What many people might not know is a few years ago I went on something called a beauty strike. I’ve been meaning to write about it, but since it started before I began blogging it didn’t seem pressing at any given moment. The essential point is that after having one man after another tell me how I should look I began feeling as if I didn’t know how I wanted to look. It was part of my depression, but I wasn’t looking bad because I was depressed, I was depressed because I couldn’t live up to how other people wanted me to look.
When I was in Paris, I broke my strike. Now, you all may be thinking, “Ah, well, Paris, of course,” and I’m sure it was a contributing factor. However, as I’ve said before, I’m not a fashion hound and that’s not the main reason I like Paris. I’ve actually never paid much attention to the way I looked on previous visits, and didn’t for the first half of that one. What I began realizing was that it had to do with the fact that Paris has a street life. Prior to my beauty strike, I’d been living in New York, then I moved to Baltimore. In Paris, I became aware that the way you look is not only about trying to look pretty. It’s your public face. It’s how you present yourself to the world, a visual calling card so to speak.
I knew that when I lived in New York, but I forgot it in Baltimore, because Baltimore doesn’t have the same sort of street life. I don’t interact with strangers on a daily basis here the way I do in either Paris or New York. This doesn’t mean that in New York I was walking around looking dressy every day. It just means that you’re a little less likely to say to yourself, “Oh, fuck it. That’ll do.” It’s not just that I don’t have a motivation to put on pumps and a full face of make-up. I wouldn’t have a reason to dye my hair pink and shave off half my head either.
So, when I was in Paris, I went on a little shopping spree. A little one. Or maybe a big one for little things. I bought lingerie. Now, maybe I’m crazy, but I dress from the bottom up. When I was young and was planning on being with a man, I’d actually think about what I’d look like at each stage of undress. “How will this outfit look if my pants are still on by my top is off?” Then there’s the matter of sensuality. I never wore hairstyles that required a ton of product because the tactile sense is as important as the visual one. I don’t really go to that extreme any more. Perhaps because I don’t currently have a boyfriend. However, I still like to think that if the opportunity arose I wouldn’t be worrying about wearing ragged, stained underpants with holes in them.
So, when I say that I have a lingerie fetish, but I’m not talking Agent Provocateur playsuits with protruding bows that you can’t wear under clothing. I’m talking about pretty things that you can actually wear under clothes. I never understood how the playsuit things work. Do you make an appointment to have sex? I like to think that I’m ready to take off my clothes at anytime.
Okay, so, I broke my beauty strike. I got my hair cut and dyed, bought some boots and a shirt and a lot of underwear. Pretty underwear, in matching sets, with a garter belt. Technically it’s a “waist cincher” with garters. I believe that’s “suspenders” if you’re British.
However, I got home to realize that I don’t have any clothes that I can wear over it. One thing men don’t realize is that we don’t wear those incredibly ugly, substantial beige or brown things, those tee-shirt bras, old lady underpants and pantyhose to spite them. We wear them because they’re the only things that don’t look awful under certain types of outfits: miniskirts, thin clingy fabric, any kind of stretch fabric. Some of the sexiest clothes can’t be worn with the sexiest underwear. I know, it makes me unhappy too, boys. Now, I realize going to the store and trying to find a dress that I can wear over this is going to be hell.
So, I come up with the brilliant idea of sewing a dress myself. Please, go ahead and read that word “brilliant” as sarcastically as you like. Furthermore, I get the even more brilliant idea of involving my mother in this project. I wanted to do it over the weekend, so I look through a pile of patterns that I bought last year and never made. One of them is a fairly simple dress. It has darts, so it’s fitted, but it’s not tight and it’s not designed to be made with stretch fabric. It looks a little business-like in the picture, but that’s one of the great aspects of making it yourself. I was thinking if I make the neckline a little deeper and make it in a different fabric, it could be exactly the sort of thing I need.
I go over to my mother’s and I show her the pattern. “You don’t think your hips are a little too big for that.” I felt like I wanted to cry. The steam has been taken out of my sails. I want to put on a sweat suit and sit home.
We go to the fabric store anyway and she’s sneering at everything. Everything I pull out, she rolls her eyes at. I don’t see anything I like either, but my eagerness has been so deflated it’s hard to know if there really isn’t anything suitable in the store or I’m just feeling depressed. I start thinking that maybe I could just get some white cotton and some fabric paint and do something creative, but I don’t dare mention that idea to my mother.
If fashion isn’t fun, I want no part of it. I hate what I think of as the fashion of fear. Are my hips too big, is my bust too small, how do I disguise my thighs. It’s just so damned negative. It’s not about aesthetics. It’s not about craft.
Sometimes I think that for just one week I’d like to be the person I wish I could be.