Friday, April 08, 2005

The Woman Makes the Clothes

My parents are in New Jersey right now. They are in town for my Aunt and Uncle's 50th Anniversary party. They're not really my aunt and uncle, as my mother is an only child, but they are of her generation, so I call them that as a term of respect.

Anyway. This party is tomorrow night. I expect it will be large. There are rules (unspoken of course) for attending my mother's family's gatherings:

1) We have a dress code here. If you are female, no jeans or sneakers. Conservatively cut dresses are preferred. Heels are expected on women, or nice flats. Makeup is preferred. Hair is expected. Men can wear whatever they want. The default color for all events, even weddings, is black. If you must wear a color, take care not to stand out too much.
2) You will eat. You will not ask about ingredients. Ladies look nice with wine glasses in their hands.
3) You will answer all questions asked to you by aunts, uncles and grandpeoples. You will answer them sweetly and with a smile on your face.
4) You will kiss and hug everyone in the room, no matter how strong their perfume. We're Italians.
5) You will make every effort to socialize with your own generation.
6) If you find yourself in a group that is discussing religion and/or politics, you will either pretend to agree with them or leave.
7) When someone of the previous generation gives you advice, you express gratitude and reassure them you will follow their advice immediately.
8) If nobody wants to talk about a subject you have introduced, they will communicate this by interrupting your conversation with a new discussion thread. You are to follow it without question.
9) Women will remain in the kitchen or dining room. The living room is for men. If the gathering is at a restaurant or other public area without a kitchen or living room, women will not infiltrate clusters of men and try to converse with them, unless they are invited.
10) If you are female, unmarried, have no children, don't live in New Jersey, Upstate New York, or Connecticut, then you do not interest us. Do not try and talk to us about your life, because we will only pretend to be interested for a few minutes. Enjoy the food.

The vast majority of my clothing is in storage. The dresses I have in my closet are not black, and they are not conservative. I am going to be in CLEAR violation of the dress code tomorrow night.

Given my current state of disillusionment, I'm less able to enjoy pretentiousness than usual. Often I find it highly amusing, and I can play along with the best of them. But I am SO NOT THERE RIGHT NOW.

I am in a very needy place right now, and this is like, the exact opposite of what I need. I am very nervous about this. I know I'm going to look either underdressed, or overdressed, and this will remove the one possible topic of conversation I might have with my female relatives. The men don't talk to me because they can tell their wives don't like me. I will henceforth be more bored than usual, which will drive me to the bar sooner than usual, where I will show them how nice a lady looks with a shot glass in her hand, thereby cementing my reputation as That Cousin Who Is Nothing Like Us. Although, I will probably feel much better and begin to enjoy myself after a couple of whiskeys.

My mother has bought a new dress for the occasion. Her first cousin is the guest of honor. Both my mother and this aunt are the only daughters of their mothers. Their bond is very deep, and stretches back so many years that no matter how rude this aunt is to my mom, Mom will always make excuses for her.

My mother and I are very different people.

My mother's new dress is pink floral on a white background. She will also be in violation of the dress code, but she doesn't care. As the only daughter of my grandmother, the recently deceased matriarch of the family, (If there was one), my mother's place in her family is secure. She has also had her hair and nails done. She is very concerned about me looking "like a schlub." (No, I swear, we're not Jewish, my mom just likes Yiddish words.)

I told her with a great deal of indignance that even in my schlubbiest outfit I would be the best-dressed girl in the room. She had to concede that this was true. I know how to wear clothes, goddammit. The problem is that this time, I am lacking three things necessary to pulling off a look:

1) a complete wardrobe
2) time to try on various outfits (or in the absence of said wardrobe, an opportunity to shop)
3) any interest whatsoever in making a good impression

I realized this morning that the only person I want to see beam in appreciation of my outfit is my mom. Not because I want her approval, but because I know how proud she feels when she goes places with me when I look nice. I see how happy she is to show off her "beautiful daughter." Even when I was a gawky kid she would call me that, if I got the outfit right. Mom has been through a lot lately, and so have I, and for the first time in my entire life, I think I actually want to wear something for the sole purpose of making her happy.

I like making my Mom happy. Not because I'm afraid of when she's NOT happy, but because she deserves it. Because she busts her ass for everyone else around her. Because she has lived an underprivileged life. Because she thinks that underneath it all, people don't really care about her. And that's awful. For one evening, I want to see her smile light up the room. I'd like to give her some validation that she did something right. Something big. Me.

I feel like that's a narcissistic thing to say, but then I feel like maybe it isn't.

So tomorrow night, I can either dress for my Mom, or dress for me. All my dresses in the closet right now are too sexy, and Mom would be uncomfortable with that. Frankly, so would I. I don't want to look like a lonely divorcee, especially when I'm NOT ONE. So... I'm narrowing it down to the following options:

1) The Beatnik Look: black tights, high black boots, a miniskirt in either raspberry silk or a funky orange swirly pattern, a black high-neck shirt, and funky jewelry. Heavy black eyeliner.

2) The Artsy Look: fine-wale cords with a green burnout velvet flutter sleeve top from Bebe, with short suede boots, all in moss green, with jewelry made by local artisans, and light, "natural" makeup.

3) The Manhattan Look: Black pantsuit with a red-and-black sleeveless velvet top with cowl neckline, and garnet jewelry. Slightly glam makeup.

4) The Grandma-Dressed-Me-From-Beyond-the-Grave Look: Peach-and-white lightweight rayon dress in a paisley pattern with spaghetti straps from Banana Republic, pantyhose, white high-heeled sandals, minimal makeup with pinkish lipstick and a white purse.

I'm most likely going to wear the green cords, because I'm comfortable in them. They ride low, they're boot-cut, they're soft. They're green. I'm just afraid my Mom might find them Schlubby. Opinions welcome.

There are a couple of other cousins who are slightly outside the mould, like me, and who knows, maybe they'll show up and I'll have someone to drink with. If I really get bored I can always flirt with the bartender. But I hope I'm not bored.

Odd how in spite of everything, I continue to hope.


Kayo Kid said...

No matter what you end up wearing, any vessel that holds alcohol makes the perfect accessory.

Sherry said...

The Beatnik look sounds great.