An Interview With the Original Owner of My Vintage Coat

Dear original owner,

I scored your coat at a vintage shop and have a few questions for you:

Q: If you could afford this couture coat, I have to assume that you had enough money to have help. I imagine that you had a “girl” who looked like me and cooked, cleaned and took care of your kids. (So what did YOU do all day?) Could you imagine your “Girl” one day having a granddaughter who would buy your coat? My grandmother was a “Girl.”

Q: Can you imagine that married women would fight to be accepted into the corporate workforce and then some of them would choose to keep all their household responsibilities as well, thereby having two full-time jobs and thus tons of stress?! Meanwhile, their husbands tend to do the same amount of work that your husband did. Why? Well, there was a Enjoli perfume commercial back in the 80s where a woman touted:

I can bring home the bacon/ Fry it up in a pan/ And never, ever let you forget you’re a man.”

This commercial helped convince a whole generation (or two) of women to be 24-hour women. Many women accepted that philosophy quicker than a cashmere sweater at a sample sale. We’re still waiting on the men’s jingle on how they can work and cook the bacon. Although these days grass-fed beef would be more apropos.

Early 1960s coat shown via catalog ad from that time, alongside me rocking the vintage frock in 2012.

Q: What happened to the original top button? What do you think of the new blinged out button I replaced it with?

Q: Why did you get rid of the coat? Was it because it was no longer fashionable? Or, when you passed away did your children lack fashionable instincts and give it away?

Q: Did you have one of those leopard coats like Jackie O? If so, where can I find it?

Q: What size were you? If it fits me, I’m thinking that in those days, you were definitely considered a big girl. Did you feel beautiful? Did you have lots of clothing options? Did you ever diet? If so, which diets were available? I’m pretty sure that Jenny Craig and Atkins weren’t options back then. Perhaps you did Weight Watchers as your “reduction” program?

Q: How many sexual partners did you have? Did you wait til you were married and then that night think, “Is that all there is?”

Q: Our president today is a black man. What do you think of that?

Q: Did you ever hear Whitney Houston sing or Michael Jackson dance?

Q: Can you imagine two hurricanes, a tornado and earthquake in NYC in an 18-month period? It happened.

Q: Would you believe that we’re still on many of the same political issues as in the 1960s? Yup, we’re still arguing about abortion, are still talking about birth control and people are still fighting for their civil rights. I know, shocking. Hopefully in 40 more years, we can move on to other social, political and environmental issues.

So thanks for your time. I’m really enjoying your coat. By the way, who was the designer? The tag is gone. I can use the Internet — this massive public spiderweb of information — to try to find the answer. But my generation expects immediate gratification, so I hope you can just give me the answer.

On Losing the Age Complex

I have a legendary age complex which means that, clearly, I hate birthdays. The first time I cried on my birthday was when I turned 10. The injustice of being double-digits was just too much to take. 13 wasn’t much better and at 18, I had a total meltdown.

Obviously 30 was a big deal (which seems so ridiculous now). I planned a trip to Northern California to distract myself into being happy. Between the beautiful views, constant wine drinking and debauchery that my friend Michelle and I always got into, I thought I was going to avoid falling apart. On the morning of my birthday, we were driving to a winery in Napa Valley when I spontaneously started speaking incoherently and spouting tears like a Peanuts character. This wasn’t drunk waterworks, but it sure looked and sounded like it.

One reason I have this age complex is because my birthday is in October. This meant that I was always one of the oldest classmates. Turning 16 was the only time being the oldest came in handy. That year, I was one of the first to get my driver’s license — well, second to Geri Stolar whose birthday is in September.

Being the oldest kid in my immediate family is a contributing factor to this complex. So much older that I don’t want to mention how much. Let’s just say that my brother, sister and I never share the same decade.

And finally, I have a really young mom. In fact, we discovered last year that we were using the exact same age when we lied about our age (clearly, she must trend UP now that she’s a grandma).

This year’s birthday rolled around this past weekend, and for once, I didn’t have to fight back tears. Sure, I felt the standard “I wish I would have…” and “I can’t believe I’m so old,” but no quivering lips every time I glanced at the calendar and no tears and no need for a rocking chair for self-soothing.

I’ve LOST all of that this year — and more:

  • I lost my workaholic ways and gained time for things that are more meaningful to me.
  • I lost my excuses and gained new strength, endurance and flexibility from spending time in the gym.
  • I lost my solitary focus and gained time to spend with my friends and to make new friends.
  • I lost the thought that I needed to be tied to a company in order to be successful and have stability and that I owed it to myself to break through the glass ceiling, and in the process gained my own business and a life of instability and the chance to put the ceiling where I want it!
  • I lost being concerned about it being too late to try new things I’ve always wanted to do — like riding a kickscooter and taking ballet and thereby gained joy and creative expression!
  • And check out the photo, I’ve lost some weight and gained a better health and a whole new outlook!

I spent my birthday with friends and found some time to squeeze in half an hour of shopping in the Meatpacking District. From the fitting room, I paid for the outfit, had them snap the tags and wore the outfit right out the store. That’s true birthday girl style.

Paris vs. Milan — The Report

Here’s the long delayed report on my April vacation to Paris and Milan. This time, instead of writing about what I did and saw, I decided to assess each city in a gamut of random, yet meaningful categories. Folks, you’ll never find observations like this in a travel book. Check out the winners!

OBSERVATION WINNER I’M JUST SAYIN’
PARIS MILAN
1. Most bonafide gingers None at all spotted in Paris
2. Most men you want to look at Tie – Parisian men win the fashion, but Italian men are really handsome. A hybrid would be perfect.
3. Most women you want to look at   Hands down, Frenchies win this. The Italian women are atractive too, but their attire negates that.
4. People spotted wearing fur even though it’s Spring A surprisingly tied category
5. Tightest clothes Damn, signoras!
6. Most plastic surgery Donatella would be so proud
7. Most blondes
10. Most people wearing all black
11. Best lingerie Paris (however, see below)
12. Most clothing designers who actually realize that women have breasts
13. Best shoes French, you don’t have to leave the US to know that
14. Best sunglasses Enormous and always on, even on a cloudy day
15. Weirdest eyebrows Tie – In Milan, they draw them in quite dramatically. In Paris, their eyebrows don’t match their hair. Quell horror!
16. Best makeup Can you say cat eye magnifique?
17. Best smelling… people
18. Best smelling…shops
19. Least rude I was done with the Italians within an hour. New Yorkers and Parisians don’t even rank as rude in comparison
20. Quickest switch to English when noticing my slow processing of information
21. Most romantic
22. Best cocktails Milan didn’t even bother with cocktails, usually only offering a wine list
23. Best tap water Always on the table in Paris. Milanese looked totally offended just by the request for non-bottled water.
24. Tastiest tomatoes
25. Best french fries Only Amsterdam is better
26. Best overall food I walked down the street eating bread in Paris and pretty much starved in Milan
27. Best sweets Neither. Both need to learn how to use SUGAR
28. Most addictive snacks Total tie. In Paris, it was crossaints. Milan, lemon gelato.
29. Best public transportation Paris was quick, clean, no complaints. Milan – confusing as fuck.
30. Best cars Milan, you fancy, huh?
31. Fastest drivers
32. Most honking They might be worse than NYC cab drivers
33. Where you’re most likely to get run over by a motorcycle They’ll jump a curve in a minute
34. Most places to easily trip and fall
35. Most iPhones Tie. It is seriously outta control. Apple rules the world.
36. Most Beats by Dre headphones Yes, those enormous ones
37. Best music In Paris, I felt like dancing everywhere. Milan had the sound of cymbals in their music– or opera, God forbid
38. Most Angry Bird fans
39. Most public drunkenness
40. Easiest access to birth control Condom machines are in every subway station!
41. Best dogs They were usually small and had long hair and accessories!
42. Cutest kids Both had some pretty cute kids, but the Italian kids were cute AND entertaining
43. Least Americans spotted Americans are generally embarrasing
44. My most used phrase I want to buy this Do you speak Engish?
45. Place I could return to over and over and OVER

Brown Is the New Nude

Last summer, a lace dress was my must-have. After an exhaustive search, I finally found a lace dress winner. Five days later, my online order arrived and my excitement went into rewind when I saw this otherwise perfect dress’ hideous tan lining.

I returned it to the store and noticed that the despicable tan lining was on most of the other lace dresses. The Sales Associate (SA) explained that the lining was SKIN-colored to give the dress a transparent look.

 Years ago, I was shopping at Nordstrom at the Galleria in Dallas for coffee colored pantyhose [Aside: I had a job with a horrible boss who required me to wear pantyhose.  After being sent home twice for disregarding her rule, I grudging complied with her insane request. I’m glad that pantyhose, are no longer fashionable or expected, except that Kate Middleton is trying to ruin that trend]. Anyway, quality coffee-colored pantyhose were next to impossible to find. I complained to the manager. Her reply: “We really only stock SKIN tone colors, so we don’t expect them to order more brown.”

 Last fall, I started searching for nude shoes — the goal: shoes that matched the color of my skin to give me that long-legged look. I explained the look I was going for to my favorite shoe SA and asked her to bring me all the nude shoes she had with at least a four-inch heel. She came back with TAN and beige shoes.

 On Facebook, a page for a movement that campaigns for manufacturers to produce more brown bras received over 3,000 likes. This campaign was covered in the news and many fashionista bloggers have written about it as well. [Aside: In case you didn’t know, brown girls look terrible in nude bras. Yet nude bras are always plentiful — especially at sales.]

 Just like Crayola ditched the peachy color “flesh” back in 1961, fashion has got to ditch “Nude” as a term to define skin tone. It seems that the industry thinks this label applies to ONE skin tone, a color shared by maybe 9% of the world’s population. We can’t allow them to define skin’s color in one way. If nude is skin-colored, then there are hundreds of nudes – and they include brown.

 Needless to say I never found a lace dress last year, but at least now they are coming in a greater variety of colors, so I’ll probably start that search again.

 But recently I finally stumbled upon the perfect pair of NUDE shoes. And they are just my color.

Me - in my new nude shoes

The One Thing That Can Kill My Shopping Buzz

It feels like racial profiling to me. Admittedly, it’s absolutely nothing compared to the random stop and searches so many black and Latino men go through. Meaningless compared to the dangers of Driving While Black. But nonetheless, I feel targeted and disrespected. I’m talking about people assuming that I work in the store when I’m there to shop. It’s late January — the end of the sale season so I’m fresh off the circuit, newly questioned and bristling about it.

I realize that this happens often to other people and it’s not related to race. I saw a recent article on things that black people mistake for racism, but shouldn’t. And  this was on that list. My argument is that it happens too frequently and only in certain stores for me to think that my race doesn’t play any part in the assumption that I’m in the store to serve.

Mind you, I have nothing against being a salesgirl. I often dream of quitting my job and moving to Paris to be a shopgirl and live a simple, yet fashionable life. Nothing wrong with the department store hustle, my problem is with the blanket assumption that I’m doing it.

Like once in Bloomingdales, a woman thrusted an item at me and asked me to put it on hold. When I told her I didn’t work there, she said, quite sensibly, Oh, but you aren’t wearing a coat! Right, bitch. I was trying on a dress.

At Barney’s I’ve been asked if an incredibly cute color-block dress as available in green.  Once in Neiman Marcus, a little girl ran up and asked whether the item she was holding was on sale. I question why she would ask me. She pointed at her mom across the store and said, She told me to ask you.

One time in Saks, a bewildered-looking man asked me to start a dressing room for his wife. I said I don’t work here — with an attitude. He flushes with embarrassment and stammers, I’m so sorry! It’s just that you’re holding so many clothes. We both had to laugh at that one. Pass granted.

It’s never happened to me at Macy’s or Century 21 or H&M or Target. It’s always Saks, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales or Barney’s. And it’s never happened in Bergdorf. Perhaps because I don’t look nearly polished enough to work there.

I’ve shared this complaint with other people. My white friends assure me that it also happens to them. My black friends run the gambit. Some suggest that I keep it all in stride, it’s no big deal. Others get completely off topic, asking why I’m in those stores, or suggesting that I should be shopping at a black-owned business anyway.

I’ve been developing a mentoring relationship with a senior-ranking African-American business professional and recently we had a conversation about assumptions. He described similar experiences — being with his CEO (an older white man) and people assuming he’s the driver. Driving around in his black Mercedes and people thinking he’s a car service? Entering a room for a meeting and people directing him to fix the projector.

He’s in the “take it all in stride camp.” His technique is to quickly redirect people. For example, when entering a room with his boss, he confidently steps forward and begins to introduce himself, so no one will make assumptions about why he’s there. He contends that it saves others the embarrassment of making bad assumptions.

But I’m not really interested in making them feel more comfortable. I want to feel more comfortable. I’ve decided that the next time I’m standing at the counter (on the side without the register), waiting to pay for my dress and someone hands me a credit card, I’m going to take that credit card and not even thank them for the gift.