Sunday, November 20, 2016


Having spent hours poring over Zappo's website, I remember the distress and the joy of shoe shopping when I was fourteen or fifteen and wearing a size eleven woman's shoe. Of course, there were few to be found in town except sensible brown oxfords or white bucks which made my foot look like Clementine's ("wearing boxes without topses"). Then we discovered Capezio in New Rochelle, NY. I'll never forget the excitement of that first pair. Ballet flats. No arch support. Red leather. I was in heaven. They still sell them.
And it was not only shoes that caused problems. I was about five foot ten inches tall in 7th grade. Finding clothes offered challenges especially at the all-important age of thirteen when "everyone" was wearing the same thing, the flat knit angora pullover sweater and matching unpressed pleated skirt. De rigeur.
My mother was helpful, taking dressmaking classes and learning how to sew and tailor. she made many of my skirts and dresses. Most of them came from the fancy couture patterns I insisted upon, having spent a great deal of time with Mademoiselle and Glamour and Vogue magazines. Even at the tender age of fourteen, I loved fashion magazines and followed the lives of the models as eagerly as my sister stalked the Beatles. 
My mother, my ally, my friend, turned on me over a handbag. She gave me the money to go downtown and buy a bucket bag, a leather bucket-shaped purse being touted as the latest fashion for the teens. I went downtown and completely ignored the bucket bags because I had found the featured Glamour "item of the month," a black patent carryall with large white polka dots - goes with everything - and it was less than the bucket bag. I bought it and carried it home with pride and delight. My mom threw a fit. This was so far from her idea of a school purse that I had trespassed on her very intelligence, displaying a frivolousness with her money that was not acceptable, even infuriating. I pleaded and wept and bellowed my dismay. She remained obdurate. She told me to return it. I refused. She wrapped it up and returned it herself, unfazed by my wailing. My resentment clung for years. Even now, if I saw that bag for sale, I'd buy it. Gaudy. Festive. Fun. What's not to love about polka dots?
Was it the bag? Was it independence? Was it a chance to express my own sense of fashion in an approved manner vis a vis Glamour Magazine? I was going to become a writer and live in a garret, goddammit, but I would do so stylishly.
That purse was dearer to me than any person at the time. It was the sine qua non of fashion taste and pizzazz. Even my crush in biology, Larry Somebody, couldn't really compete with the polka dot bag. I can't think of another article before or since which has generated such pride of possession. Or perhaps I've blown it out of proportion. Only a handbag, you say? But it meant that I could have a tiny taste of the life I coveted from the New York world only glimpsed in magazines. The Mademoiselle College Issue was another absorption when it arrived, or perhaps I bought a copy. Actual living commoners like me were dressed in the latest fashion as they prepared to go off to college, one of the "Seven Sisters" like Vassar or Radcliffe or Smith, and then photographed on campus. I spent as much time on that fall issue as I did on any subsequent textbook until Statistics. The fascination fashion and modeling was eventually surpassed by bell-bottomed Levis and hippie plaid shirts with my embroidered denim jacket in the next decade, but in the early Sixties, this was where my heart dwelled. Ask me about Carol Linley or Dolores Hartman or Verushka and I could tell you anything, even the sad truth that I was too big to be a fashion model.