Hens, Wrens & Blackbirds
I’ve had it with every woman in the Northeast dressing like hens, wrens and blackbirds. It’s winter, dammit. Not a Daguerreotype. I was out much this week with my sister “birds” in social situations –– at the symphony, at restaurants, at a play. Every woman I saw was dressed ‘tastefully’ (read — in neutral, gray and black), and looked chic if tedious. Nary a color that Benjamin Moore, Pantone, Crayola or even Martha Stewart would have any fun naming.
I’m not even touching the concept of the ubiquitous and very comforting black sleeping bags masquerading as coats we are all wearing from November to March. Those are just practical. But the clothes under the coats? Boring. I was in LA recently, out to dinner at an hot urban spot and I kept wondering what made the room seem so lively. And then I got it: women were wearing colors! Fun colors. Unsafe colors. Even, (heaven forefend), lively prints! And a few months before I was in India where women who would consider our worst day a moment of Nirvana were gorgeous in hot pinks, shimmering purples, brilliant greens and blues as they trudged back and forth on their exhausting daily rounds.
I qualify as a wren too. I feel safe and reasonably chic, and certainly in uniform when the most exciting hue I am wearing is a daring shade of charcoal. And I also acknowledge that as a somewhat clunky adult woman, black is the most flattering, slimming “color” I can wear. You know what I am talking about. You know that the black dress in your size never hangs on the rack long enough at a boutique or department store while the reds, greens, purples and blues are always available as a markdown.
Somehow we women are have become as stuck in our uniforms as the men! But most men aren’t like women about clothes. As an example: I’ve asked many men if they feel weird when another man shows up at a meeting in exactly the same khakis, blue shirt, blue blazer and whatever tie they are wearing. The universal (though anecdotal) answer is no. They feel like the got the dress code right. But if two women discover that they are wearing the same black, gray, or whatever dress, it’s an embarrassment requiring some kind of ironic, “you’ve got good taste” joke to vaporize the awkwardness. I personally think that is the secret behind Eileen Fisher’s success. There is an unspoken agreement among women of a certain age, that it is okay if we all wear the same basic, boring, safe clothes as long as we wear them with some tiny whimper of fashion panache – a scarf, earrings. Just a touch of personality layered over the easy-going invisibility. Just enough to let the three of us clustered together at the lunch or the cocktail party feel like we belong in the same frame. I get it. I’m not a fashion plate; I’m not even a fashion saucer. Being in uniform makes me feel safe. And seems to say to any one who sees me, “okay, she read the rule book.” It is sad that all feel most secure and taken more seriously when semi-invisible.
The Hen, Wren & Blackbird fashion rulebook will be hard to change. Maybe it will require some sort of game theory revolution where everyone decides all at once that wearing all black head to toe isn’t cool. Not chic. Not sophisticated and New York-y.
So here’s my plea. We are heading in to March and spring isn’t far behind. Welcome the return of color. Stand out a little. In India they say that pink is the Indian navy blue. (Even navy blue would help.). Start with a scarf if a top or a dress is too big a step. Welcome back the wonderful world of color.