A slave to fashion in a small town

Posted: Friday, May 23, 2003

So there I was in the dressing room at Fred Meyer pulling on a pair of stretch denim, low-slung jeans I'd found on a rack in the teenage section. I shimmied in, inhaled, zipped and turned to face the mirror.

Julia O'Malley can be reached at jomalley@juneauempire.com.

Oh, the horror.

The jeans were flared, and the hips were strangely bulgy. When I put my feet together, it looked like I was wearing a mermaid costume with the exaggerated bell-bottoms as a tail. Far worse than the fish-tail effect, however, was the waistband that bit into the naturally occurring flesh on my hips as if the jeans were a stretch-denim python eating me, a plump woman/mouse, alive. I quickly peeled them off, got dressed and directed my cart to the produce section.

As I sorted through a pile of greenish nectarines, I felt burned, like the time I found out I was no longer part of the target audience for MTV, and have, instead, "graduated" to the Prilosec-buying, Celine Dion-appreciating demographic targeted by the junior varsity of music channels, VH1. I inwardly chastised myself for returning, yet again, into the teenage section at Fred Meyer only to realize, yet again, that even if I were 10 pounds thinner and I had Madonna's personal trainer, I cannot wear low-slung stretch jeans and see-through peasant blouses. The women my age who can wear clothes like that are basically limited to Christina Aguilera. Four words ricocheted painfully around in my head like demonic Super-balls: You are too old.

I took my cart to the Slim Fast section and considered a diet, thinking about how fashion for the twenty-something is an issue in this town. When springtime comes, a girl wants a little kick in her wardrobe, something new, something with funk, something to make her feel hip and pretty. We are not talking the full runway here, just what average people are wearing Outside, with a little Christina Aguilera flair - a nice new pair of jeans that don't ride above the belly button, maybe a cotton peasant blouse, some sandals. But that doesn't exist here. Here, we have the clothes table at Costco and the synthetic delights of the teen clothing section at a grocery store that also sells crab pots and premade potato salad by the pound.

Sadly, I decided I had to come to grips with the fact my fashion dreams were beyond my reach. A diet couldn't help me with the teeny-bop sizes - what I needed was a time machine to take me back to prepubesecence. I was doomed, I thought, to the women's section, the lair of all things pleated-front and khaki.

To make myself feel better, I rolled over to the shoe section, where plastic sandals stood in lines with sale tags clipped onto them. Normally, I wear Dansko clogs exclusively with every outfit, from dresses to suit pants, not as a matter of fashion, but as a matter of comfort. I have three pairs of them. I could hike in these clogs.

But what did it mean that I was wearing shoes for comfort instead of fashion, I wondered. That was a totally pleated-front khaki mentality. Me and my clogs and my body that can't wear stretch denim, all of it was so easy listening, so Celine Dion, so VH1. I felt sweaty. I decided to try on the first pair of super-high platform heels I could find in my size.

Checking myself out in the foot mirror, I realized I haven't really exposed my toes for, like, years. They looked sort of greenish-white, like a row of miniature marshmallows with too-long toenails. I cocked my head sideways. Sure they pinched a little bit, but the sandals spoke to me. They satisfied my Christina Aguilera-lite fashion craving. I bought them and wore them out of the store. As I teetered across the parking lot, I looked on a Keds-wearing mother loading a minivan with pity. I had funk, I had MTV. I tried to strut. The era of clogs was over, at least until I turned 30.

On the way home from the store I thought I would take my dog, Stella, for a little walk on the beach in front of the Empire. Just as I was opening the rear of my truck in the parking lot, Stella leapt out, evaded my grasp, and made a beeline for the street. A truck full of junk metal was rumbling towards her. I screamed her name, clacking after her on the pavement, and she looked back at me with her sweet black eyes, still running to what I thought was her certain death. My ankle tilted on the gravel. I fell. The truck honked. I covered my eyes.

When the dust cleared, Stella was sitting on the other side of the street, her pink tongue lolling out of her mouth. I pulled myself to a sitting position. My ankle throbbed. I took off the sandals. My superficial fashion dreams had almost killed my dog. Tears welled in my eyes. It was true, all of it was true. I was totally VH1, but I didn't care. Stella ran back across the street, and sniffed first my face, then my bare feet. Both of us knew one thing: Christina Aguilera be damned; I should have worn clogs.

Julia O'Malley can be reached at jomalley@juneauempire.com.

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