Category Archives: Fashion

Belly Fat and All

Come in here, come in, you’ll see…

I crack the dressing room door and poke my head in.

You see this? She grabs a handful of belly fat. That’s why I can’t wear this, I can’t wear certain things. I’ve always had it…

We’ll find you something, I say. I’ve only worked here a month, but I feel I was in some ways born to do this. I want to succour these shoppers, to give them something they want so badly.

I should have had it cut out years ago, but I was sick, and everything was so difficult.

It’s okay, I say, we’ll find you something.

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It’s a conversation I’ve had many times since I began as a seasonal shopgirl at The Somewhat Fancy Ladies’ Clothing Store. Often it’s the belly of an older woman we’re deliberating over (the store caters to seniors with years of that bothersome belly fat), sometimes its her thighs (the pants are all just too clinging, too tight!). The other day a woman of my mother’s age and her gravitas wanted a shirt with a high collar that would hide her terrible collarbones.

Everyone wants to be transformed. To be beautiful. I Feel Bad About My Neck, as Nora Ephron titled her book of essays. We all feel bad about something. Women come to me hoping to be transfigured, for a party, for work, just to make themselves new. To be Cinderella employing a Fairy Godmother credit card.

What makes a woman try on a basic tank and decide she must purchase it in seven colors? It will solve my problem of what to wear to the office, she announces. Same with turtlenecks. Some shoppers collect piles of them, one in every color. The snazzier jackets or tunics or fur-collared vests cause palpitations, sometimes. I love it! I hear all the time. A shopper says to her friend, Don’t you love it? Says the friend, It’s fantastic. I echo, It’s fantastic, it really is.

The fabric seduces, the line of the garment flows. I bring armloads of clothing like bright bouquets to the dressing rooms, dream upon dream of a new you. Especially if the garment disguises that avoirdupois.

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The Proper Way to Fold a Sweater

An arborist in winter can’t hibernate, even though it won’t be time to plant or nurture trees until the ground thaws in March. An arborist has got to make a living. And that’s how I wound up as a seasonal sales associate in a Somewhat Fancy Ladies’ Clothing Store in the local mall. I don’t think you could be farther from a grove of cedars than abiding in the canned air, holiday muzak and piles of goods for sale where I find myself day after day.

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The Zen concept of “beginner’s mind” applies here. If you approach everything with the earnestness of a novice, the world opens itself to you. I’m still so excited to put aside my decades long writerly habit, profession, vocation, avocation, love, and be out in the world. I’m thrilled to learn the proper way of folding a sweater (hint: there’s a special tool for the purpose). Weirdly, I feel that my long years speaking to groups about my books has prepared me to greet customers as they come in the door, looking for a different kind of knowledge, seeking to learn how they can look the best they can. A different kind of selling. What could be closer to the bone? It’s actually an honor to be consulted as I was today by a woman around my age about whether the lavender or grape turtleneck was a better complement to her features. These are the issues of my day, so simple.

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Is there shame in it, embarrassment at having descended from the lofty heights of authordom to become a shopgirl — or a shopwoman, as you must say about one of my maturity. The truth is there is no shame in any employment, since there are so many lacking jobs. Many of the women I work with have teenaged kids and no men in their lives, an interesting hardscrabble milieu. I remember when I interviewed Navy jet jocks many years ago they all talked about how valuable it was to be humbled, say by the complexity of the F-14 they flew, and they were some of the most arrogant people in the world. So I guess I’ll take a leaf from them and say that treading the boutique floor is a healthy kind of normal for me, a down to earth slap upside the head for one who has spent a lot of time with that head in the clouds.

So the mannequins and the silk and the glitter of the Somewhat Fancy Ladies’ Clothing Store are my grove of trees for now. I go home more tired than I did after eight hours as an arborist, even though I’m working half days. My mind races when I try to sleep at night, seeing corduroy jeans and good wool jackets doing do-si-dos. It’s a form of truth worth being a part of, peoples’ desire to be beautiful. The leaves and branches and bark will be there in the springtime.

hand tree

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Ms. Wiggy

I saw some striking wigs today. Gleaming, glinting, brunette, raven black, strawberry blonde. They don’t resemble real hair, and maybe that’s the point.

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My job site was on the corner of Dayhill Road and 53rd Street, in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. The two Zelkova trees I was there to watch over had gnarled roots pushing up the sidewalk, important issues to attend to, but it wasn’t yet time to attend to them. So I spent the early  morning watching the parade of moms dropping off their kids at the 3-in-1 school on the corner. The Al and Sonny Gindi Barkal Yeshiva, Tomer Deborah Girls School, and the Jack and Grace Cayre Elementary School.

Being Orthodox, the women all came out in the morning in their wigs. I have often wondered why, if the point of hiding one’s hair from the world is to be modest, to reserve its beauty for one’s husband only, why do these women wear kosher locks that are so flashy, which would seem only to call more attention from men outside the marriage bed. (Some Hasidic women actually shave their heads.) One of the mysteries, and just thinking about it shows my insensitivity, I’m sure.

A great wig is a rare find. I remember accompanying my friend Deb after her chemotherapy to one of the best wigmakers in Manhattan, near Columbus Circle. It was a glamorous place (they did a lot of show biz extensions) and she was treated like a queen as she had two wigs fitted, one her “good” wig and one her “bad” wig. In either one she looked as good as she ever had — beautiful — but there was still a slight brassiness to the hair’s texture.

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I sat behind a man wearing a rug recently in a theater and the gloss of his hair nearly blinded me. His was plain. When periwigs were mainstays for men, in the eighteenth century, you could choose from dozens of imaginatively named styles, from the Adonis to the Cauliflower to the Ramilies, a romantic number that sported a black silk bow on its ponytail. If human hair was unavailable, the peruke maker would substitute materials from horse hair to fine metal wire.

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It’s almost impossible to get a wig right.

Here come the moms, at school dismissal, and here comes their hair. So sleek and straight. Maybe the smoothness is what makes it look so artificial. I would bet that a hefty percentage of their wearers have soft, luscious waves framing their faces when the wigs come off, like Deb had before her chemo. But we’ll never know, will we?

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Filed under Arborist, Culture, Fashion, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, New York City, Trees, Writers

My Cloak of Invisibility

Every day before I leave for the job I suit up in my orange fluorescent vest. I love these eleven things about it, in no particular order.

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  1. It marks me as a person of distinction.
  2. It’s the first time in my life I’ve worn a uniform.
  3. No matter whether or not I wear eye liner and mascara, I identify to others as a man. Cross-dressing: cool.
  4. It’s the leopard skin pill box ubiquitous hat of construction.
  5. People see right through me. All they understand is the vest. I could rob a bank in my reflective vest. It gives me total immunity.
  6. It says I’m just a working grunt. The barista at the hipster café near the site barely deigns to meet my eyes. I’m a ghost. Not special, for a change. I’ve migrated from the chattering class to the working class. Yippee.
  7. The men on the construction crews accept me somewhat more readily as we’re wearing the same uniform.
  8. The vest never has to be washed. The dirtier the better, that’s the style.
  9. It hides my homely workclothes – I’m the Orange is the New Black of arborists, says my daughter, wearing my baggy Carharts.
  10. It’s transformative. It reminds me that I am different. Today I not only glow, I day glow.
  11. Old ladies ask me questions about things on the street, thinking I know something about something. “Is this a city project?” “Is the city going to be doing the whole street?” “Who’s paying for this, anyway?” You are, lady. I’m just standing here wearing a vest.

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Cowlin’ for You

I ventured out today. After two and a half weeks in a foot cast, I was ready. The sky was an egg, the fall breeze fresh, the sun silky on my arm propped up at the passenger window of the car. There was sushi, at our local place not usually the best, but which tasted great today. There were errands, to the grocery, to the library. I admit, I stayed in my seat and let Gil do the honors, crutches not being my strong suit.

But I did make it out of the vehicle and into my neighborhood knit shop in Tarrytown, New York, on my sticks.

There I got the largest needles in the world, a different kind of sticks, in a size 50.

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On Ravelry, the site for knitting devotees, I’d found a pattern for an Outlander cowl, oversize, chunky and earthy. Based on one Claire wears in the Starz series.

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The yarn I found is virgin wool and acrylic, charcoal, heather grey, black and a tinge of blue. Colors one might find worn in the Scottish Highlands 300 years back? I really don’t know, but I like to imagine it.

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According to one patron of the shop, Flying Fingers, whose friend is crafting a similar cowl, the Outlander look is a craze that’s catapulting across the knitways of our nation.

I may be consigned to the couch for the near future, but I’m glad to be part of a larger purpose, fitting us all out in history-inspired gigantic wool neckpieces for the first cold snap.

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The Exquisite Realism of Pleats

Hiatus. Mine was a long one, at least in the terms of this daily blog. I took off in the spring to research my new novel, then to write the novel, then to take a break after writing the novel, then putting the novel on the market. Now, with my foot up after a third time under the knife (yes, I have three feet), I’m back.

The daffodils came and went, the waves crashed at the beach, but I feel I’ve been inside these months much more than outside. Inside my cranium. The seasons have changed largely without me, and now along comes Fall.

I don’t work at night. The Cabin resides in a quiet, still, isolated pocket of land at the edge of an insect-buzzing marsh. We’re cloistered in the middle of nowhere. Or at least it feels like that, which is remarkable since we’re less than an hour from the lights of New York City. My point is, there’s not a lot of hubbub around, not a lot of human distractions. So after dinner, with Oliver keeping a lookout out at our feet, we either read or consume a fair dose of high-concept binge fare.

O beseeching

We visit different worlds.

It’s hard to get history right on tv. Often it’s too cheesy to watch, whether because of the dialogue, scenery, fashions or some combination that makes you say, I know it wasn’t like that. And turn it off. Go read some good historical fiction instead!

But I’ve been watching a show that manages to have a little cheese and a fair amount of heart at the same time, along with exquisite attention to detail. The premise is time travel, my favorite subject.The Outlander series takes a young English woman just after World War One (she’s a battlefield nurse) and sends her through a witchy wormhole (actually a Stonehenge-like circle of obelisks) back to 1740s Scotland. Adventures and romance ensue. What interests me is the devotion to detail on the part of the producers, down to the beautiful and so carefully sewn pleats in the wedding gown of the protagonist, Claire. Apparantly they are entirely consistent with the real McCoy. There are plenty of people out there waiting to pounce on you if you don’t do it right, but so far a war hasn’t broken out between the pleats and the pin tucks, so we’re okay.


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As a writer of historical fiction, I know that you must constantly make choices about where to nail the absolute fact and when you can fudge. In fact, sometimes you must fudge, because the absolute fact would be unpalatable for contemporary readers. It fascinates me to hear about the choices made by the costume designer for Outlander, Terry Dresbach. (How’s that for a fitting name?)

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Savage Girl O Mag Pick

Savage Girl might never be an Oprah Pick. But that doesn’t mean the book doesn’t rank some standing in O The Oprah Magazine.

April Oprah

A friend of mine mentioned that she read the glossy’s April 2014 issue and saw Savage Girl highlighted there as one of “Ten Titles to Pick Up Now.” She probably noticed this while sitting in the pedicure chair of her local nail salon. Anyway, that is where I usually thumb through O.

The issue includes such salient topics as “When Is It OK to Lie?” and “Want to Get Gorgeous?” Both questions that actually have much bearing on Bronwyn’s various quandaries in my novel. I think the savage girl would likely be fascinated by O. She would probably eventually find herself on Oprah’s show, also, buoyed up on waves of fandom.

I tear out scraps of paper from magazines I find in nail salons, hair salons, doctors’ offices, vet waiting rooms. Do you? Enough people do that, put the scrap in their pocket, go to a book store, touch the novel’s jacket – one reader described the feel of it as “butter” – and take it home, and Oprah may well make it a Pick someday.

 

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