Essay 11: Other People’s Clothes

by rosalyster

I could talk about other people’s clothes forever. Why are they so much nicer than my own? Why do they succeed so thoroughly in sending out a clear and compelling message? Other people’s clothes have atmosphere and something to say. They speak of specific moments in the history of people getting dressed; they have a past and a future. The problem with my clothes is that they cannot articulate themselves properly. They are either too quiet or too loud. Their effect is either indistinct, or it is something so obvious it doesn’t need saying, something like NEAT ‘N CLEAN, or SAN FRANCISCO.

The problem with my clothes is that they still have me inside them. Whatever effect I am striving for, I think, is marred by just the raw fact of myself. I will get dressed thinking “Kennedy in Martha’s vineyard in early autumn, late 60s” and then I will look in the mirror and it’s just me. Same old hair, same old face. I will choose my clothes to transmit a clear sense of “Nicole Diver when she is having fun”, or “Talitha Getty on a boat”, or “happy and confident member of a cult”, and then there is something wrong with my fingernails. Or else my one eye is extremely bloodshot. Or else I see that my boots are really the boots of a sweet little penguin. My other boots are suddenly the boots of a woman who made everyone read The Help at the most recent meeting of her book club. My last and final boots are, now that I think about it, the boots of a girl who once used to be a serious Goth, and is now trying to dress more professional at work. Her hair is black, and badly dyed. She has three different red cardigans. She writes a lot of startlingly erotic fan fiction. She describes herself as a “bluestocking”, which is funny, since the real stockings she wears have floral patterns on them. She wears shoes with a little buckle and a little heel. She has a hat called a cloche hat, made of felt, and she keeps asking everyone if they like it. Do you like my cloche hat, she says. It’s made of pure felt. I see all this when I look at my previously beloved pair of boots, and then I must give them a rest in the back of my cupboard for a little while.

My clothes never do what I want them to. All of my most stunning sartorial successes have been achieved completely by accident. Someone will tell me later that I looked great, that I looked like a meaner Penny Lane, and I will not understand how it happened. This never happens to other people, I think, when they are wearing their clothes.

The question of other people and how they wear their clothes continues to keep me awake at night. I have no idea how they do it. M. asked me the other day how I would go about becoming more glamorous, and I had no answers for her. I said, finally, that I would probably make sure that my hair looked more normal on a more regular basis. She asked me how I would go about achieving such a feat. Again, I had no answers. Maybe, I said, I would use more conditioner. I don’t know.

What she was asking me, I think, is how I would go about dressing more like Other People. What steps would I take in order to introduce a more compelling and sustained narrative into my wardrobe? I have been thinking about this a lot. Here are the answers I have come up with so far.

  1. Other people always have the right coat. The coat is either navy blue, or else a colour you wouldn’t think is right until you see it on the Other Person and you realise that yes, of course, it’s uniquely beautiful. That colour is never mustard or light grey or teal, though.
  2. Other people never think that they can wear a floral halterneck dress with thin straps without looking like a harassed mom.
  3. Other people have the right boots, and they got them in Paris, or else they were a present from their friend who lives in Argentina. The friend thought they would be perfect for the Other Person, and the friend was right.
  4. Other people have very many white and cream silk shirts. They are not too puffy and somehow piratical, and nor are they too neat and of a cut that recalls a Work Function.
  5. Other people have the right pair of black pants that never remind anyone of a waitress at one of your more upmarket steakhouses.
  6. Other people made the same resolution that we all make at the age of 25, which is that we will never again buy a dress made out of flammable material, except that other people actually stick to that rule.
  7. Other people know that only those with Upper Class Legs (thin and with a kneebone equidistant between hip and ankle) can make the right sort of statement in very tiny shorts.
  8. Other people instinctively veer away from any handbag with Sensible Straps, no matter how lovely the leather, no matter how cheap.
  9. Other people have no problems with their jeans. There is never any issue about them being slightly too flared all of a sudden, in a way you can’t believe you didn’t notice in the shop. There is none of this business of some faded stripes along the thighs.
  10. Other people have a red dress that reminds everyone of a wedding they wish they had been invited to. The dress either has no back, or the neck is oddly high, and the Other Person in it looks like a princess and a swan.

I could go on. I probably will. I’ll lie awake, night after night, thinking of all the ways I could be more like other people.