How awestatstic is this? Wilson, and the Dark Knight, cutting a major rug. A ways in you can even see Robert Sean Leonard and Christian Bale swing dancing together. To see both my baby daddys swing dancing is indeed a thrill. Swing heil!
It seems unfair that as you get older, and more confident and secure about your own personal style, your options diminish with each passing empowering year. Now that I'm no longer clueless and ready to really feel my oats fashion-wise, I find I have to be more cautious than ever. There are several reasons for this, and only one of them has to do with my thighs.
I've always loved old movies, and when I was in my teens and 20's I expressed my enthusiasm for Hollywood's heyday by wearing vintage clothes wherever I went. Back in those days, I'd gingerly troll the fragile thrift store racks for anything even remotely Ginger Rogers-ish. It was easy to find fitted jackets a la Joan Crawford, printed 40's rayon frocks, and slinky nightgowns I was certain made me a ringer for Jean Harlow. And when I went to school, or to work, or to vote, no one thought twice about the girl walking around in a night gown and cowboy boots. I was "quirky," I was "cute," and to very charitable I was even "charming." As I passed a couple of older women wearing bemused smiles I assumed they were thinking, "My, how nice to see a young person embracing the past." If a convenience store clerk stared, I knew it was because the clocks and poodles pattern on my 30's blouse was so fetching.
Those days are gone.
I find that when a woman is d'un certain age (that's the classy French way of saying too old to be a "Gossip Girl" but not quite dead) she must remember that while she sees her outfit as insouciant or bohemian, to the citizenry at large it may read as "bag lady." While it's true many designers have of late been inspired by the "Grey Gardens look," note that, 1) it is all displayed on seventeen-year-old girls, and 2) the actual women who invented this look are considered to be nuttier than a squirrel's cheeks November. If I try wearing a sweatshirt wrapped around my head as a turban they won't come after me with cameras, they'll come after me with nets. And I fear if I wear one of my old dilapidating vintage frocks I'll look homeless, or at the very least hopeless.
Same thing with my Betsey Johnsons. I have amassed over the years, roughly speaking, about 10 million Betsey Johnson dresses. But now before I put one on, each time I wonder do I look fetching, or do I look all Baby Jane? Does my stand-by sexy LBD make me look look cool, hot, or like a desperate cougar? Sure, that dress looks good in Vogue, but will it be a Norma Desmond moment when I put it on?
I could be over-thinking this. I mean, Ms. Johnson is making her whole mutton-dressed-as-lamb work for her. And those actresses for whom it doesn't (cough-Sally Kirkland-cough), they may actually really BE desperate. Still, think about this: Would Scarlet O'Hara have thought twice about donning curtains if she'd been 20 years older? Because sometimes a dress-cum-curtain is a daring, avant-garde fashion statement -- and sometimes you're just a nut walking around in your drapes..
Nothing says “I live in a fantasy world of my own making”
quite so well as a wardrobe full of sarong-like dresses, suitable mostly for
leaning seductively against palm trees. The fact that I rarely sidle up to palm
trees, even platonically, hasn’t prevented me from amassing a Polynesian panoply worthy of Dorothy Lamour. My closet looks like it belongs to a Jungle Princess or a hostess in a tiki bar rather than to a woman with a 9-5 office job. (However, if I ever get a job as
either a Jungle Princess or a hostess in a tiki bar I’ll be all set.)
Why all the frond-fondling finery when the closest I ever get to a
luau is briskly walking by the Hawaiian Tropic Zone restaurant near Times Sqaure? Simple, because rockin' tropic frocks
walks that fine line between glamour and costume, allowing one to inject
much—needed exoticism into everyday humdrummery. Dressing like a showgirl,
trapeze artist, or coming to work in a peignoir is generally frowned upon, so
we dames must look elsewhere for garb befitting our imagination and our
curves.When done well, dresses
with giant blossoms and hibiscuses (hibiscusi?) bring a uniquely festive
glamour to clothes. But the prints must be done well, which is why I’m obsessed
with vintage Hawaiian and Pan-Asian clothes.
Starting in the 1930’s, Hawaiian prints and tropical styling
became a go-to get-up for vintage vixens. Dorothy Lamour made a big splash in
the 1938 movie Jungle Princess, single-handedly
adding the word “sarong” to Americans’ vocabulary. (Though it wasn’t exactly
her hand that did it.) The Forties brought Pearl Harbor and our boys stationed
in tropical locales far and wide. Eventually Hawaii became the 50th
state and vacationers’ suitcases came back overstuffed with shirts and muumuus
that seemed like such good ideas back on Waikiki.
Hawaiian prints, like Hawaii itself, are an accessible
exotic. The hula (and hula hoops, for that matter) is a perfectly innocent and
acceptable form of hip-rolling. Wiggling and grinding can be illicit, but slap
on a grass skirt and all of a sudden it’s kinda cute, and even elegant. Wearing
beautiful Polynesian and Hawaiian-ish prints is a non-threatening, festive kind
of exoticism. Plus, they’re easy and fun to wear! Form-fitting sundresses and
cheongsams are extremely figure-flattering no matter what figure you’re trying
to flatter, and muumuus are extremely bloat-friendly.
I’ve gotten into collecting dresses made by Alfred Shaheen,
especially his Surf ‘n Sand line. Yes, it's another huge money suck for me (see my post on ebaying). But they’re
just so darn Dorothy Lamourthy, twirly, and drinks with umbrellas-tastic! Perfect
for dames who want a down-to-earth exotic, fun, rockabilly look that isn’t retro-ying-too-hard.
In LADY OF BURLESQUE ( a film based on Gypsy Rose Lee's mystery novel THE G-STRING MURDERS) Babs plays Dixie Daisy, a burlesque headliner and the smartest, savviest, least whiny member of the troupe. In many of her films, notably THE LADY EVE and BALL OF FIRE, Stanwyck embodies the quintessential dame. Supremely feminine but also sharp as a tack (certainly sharper than the men around her), self-reliant, quick with a quip to defuse and debunk, and clearly as tender as she is tough. It's hard to get a decent print of LADY OF BURLESQUE, but it's practically a manual for how to get by in life living la vida dame.
Sorry about the cheesy music; couldn't find another clip without this. But what a great example of how we may have advanced technologically, yet culturally...maybe not. In 1943 pop culture strippers were whipsmart heroines, while today they're relegated to objects or tired plot devices. They're maybe holding a whip, but not so smart.
In the late '30's and throughout most of the 1940's, M-G-M produced a series of movies centering around the character Maisie Ravier. It was originally slated to be one movie, MAISIE, starring Jean Harlow, but Harlow's death meant that Ann Sothern took over. The character proved to be so popular the series went on to have 9 more follow-up films, including MAISIE GETS HER MAN, GOLD RUSH MAISIE, CONGO MAISIE, MAISIE GOES TO RENO, and my personal favorite, SWINGSHIFT MAISIE.
Ann Sothern is completely natural as this quintessential dame (rather than coming across as an actress playing a dame). The Maisie character is everything a dame should be: comfortable in her own skin, resilient, self-reliant, tough, soft-hearted, sexy, wise, and quick with a quip. Maisie was "a sweetheart with bite," writes Monica Sullivan, "She took no nonsense from anyone, was impervious to wolves, loved guys she could help in some way, was a great friend to other women: Who wouldn't want "Maisie" around?" She was so good at the character Sothern went on to play similar roles in DULCY and PANAMA HATTIE.
It's a shame that almost no one knows these films today. Though they may not be classics, Maisie provides a great lesson for women in how to negotiate the world. While she might struck some as being a rather unsophisticated model not worth emulating, I find her attitude toward life and the circumstances she encounters to be a perfect blend of idealism, cynicism, practicality, sentimentality, glamour and guts. I wish Maisie were my fairy godmother, or at least my next-door neighbor. But I'll have to settle for Maisie as muse, and use "WWMD?" (What Would Maisie Do?) as a touchstone for living life with verve, self-assurance, kindness, independence, and optimism.