The Sisterhood of the Traveling Skirt-Like-Thing

I am not a fashionista.  My wardrobe sits comfortably in the range of “mainstream safety” with occasional forays into “mainstream quirk”.  But, above all else, I do not mix and match.  My blacks go with my blacks.  Sometimes, I add something red, just to be controversial. 

Moving to Wellington meant throwing all of that out of the window.  Suddenly, stripes and plaids mixed together; vintage looks were popular (to the point that I thought someone was a historical re-enactor.  No.  She was just on her way to work); and things I considered very racy (fishnet tights, stiletto heels), were daytime de rigour

I have become a bit more experimental with what I wear, but I wanted to take it a step further.  I wanted to find something that was uniquely New Zealand fashion that I could take home with me for my upcoming visit.  Something that would totally up my “cool” factor. 

So I decided to go to DeNada.  I love DeNada.  It’s a lovely boutique full of strange and interesting clothing options that are ridiculously expensive for what they are but intrinsically lovely all the same. 

I have to confess that, heretofore, I’d never actually purchased anything from DeNada.  There are three reasons for this.  One, the price.  Two, the fit (I’m a bit more ample than the target customer).  Three, my complete befuddlement at how some of the garments are meant to be worn.  Or even gotten into.  But I had this moment of capriciousness and decided that I wasn’t leaving until I had a new, lovely, tres chic garment.

Now, had this occurred at home, at least three of my friends would have stopped me.  Or they would have at least gone with me to make sure that I wasn’t going to be a walking fashion disaster.  SL, with her critical eye, could say—without malice—“No, that’s not you.”  She saved me from a very awkward sweater purchase once.  LA would encourage me to branch out, but would also politely tell me when something worked or didn’t.  LA convinced me to buy a pair of shoes that have since become my favourites.  TM would tell me to “work it,” and convince to buy something that showed a peek of shoulder. 

LG, CS, IN, and TP–in their own ways—will tell me when something makes the best of my assets and when it doesn’t.  And they are tough.  Really tough.  And I love it. 

I trust these women with my lives.  Therefore, it was a suicide mission to walk into DeNada without them.

An hour later, I came skipping out of DeNada with a skirt-like-thing.  I say skirt-like-thing, because it wasn’t a skirt at all.  It was this odd tube of fabric with large, pointy panels in two colours draping down my front and rear with a large slit going up the side of the leg.  According to the sales clerk, it was a skirt meant to be worn over pants.  Or another skirt.  It was not, apparently, a skirt by itself. 

That seemed edgy.  Cool. Fashion forward.  And I liked it.  I happily handed over my credit card for the skirt-like-thing. 

The infamous skirt-like-thing, on it's way back to the store

Then I got home. 

I was so excited, I rushed upstairs to put it on, telling T that I wanted to show him my new skirt-like-thing. 

But what happened next was like waking up in the middle of the night to discover you really shouldn’t have eaten that second burrito. 

The skirt-like-thing looked very, VERY different in the far more judgmental mirror of my bathroom, than in the one in the shop.  Oh no!  What had I done?  How could my skirt-like-thing have forsaken me so quickly??

Sure that I was just being overly critical, I sloped downstairs intent on getting T’s honest appraisal.

I said to him, “I want your honest appraisal of this.  You won’t hurt my feelings, I promise.” 

T winced and an expression passed across his face that reminded me of the time that he ate some bad fish. 

“I don’t like these kinds of games,” he said warily. 

“I’m serious.  You won’t hurt my feelings.  Well, I mean, don’t say I look like a two-thousand pound hippo, or something.  Be constructive.  Non-emotive.  Tell it to me straight.”

The bad fish expression passed across his face again.  He opened his mouth and then closed it.  He motioned for me to twirl.  I did.  He opened his mouth again, blinked, and closed it shut.  He asked me to twirl again.

“It’s bad, isn’t it?” I asked.  “That’s why you’re not saying anything.  Because it’s bad. I knew it was bad!”

“I didn’t say it was bad!” he rushed to say.  “I just … I mean … what is it?  Is it a skirt?  Is it missing some fabric?  I mean, it’s hard to really give you an opinion when you’re wearing it over your jeans.”

“You’re supposed to wear it over your jeans.”

T’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline, the universal symbol for, “You’re shitting me.”

“Really,” he asked. “Oh.  Okay.  Well … wait, so it is a skirt or is it … what is it?”

“It’s a skirt-like-thing.”


“They said to wear it over pants.  Or another skirt.”

“Uh, huh.” 

“So what do you think,” I asked, sure he was stalling.

He did the mouth flapping thing again.  Cleared his throat.  Asked me twirl once more.  And then he stuttered, “I … well … I mean … it’s … I’m not sure … That is, I don’t know if …”

I sighed.  “It’s bad, right?”

“It just looks … complicated.”  Encouraged, he continued, “And I don’t know if that … well, I mean I love your—but I don’t think it plays to your best assets.  I mean—oh hell!  Why can’t you ask your girlfriends about this?”

I put him out of his misery and agreed that the skirt-like-thing was indeed a bit too complicated for my much more simple style and that it did, in fact, make my ass look like it was the size of an airplane hanger. 

I just know that if any of my girlfriends had been with me, they would have told me to step away from the skirt-like-thing and would have encouraged me to look at something else. 

I caution to add that it’s not as if I don’t have girlfriends here.  I do.  And they are amazing, lovely, wonderful women.  But history is important.  I have an insane amount of history with SL, LA, TP, CS,LG,IN, and TM.  I have barreled through more than one pint of ice cream with several of them—one or both of us crying our eyes out at the time.  I have rushed over to one’s house at 2 am when she needed me, and vice-versa.

We have been through the wars together.  We have talked and lived love, death, and taxes.  We have seen each other naked.  I don’t mean in the physical sense (though, yes, obviously we have had occasion to witness this).  I mean in the, “Oh, dear God, please don’t ever tell anyone that I {insert embarrassing/vulnerable moment}”.  That (among many things) keeps my defences low when I ask these women leading questions like, “Does this make me look fat?” 

We’re honest with each other and we don’t have to explain our motivations.  We know that whether it’s a skirt-like-thing, a relationship, or a work problem, we’re going to be straight with each other.  Why?  Because we love each other and we only want to see each other blossom.  Sometimes, to blossom, you have to step away from the skirt-like-thing. And sometimes, it takes someone you trust more than yourself to tell you. 

It’s like having seven sisters, really.  That’s the way I think of them.  It’s nice knowing that, even at 8,000 miles a way, I can still count on these women to keep me grounded, and to remind me that I’m loved.  And tell me if the skirt-like-thing makes me look fat. 




Rocking the Unconventional (or at least the asymmetrical hemline)

For almost a week, I didn’t have my conservative three-button suits. They decided to take an extended va-cay in the LA sun; it was too soon to join their brethren in “Windy Wellington”. In winter. I can understand that, actually.

I felt asea. Adrift. Unclothed. Now before you get too excited, when I say “unclothed,” I mean in the suited sense. There were plenty of jeans and sweaters to go around. However, scruffy jeans and sweaters that really did just come from the L.L. Bean catalog are hardly appropriate interview attire.

You see, the day after I arrived in New Zealand, I had a job interview. An important one, because it was with a company that I had been courting for months. It’s not overstating it to say that I really, really wanted to work there. So you can see why I needed my conservative three-button “nothing-to-see-here” suit. It’s what I wore when I went into court. When I had Very Big And Important Meetings. When I had to have those horribly staged professional pictures taken (you know the ones–the waxy smile, the blinding white lights, the “action” poses where you’re meant to look as though your thinking about the implications of the recent Supreme Court decision on handgun control). To be without “The Suit” made me feel unprepared, out of my element. If a suit makes the man, then perhaps, (in a small way) it defines the woman.

Now at this point, I could diverge into such weighty things as women in the workplace, how far we’ve come, how far we still have to go; how we define ourselves by our jobs (and by extension) our preferred “uniforms.” I could even wax poetic on gender roles vis a vis attire. But instead, it’s better just to tell you how I wound up with a woolly skirt with an asymmetrical hem.

There are no conservative three-button suits to be found in Wellington. Not ones I could afford, at any rate. No one seems to wear suits, really. There are lots of boots–leopard print with stiletto heels, and leggings that are meant to pass as trousers (for the younger generation), shortish skirts over some of the leggings (for my generation), and mismatched sweaters and cardigans and jackets, but not conservative three-button suits. Had I not been in such a state, on such a mission to find a suit exactly like one I already had, I would have stopped and marvelled at the beauty, the whimsy, the functionality of what I was seeing. There’s a real sense of creativity here. An experimental and edgy spirit. The clothing is as beautiful as it is practical (in some cases), but it definitely has a “New Zealand” aesthetic. I can’t describe it, necessarily, but as was said in another landmark Supreme Court decision, “I know it when I see it.” And it makes me smile.

And so, I ditched the idea of finding a suit like I used to have, and instead embraced a new aesthetic. Which led me to a lovely gray skirt with an asymmetrical hem and ribbon flowers. Along with an unstructured boiled wool black jacket and a red blouse. My shoes, my beautiful necklace from Zia, and in the end, the ensemble was a little Kiwi, a little Jenn, and a whole new kind of three-button suit. Definitely the kind that says, “Why yes, there IS something to see here.” It felt unconventional at the time–still does, really–but hey, it’s a whole new world, right? Part of the journey is finding your place in the world. Which requires you to go with it (or “rock it” as I’d like to pretend I’m hip enough to say).

(And of course, when one rocks the unconventional, one aces the interview, as well.)