It's May and I'm still wearing black. I'm jealous when I see people in pastels. They've already boxed their corduroys and cashmeres and put cottons front-rack in their closets. Boots are in the attic, and mittens, scarves and gloves are basking in mothballs. Does it matter that I'm late changing my closets and spring is halfway over?
"According to Betty, my 81-year mother, this borders on horrific. More precisely, "It's socially unacceptable," she said."
"There used to be clear delineation between winter and summer. Now it can be warm in January and cold in July," she continued. "Should you wear wool in the summer? Cotton in the winter? It's a fashion calamity brought on by climate change."
It made me feel better blaming my monochrome closet on global warming. Plus, it's so easy to mix-and-match a black wardrobe.
Last week, as my mother and I ate al fresco at a quaint crêperie in town, she asked a question she's likely been waiting to spit out since mid-April and the first hot day.
"Did you know that dark colors absorb the sun, dear?"
"Yes, I did know that," I said as I wiped the sweat dripping down the side of my face. I felt like Dirk Bogarde in the movie Death in Venice when he had a fever and his hair color started to melt down his forehead. At a certain point, maybe it is time to retire the "Everything Black" look. (Fashionistas, please weigh in.)
Between bites of crêpe, I looked over at my chic mom and realized that she was far more fashionable than I would ever be. She was snappily attired in bright, cheery colors from top to (literally) toe. My L.L. Bean snow boots were hardly put away and here was my mother wearing an adorable pair of turquoise Tory Burch ballet flats.
"If you consider yourself a natty dresser, don't wear black when it's over
60-degrees," she advised. "You want to have a winter and a summer closet."
I loved the way she said that in the singular. So Seventh Avenue! It's like when people in fashion use the singular for items of clothing. As in, "That pant will go perfectly with that shoe."
Since I was now inspired to immediately change over my closets, I asked a timely question: should one go with the mothball submersion method or gentle layering with herbal sachets?
My sister and I used to pass out when we went to my mother's apartment after she had "done her closets." The smell was toxic. It reminded us of playing in the smokey mist of "The Mosquito Man" when he came to fumigate our neighborhood when we were little. We later found out that the billows of white clouds spewing from the back of the truck were, in fact, laden with DDT. (Not cool. Although probably effective for killing moths. For a few centuries.)
"I use an herbal moth repellent now that's scent-neutral and comes in sachet form," she told me after I shared this childhood flashback. "I scatter the sachets in and around my clothes and pray the moths don't attack."
I was suddenly ashamed to reveal my very own tried-and-true system for putting things in summer storage. I gather all my winter stuff - wools, velvets, knits, everything - and throw them into a plastic container with a lid. By closing it quickly, I tell myself that I am creating a kind of suction into which no moth would dare.
"Once May begins, start wearing colors to show that you have faith that the warm weather is coming. To be fashionable, you have to keep up with the seasons," she said before going off on a tangent. (Remember to indulge your mother. Listen to the tangents. Sometimes even encourage them. It will make her feel good. ... Ready?)
"Of course, the kids of today don't care about that. Like wearing strapless party dresses in the winter. That's a shock to people my age. It's like Frozen Charlotte."
If you don't know this legend, you might as well learn about it in the
Huffington Post. "Frozen Charlotte" comes from the American folk ballad inspired in 1843 about a young girl named Charlotte who refused to wrap up warmly to go on a sleigh ride and froze to death during the journey.
My mother returned to the dressing habits of young girls today.
"Certain clothing laws have been challenged lately," she continued. "In the past, a First Lady would never have bare arms year-round (Mrs. Obama, take note.) Just ask any pulmonary doctor whether more people have pneumonia in the winter now than they did a long time ago."
Frozen Charlotte, anyone?
I've got a whole list of questions to ask my mother when she comes over this weekend. Like ... do rubber flip flops (a.k.a. zorries) look cheap? Will pants hemmed for flats look too short with heels? Is it really okay to wear wrinkled linen?
Send any questions you might have, too. Betty awaits our sartorial ponderings. She's a helpful coach for those addicted to black but know, in their hearts, it's time to transition to kicky pastels.