Sunday, November 25, 2012
12:59 PM | Posted by Wide Lawns | | Edit Post
There’s no other time of year when people dress more ridiculously than the Christmas season. It’s so bad that I have a theory. From Black Friday through New Year’s, the fashion police are on vacation. There’s no other explanation for the fact that suddenly, normally conservative individuals who spend the rest of the year in jeans and solid color tops, decide that garish, red and green plaid pants are perfectly acceptable to wear to the grocery store. But forget just plaid, of which there is a plenty in December. Plaid is downright plain in comparison to some folks’ idea of festive attire. Sequins, rickrack, bows, both grosgrain and satin, velvet, appliques, glitter and lots of it, gold braid, silver braid, bright buttons, rhinestones, giant crystals, you’ll see it all at Christmas. And you’ll see it all on one outfit. Repeatedly.
People like to dress crazy at Christmastime. There are probably a lot of reasons for this. Hey, we decorate our front doors, our dining room tables. We drag swags of greenery through banisters and plug in electric candles to brighten our windows. We bring trees in from outside and decorate them. Some people even decorate their cars. Yuppies always have a wreath ( a real one of course with a tasteful red bow) wired onto the front grill of their Land Rover and rednecks tend to favor antlers for their pickups. So if we’re decorating everything else for Christmas, why not ourselves?
I’m guilty. I’ve worn some ridiculous shit at Christmas and I’ve done it with a straight face and without a shred of irony. My reasons were varied. It’s partly not my fault. I come from a tacky family, so I get my propensity for hideous, holiday-wear honestly. It’s practically part of my DNA. I fall prey to both sentimentality and marketing, a lethal combination, especially at yuletide, and if that weren’t toxic enough, my perfectionism will kick in and I’ll decide that Christmas won’t be right unless I am properly decked out.
Here’s how it usually happens. My birthday is right before Thanksgiving, when the stores are getting ready to go full swing into Christmas Blitzkrieg. That means I’ll usually have a couple hundred extra bucks from my grandparents and parents and that money will start to burn a hole in my pocket. Inevitably, I will end up at the mall and then it’s all over. Once I go up an escalator, there’s no hope for me, my money or any remaining shred of good taste I might have ever had. The gigantic ornaments, the Shaq sized gingerbread men dancing from the rafters, the seventy foot, fiberglass Christmas tree in the atrium, the hip remix of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” blaring out of Pottery Barn, the sweet smell of eggnog lattes frothing up at Starbucks. I get sensory overload. My brain can’t function normally. And it’s bliss. Some junkies get their high from heroin, but I get mine from The Galleria.
There’s got to be something about the lighting in the stores that makes the clothes look better and I’ve sworn for years that they have magical mirrors in the dressing rooms of women’s clothing retailers that make you look particularly skinny. Whatever it is, the dresses and sweaters, the pants, blouses, cardis and camis all look irresistible, both on and off. Stacks of cashmere pullovers are so lushly dyed that you can practically taste their fruity colors. Every glittery, gleaming embellishment transforms what would normally be considered tacky even in New Jersey into festive. I begin to imagine detailed scenarios in which I am wearing those exact capris – the satin ones with the glitter stars all over them, with that exact, white angora sweater and that sequined beret and those silver pumps (with real bells! that actually ring!) and I am at the greatest Christmas cocktail party of all time, peppermint martini in one hand, sleigh shaped cookie in the other and I can actually see myself with my head thrown back in peals of laughter with a small crowd gathered around me, rapt at whatever hilarious story I’m regaling and I am the life of this party, this greatest Christmas cocktail party of all time, because I am wearing this outfit. And that’s how I end up losing my birthday money every year. If only I were born in the summer.
It all started with a pair of red and green plaid, flannel, stirrup pants. They were my first Christmas clothes. The first I bought for myself anyway. I was twenty and I’d decided that year that I was old enough now to start celebrating Christmas on my own terms, by which I meant that I would do it the right way and not fuck it up like my family did every year, and I really had no idea what I was actually going to do, so I started at The Gap.
I followed the pants up with a red velvet, scoop necked tee and I thought that wasn't quite enough, so I bought the same top again in emerald green. To wear with the plaid stirrup pants. And I thought Christmas was going to be perfect and naturally it wasn't. I spent the holiday in Arkansas, God help me, with my ex fiance's sister's in-laws, most of whom were wearing Christmas attire of their own, including the men, because who wouldn't love a tie printed with both red nosed reindeer and beer mugs? They were racist football fanatics who ate canned asparagus and I had nothing in common with any of them, which goes without saying, so that Christmas was a little lonely for me, but at least I was well dressed. I thought I was anyway.
I have a picture of myself from the year after that. I often look at this picture of me, standing in my old apartment in Atlanta and wonder what the fuck I was thinking. Both about the pink carpeting and floral wallpaper I once loved and about my Christmas outfit. The dress was expensive. I'll give it that. It was a Brooks Brothers. My mom bought it, herself a victim of Christmas Wardrobe Insanity (I'm pretty sure that's a real disorder that should be included in the next DSM). The dress is real velvet and by real velvet I mean that it isn't the stretchy velour stuff found ubiquitously on sweatsuits in TJ Maxx. You know, the classy kind that say things like "Princess" and "Hottie" across the ass? Real velvet is coarser, stiffer. It seems to absorb all light around it, which is probably why, in the dress, which my mother described as "burgundy" in color, I look as pale as a frozen, water-logged corpse. Real velvet is also heavy. I can't remember what ever happened to that dress or where I ended up wearing it, but I do remember that it weighed at least thirty pounds and I also remember that when I put it on, all high-necked, long sleeved, thirty pounds of it draping to the floor, I felt elegant, Dickensian, Joyce-ian (if that's a word). I could have gone to that party in "The Dead" and eaten a steamed pudding and caroled around a piano in my imagination. I didn't. I think that was the year my fiance's mom turned the mashed potatoes into glue and his grandmother got drunk on vodka and tonics and cussed everyone out before staggering upstairs to bed.
It's the same every year. I've worn drop-waisted, peter pan collared abominations that I've tried to repress my memories of. Christmas of '99 will forever be the year I thought an angora cardigan was a good idea. I looked like a terrified cat all fuzzed out in that thing, not to mention, I was allergic to it and as soon as I put it on my eyes began to water, my throat constricted and I couldn't stop sneezing. Seriously, I sneezed so many times that people stopped saying "bless you." I had to take a Benadryl that caused me to pass out, but still I wouldn't take the damned thing off. IT WAS FESTIVE!
Psychotherapy encourages the neurotic to seek the sources of their issues in childhood. If I look back, I think my predisposition for holiday attire started with my grandmother. She wore either red or green polyester slacks (because you can't call these things pants) during the Christmas season. She had an entire barrel, I kid you not, in her cellar (not a basement, this is my grandmother we're talking about here, it's a cellar dammit) of Christmas sweaters and tucked away in her jewelry box, was another box, a box within a box, that contained her Christmas brooches. She had bells that dinged and Bakelite holly and wreaths with matching clip-on earrings. I thought they were the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. I couldn't wait to grow up so I could wear my own Christmas jewelry.
I'm not proud of this, but I have my own box now. One year when I was about twenty-two maybe, I bought a gingerbread man pin. He was my gateway bauble. From there I picked up a wreath, some holly earrings, a few other odds and ends at the Dollar Store, because naturally the Dollar Store is a great place to buy tasteful jewelry. I hang my head when I tell you that I also found ornament earrings and that I've worn them with the gingerbread man pin at the same time. A word of advice - learn from my mistakes. Do not try to emulate your grandmother's choices in fashion. Or anyone else's grandmother.
By the time I hit 28, I decided to class it up. I'd broken up with the fiance by then (he'd moved on with a girl who wouldn't be caught dead in plaid taffeta). Maybe we can blame my Christmas outfit that year on the trauma of a broken heart, but really, is there any excuse for high-waisted, side zipped, black velvet, palazzo pants? Damn you Ann Taylor for tricking me into thinking that these pants, also weighing more than our holiday turkey, were chic and age appropriate, especially when combined with a red, black, white and silver plaid (again with the plaid, will I ever learn?) wrap-around blouse with elaborate cuffs and a collar with a wing-span to rival a condor's. This was a stupid looking get-up. It would have worked if I were a Westchester, WASP matriarch, nearing 60 and named Mitzi, but clearly I wasn't and I certainly wasn't going to any chi-chi Christmas champagne buffets in the Hamptons. No, I wore my palazzo pants to my aunt and uncle's split level ranch in Smyrna, Delaware that year. Overdressed? Maybe a little. My relatives all had on elastic waisted jeans, Reeboks and sweatshirts with snowmen on them. Everyone else was wearing red turtlenecks. They pretended not to notice what I had on. I was from Florida after all. People down there are a little strange. You've seen the news stories, haven't you?
That was the year my Uncle Butch got engaged on Christmas Eve to a woman we will call Tammy, because I don't like the name Tammy. "Tammy" had one of those mushroom haircuts that people's mom's get and she really took the fruitcake when it came to Christmas clothes. She was the queen of the ugly Christmas sweater. She was like a walking Christmas tree she had so many ornaments hanging off her cardigan, under which she wore a gingerbread man print turtleneck. She had snowmen sewn onto her jeans, little present shaped earrings. I swear, the bitch even put antlers on her shoes. Something wasn't right with this woman, I thought and I call her a bitch because, well, she was. Less than a year after being married to my uncle she ran off with another man. That and she was one of those people who refuse to share their recipes. I hate that. Moral of the story? Don't trust people in Christmas clothes. Lesson learned.
But is it? Did I really learn my lesson? In my heart I know that Christmas isn't about clothes. Outfits don't make a holiday or make it better as much as I'd like to think they would. Oh were it only that easy though. I'm guilty still and maybe that's how, this very weekend, I ended up with a red sequined tank, the likes of which I'd never slip on outside of December. This time of year though, I can't seem to shake the feeling that everything needs a little glitter. Even me.
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