My Turn: The endless season of unwearable fashion

For the Monitor
Sunday, December 10, 2017

Every year while shopping for holiday gifts, I attempt to also rejuvenate my own wardrobe. This year, I was a desperate woman on a mission. My cold weather duds are so outdated, faded and threadbare I really had nothing left to wear to my job – and I only work in a middle school, not exactly a hotbed of haute couture.

I began my search at my favorite large department store. It has a parade named after it. Descending the escalator, I surveyed the immense acreage of clothing on display. As happens every autumn, the palette was rife with beige, gold, brown and maroon – all of which make me look like I need hospitalization. I knew I would have to painstakingly tease out the pinks, purples and blues that complement my eyes and my pigment-impaired hair. There was also a great deal of wool and its luxurious cousin, cashmere, neither of which I can wear because I am in the sensitive skin phase of life. They make me itch. Even if they didn’t, there would be the dry cleaning bills to consider, and I am nothing if not thrifty.

Stepping off the moving stairs, I immediately discovered the frustrating prevalence of bell sleeves. Oh, they look pretty on the lanky models in catalogs and glossy newspaper inserts, but they are utterly unfunctional in the real world. Wanna rinse out your cereal bowl in the morning and throw it in the dishwasher? Your bell sleeves drag in the sink. Need to wash your hands after using the bathroom? (It’s flu season, for heaven’s sake!) You have to push your bell sleeves up to your biceps to keep them dry. Hoping to wear a nice cardigan or blazer with your bell-sleeved blouse? Forget about it.

Next, I noticed that despite it being winter in New Hampshire, which as you may note is a significant distance north of the Mason-Dixon Line, a large proportion of the women’s jerseys that did not sport bell sleeves had three-quarter sleeves. Did I mention it’s winter? Why should my forearms freeze for the sake of fashion? I guarantee you there are no three-quarter-sleeved sweaters for men. A man would be all like, “Pffft. What’s this b.s.? They forgot the rest of the sleeves!” As with the ill-fated attempt at marketing “man capris,” those sweaters would never fly.

Trudging laps around the store, I grew more and more exasperated. Pulling a plaid flannel shirt off a rack, I thought, “Well, that looks cozy.” I turned it around, and the entire back of it was sheer organza. I ask you, in what alternate universe would a woman want her front to look like a lumberjack and her back to resemble a bridesmaid? Unimaginable!

My search continued. I found a bright cotton sweater that, on first glance, looked promising. It had long sleeves. Upon closer inspection, I discovered a row of brass D-rings decorating each sleeve from shoulder to wrist. Really? I am middle aged. I don’t have any body piercings, and I certainly don’t want my clothes to have them either. What’s the idea? If I have a sudden urge to rappel down a small cliff they’ll come in handy? If my shower curtain rings corrode, I’ll have replacements ready? For crying out loud, if I ever need some D-rings, I’ll drive over to my local hardware store and buy a couple.

Additionally, I am unequivocally not on board with the “cold shoulder” look. Those are the tops with big holes where the shoulders should be. In summer, they are the exact right thing to wear if you want a painful sunburn. In winter, well, you get what their name implies. Frankly, I would prefer a metaphorical cold shoulder over a literal one. Similarly, the low-cut, split-backed, peephole tops are adorable for skinny little teenagers. They brazenly bare their foundations of lacy bralettes and spaghetti-strapped camisoles, but we women of a certain vintage and circumference are understandably reluctant to reveal the secrets of our hidden, industrial-strength scaffolding and truss work.

I persisted in my search for sartorial satisfaction. My eyes began to glaze over in despair until I found a table of cute, store-brand sweaters. Some had polka dots, others had swans or penguins. I seized a black-and-white-checked number and tried it on. The fit was perfect, the price was right, and the busy pattern hid my “wobbly bits,” as Bridget Jones would say. I really liked it, but unfortunately, the checks were downright dizzying, and I was afraid I would hypnotize everyone around me. (Come to think of it, that might be handy with a couple of my eighth-graders.) Plus, I already have so much black and white in my closet, I could have a career as a referee.

Leaving the large anchor store with lowered expectations, I wandered through a handful of other retail establishments. Everything I saw simply had too many “features” – perfectly lovely blouses ruined with row upon row of ridiculous ruffles. Slim, sophisticated slacks decimated with pointless zippered ankles. A cheery yellow raincoat awash in enough complicated toggles and drawstrings to rig a small sloop. And everywhere those annoying asymmetrical hems.

And so I say to ye fashionistas, how do you sleep at night, creating all this craziness? Enough already. Stop the insanity! I’m begging. Please, forget the ties and bows and ruffles and sequins and hardware and drawstrings and fake pockets and functionless zippers. Think classic cuts and flattering fabrics and heavenly hues. Think Coco Chanel and Jackie Kennedy and Katharine Hepburn.

For the entire time I have known him, my husband has wanted me to dress in androgynous oxford shirts and khaki pants. If style trends don’t change soon, I may have to.

(Mimi Dumouchel lives in Bedford.)