in those days.  Well, let me tell you!  They didn’t make makeup bags large enough for all the cosmetic goodies we had to carry!  And hairspray!  Well, have you ever worn a beehive?  Yeah, at least two cans of the stuff was necessary to keep that in place for a whole day!
Then came the ‘60s.  Beatniks and hippies and granola-crunching, tree-hugging, back-to-nature liberals filled the land.  It was the Age of Aquarius, the Hair generation.
Lodi was not affected much by that metamorphosis when I lived there.  I think they had an invisible border patrol marshaling the boundaries of our fair town that prevented such aliens from ever entering (and I use the word alien, not as in foreign-born, but just as in foreign in nature for Lodi standards).  After all, there were years of tradition to be upheld.  Who knew what chaos would ensue if we all stopped wearing pantyhose and bras!
However, I had television!  You might keep those vermin out of Lodi but you could not prevent them from invading our living rooms!   I was no longer a teenager and now had to make a decision: Who was I going to be in this brave new world?
Beatniks were way too cerebral and morose for me.  They always dressed in black, and after years of wearing that color to make me look thinner while schoolmates wondered if I was mourning (for years, apparently) the death of a close family member, I had made the decision never to go that direction again. Besides, I would have had to become studiously cool!  That meant putting way too much effort into something that was supposedly effortless.  I crossed that off my fashion list.
Hippies had that cool-looking long, flowing hair, which I just loved!  Well, not the unwashed ones, but hair like the girl on Mod Squad.  Hers was clean, but it didn’t look too clean, if you know what I mean. Yeah, I thought, I could go with that.  Well, guess what!  You have to have very thin, very fine, very straight hair to pull off that look, none of which I had.  Okay, it wasn’t curly enough to do the afro thing, but just letting my hair hang loose meant I looked like some sort of bush was starting to form underneath the long, flowing hair, causing a kind of triangular look to my head, with the point, of course, being at the top!  No, not a good look.  I did like the no makeup part, though, and cosemetic companies everywhere saw huge declines as I gave up the 2-hour regime of “putting on my face” every morning, afternoon and evening.  However, the rest of the hippie culture (free love and free drugs) was not my scene.  I was so naive back then, I thought “Make love, not war” was a great idea, till I realized what they really meant by the “make love” part!
So that leaves us with the granola-crunching liberals.  I subscribed to Mother Earth News and all my cookbooks came from Rodale Press (the editors of Prevention magazine and a zillion other natural-remedy, natural-living publications).  I read book after book on living off the land, homesteading they called it.  I read about this girl who lived in Hawaii in an old school bus.  Showers and cooking were all done outside.  They never did mention where the potty was, however.  Anyway, that sounded like a fabulous idea!  I could really embrace that!  But I had married my high school sweetheart. Yeah, one of the guinea-tee wearing guys.  Somehow he never really embraced that whole idea of living in a school bus by a stream (so you could generate electricity and sell it back to the electric companies, of course) and the houses I looked at (the ones with no running water in them) had never even entered into his imagination, never mind his conscious thought.  Then when I started make pies from the natural cookbooks that used wheat germ as a crust – well, remember he was Italian!  Needless to say, none of that came to fruition.
When you boil it all down, I guess my British roots took over finally.  I became more the tailored, tweedy, sensible shoes type of person.  The hair?  Well, we’ll discuss that at another time, but it does its own thing. 
So how does that go over living here in the South?  Well, Scarlett O’Hara was not the figment of anyone’s imagination.  I am here to tell you without any doubt whatsoever, Scarlett is alive and well and resides in every well-bred, gentile Southern woman alive today!  I work with three of them (well, many more, really, but just three whose habits I know well enough to comment on.)  One, though, is Scarlett reincarnated!  It’s not just the makeup and clothes; it’s her speech, her accent and her mannerisms.   It’s a ball to go into work each day and feel like you’ve been transported back in time to a different era, the pre-Grant, antebellum South.  How my Yankee accent must grate on their nerves compared to the gentle flowing tones so typical of this area.  But they are much too polite to ever say so, and their Southern hospitality and charm allows me to be who I am, though they must often scratch their heads in complete puzzlement at times (all done in a very Scarlett-like, gentile manner, of course.)
I love them all and enjoy and celebrate their prissy, dressy ways.  I am in awe at the amount of shoes they own!  Imelda Marcos had nothing on them!  They would rather shop than be anywhere else in the world.  Even on vacation, it must include a good shopping trip or what point was there in going somewhere else when there are perfectly good upscale shops right here in Winston!  And I envy them.  One sniffs out bargains like a ravenous hound dog  on the trail of a yummy little rabbit, which is good since I’ve worked with her for a year and have yet to see her wear the same outfit twice!  I can always tell when one of them has a doctor’s appointment!  Heck, I wear that kind of stuff to weddings!  For my doctor appointments I’m usually in shorts.
So what’s the point of today’s blog?  We are who we are.  While our environs may influence us, they cannot change our core.  I would love to live a while in Africa and wear the beautiful colors and headdresses intricately wound upon their heads like crowns.  Or in India where I would finally learn how to wrap that sari appropriately, transforming it from a flat, long piece of silk into one of the most amazing, luxurious and feminine garments I’ve ever encountered.  But you know what?  I’m old enough to know me now and who I am.  While I admire and enjoy the styles, I’m a pareo (sarong) girl at heart and always will be.  Wish I could wear those to work, but I think, as tolerant as they are with me, the dress code still requires underwear! 

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