When I go shopping, the stakes are high: I am searching for myself among the racks and stacks.
I have been shopping a lot lately, with the change of seasons, with my search for who I want to be right now and for the foreseeably chilly months ahead. I have been "poppin' tags" nearly every morning like a rock star, as the Rocawear brand team I once interviewed for a story referred to the concept of wearing something new every day. It is a good thing I shop, mostly, on deep discount, find a lot of stuff,free,on the street.
I love fashion. I love people-watching to check out fashion in New York. A lot of people deserve gold stars every day for their sheer bravado, for the risk they take that they could look stupid. I love it that a lot of people seem not to care. I try to be like that, but sometimes, a fair amount of the time, I opt, instead, for basic black. It's easier, quieter. I am trying to break out, to don those funky socks and tights that speak to me in the store, on others, to put on shorts and boots and rock it, but sometimes I don't have the nerve. I have more nerve than I used to since I've been going to the gym a lot, but still. I wish, sometimes, I could be even bolder.
Yesterday, a windy, blustery day with yellow leaves swirling and a light rain falling, I sat in the cafe in basic black, dressed for the gym, tucked in the corner. A young woman walked in, composed, simple black jacket over a dress, sophisticated hair and makeup and long legs of bright red tights. I smiled. Cool. I would never even think of picking up a pair of bright red tights let alone put them on early in the morning on a dark dreary day. But, you know? They brightened up the room, gave the place a shine it hadn't had, ostensibly gave the wearer a little lift. Good for her.
I got up to get my coffee and as I passed the girl, back to my corner, I stopped.
"I love your tights," I said.
"Oh, thank you," she said. Her tone was relatively flat, not so friendly and exuberant as I might have expected from a red tights wearer. But, then, I am always mistaking superficial markers for more meaningful things. I fall prey, easily, to imbuing aesthetics with more than I should.
I decided I had to give her a gold star anyway. Despite her lackluster tone, something inside her was trying to come out, at least through her tights.
"Here," I said, handing her a star.
"Thanks," she said, taking it without question or comment. I couldn't tell where she put it, I think inside her bag. She did not, as many do, put it on and wear it proudly.
I went through my day, dressing after the gym in a new/used little brown-striped skirt and a black turtleneck sweater that I funked up with some socks and boots and a cinnamon scarf I love. I thought I'd change later, to go out in Manhattan with friends, find something more nighttime, but I got lazy. I went as I was.
On the flourescent-lit train, I sat, writing in my journal, listening to my iPod, in my own world. Out of the corner of my eye, to my left, I saw a flash of red. I looked over, more closely. Yes. There they were. Red tights, same exact hue, on the legs of the girl next to me. Really, was it possible? I had thought it a bold choice in the morning, now, all of a sudden it was turning into practically a trend though my former editors would say two is coincidence, three makes a trend. Still, though, the coincidence made me laugh. I pulled my headphones out of my ears.
"I have to tell you," I said to the girl, "that I give out gold stars, and I gave one out just this morning to another girl wearing red tights," I said. "Here is one for you, too," I said, handing her a star.
She took it and smiled. "Cool," she said.
"Now, can I ask you, do you have to be in a certain mood to wear the red tights? What prompts you?"
She looked thoughtful for a second, not having mulled it over much, I guess.
"Well," she said, "there are just a few outfits I can wear them with, so if I feel like wearing those things, I wear them."
Hmmm. It was simpler than I thought. She didn't seem at all cognizant of looking daring. It was just, simply, what she did, what she felt comfortable doing. Picking this stranger's brain about her fashion habits, I missed my intended stop. I waved to her as I jumped off.
As I waited for the next train, headed the other way, it occurred to me: fashion is really all about being comfortable in your own skin. Like good actors, who have to know who they are to become someone else, we all have to be sure of who we are to make bold statements with our dress, to invite the attention that invariably comes with the donning of something bright on a dark day or in the brilliant light of the subway.