A few nights ago, I popped out of my gym to take a phone call, and I almost ran (bodily) into Andrea Linett, former fashion intern, then editor, for Sassy magazine; co-founder, with Kim France, of Lucky magazine; the woman behind the addictive blog I want to be her. Fashion-mag royalty, but not, like, Queenly royalty. The badass younger sister. The Princess Margaret of editors. I recognized her by her shoes – some impossibly soft, elephant-grey booties, the hems of her jeans arranged above the suede’s soft pile with perfect insouciance – and my horror grew as I cast my eyes up her figure. She was wearing skinny jeans, a just-so jacket, hair perfectly tousled and caramel-toffee-honey brown. She looked really good. My face was beet red and slicked with sweat. I had not brushed my hair that day (ever?). But worst of all, I was wearing a terrible outfit. A pair of egregiously neon sneakers, a stripy, misshapen sweatshirt, and a short puffer vest that hit me right in the most bulbous part of my frame. Gross.
And then, two days later, I bumped into Andrea Linett again. This time, I had no excuse. I was outside of my house, and I wasn’t going to the gym. I was wearing: an extra huge denim shirt, ANN TAYLOR capri pants and grubby, red Toms. God help me. One can make excuses: the pants were initially imagined to be ankle length, but since when did anything ankle length actually hit my ankle? The denim shirt maybe works when worn with normal length pants and unbuttoned a bit more, to sauce it up a bit? Nipped at the waist? A necklace might have helped? There is no defense for the Toms.
I had gone on a walk to Hayes Valley to find wax to put on our canvas coats. I had not found the wax, but I had found myself in Reliquary, a hopelessly chic shop where I usually don’t venture, knowing my penchant for things caftanny and shiny will leave me with a big divot in my checking account. Everything in there is just so, and it’s beautiful. It smells gently of resin.
I’d like to think that had I made an effort, Andrea Linett would have spoken to me. She would have said “I like your shoes,” or “Great jacket.” To be extra-fair to myself, I spied a jacket I already own on the shelf at Reliquary. Maybe I could have been wearing that? Maybe I would have been mistaken for someone stylish? But, dear reader, I was not wearing that jacket. I wasn’t wearing any jacket. I was, as you will recall, wearing an enormous denim shirt. It’s like I was wearing the opposite of an outfit. I was wearing what you put on when you can’t think about what you’re going to wear.
I don’t often read fashion magazines. Not just because I’m a professor and I am above all that nonsense (I’m obviously not), but because they are expensive and take up space. What I know of the fashion world comes from taking recommendations from my more stylish friends, and assiduously reading the blog of Andrea Linett’s sometime-partner-in-crime, the aforementioned much-beloved Kim France.
But, if Sassy still existed, I’d subscribe. I’d subscribe everyone I know. I’d double up on subscriptions. Because I still miss it. Sassy covered clothes, yes, but it covered clothes I actually wanted to wear. Everything in its pages looked cool. Like the people wearing the clothes had just gotten up, looked in their closets, and put them on, because those were their clothes. Sassy’s look was lived-in, and the magazine understood that books and music and politics might also be important to teenage girls. As important as lipgloss and Neutrogena? Maybe.
Sassy came to me just in time. The summer after I turned thirteen, when I planned my “back to school” outfits for the year. I thought long and hard about the kind of young woman I wanted to be. I chose the figure I most admired in that town – my eighth grade English teacher, Miss Oates. I’m not sure if it’s clear, but Miss Oates was not a teenage girl.
So I went to Goody’s with my mom and bought, in imitation of Miss Oates’s vibrant blouses and swooping skirts, a dour, mulberry-purple polyester shirt with a large yellow and orange flower print and a dark khaki skirt with a dropped, buttoned yoke. Perfect. But it was not perfect for a thirteen-year-old girl. Undulating folds of rich fabric do not look so hot if they are neither rich nor undulating. I made that crucial mistake: instead of just wanting to be Miss Oates, I had actually tried to copy her look. You can’t be yourself in someone else’s clothes.
Sassy taught me that. I wasn’t an apt pupil, as the boxes full of extra-large (Sting!) concert tees in my parents’ attic might demonstrate. But I began to think of myself as a person whose body could mean something. And for young women, that’s often all you really want. A body that means something other than: “don’t look at me.” Or, worse: “look at me.” So, I could temper the nascent political activist (many Greenpeace tee-shirts) with a bit of mystical weirdness (long floral dress) and a tiny bit of toughness (9-hole Docs). If I could figure out how to balance it all, I could get away with being a bit quiet and a bit shy just a little longer.
And look, while Andrea Linett probably wasn’t the one to lay out the first clothing spread (just the clothes! without people in them! it was revolutionary!), she was buzzing around behind the scenes as an intern, then as an assistant, then as an editor, and, eventually, she placed piles of frail velvet next to Doc Martens. She styled the Kurt and Courtney spread. She gave me an aspirational outfit for my rebellious youth (not that rebellious, though it did involve a lot of ripped jeans). Andrea Linett, the pale yellow Indian cotton skirt I bought in Exeter and the tiny tinkling silver ball I bought in New York? In on the Kill Taker? My first $40.00 donation to Planned Parenthood? That Rock the Vote button? (I couldn’t vote). Those were for you! I bought those because of you! You got me to go on road trips in search of records and band shirts and rapidly tarnishing silver! You helped me learn to be a teenager!
And look at what I’ve done with that early promise. I have a nice wardrobe full of reasonable things (skinny jeans, clunky boots, lots of thin sweaters, even a necklace or two) and what do I do? Toms. With a big grease stain on the front. I’m ashamed, and appalled, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry, too, that I was trying on a caftanny thing when you tried to come into the dressing room at Reliquary, but I really needed to get out of that denim shirt.
I understood – briefly – what clothes could do for a body. You can’t be yourself in someone else’s clothes. That is a good realization. But you still have to choose your clothes! And what if you’re someone else, sometimes, to yourself? What then?
Perhaps, if I think about it more clearly, in Sassy, I saw what clothes could do for a young woman, whose politics and aesthetics became more legible to her each time she assembled bits and pieces of cloth into outfits, the thinnest cottons of affiliation. Everything layered easily, comfortably accumulating on the surface of my skin.
But I don’t know if I understand anymore. What pants do you wear when you want people to see “I am learning to be a step-parent, and it’s the best and scariest thing I’ve ever done?” What shoes say “I have to go up for tenure soon enough, and until then, I will spend increasing amounts of time by myself, in pajamas, drinking endless cups of milky tea while trying to hang on to an idea long enough to get it on the page?” Is there a hairstyle that resolves life’s constant seesaw of ambivalence and passion into something more manageable? Maybe a long bob?
Andrea Linnett, please explain. What would you suggest, when you burst, for a split second, into the same dressing room? Andrea, what would you try on?
Claire Jarvis: Welsh Witch
Note: pic of Andrea shopping (not actually at Reliquary!) courtesy SF Chronicle