Friday, September 19, 2014

The Blazer

At the beginning of the summer a well-known women's fashion magazine asked their readers for essay submissions for their Personal Style issue. They were looking for 500-word explorations focused on "a treasured piece from your wardrobe." I'd been looking at my wardrobe in that way for years, searching for the gems that define it, that explain the root of my style, but I hadn't written something in that vein for quite awhile.

The issue is now on newsstands, so I know for certain that my submission was not chosen. But that doesn't really matter. I write best when there is an assignment involved, a task to steer my occasionally muddled thoughts. I can't shake the school girl. I doubt that I ever will. And this assignment gave me a chance to return to my roots in some ways. I'm not including a picture of me wearing the item because none exists. Maybe I'll get around to that someday when I stop hiding from people clutching cameras.

I thought about lengthening it but I like its crispness. 500 words on the nose. My middle school self is particularly proud of that fact.

I’m not sure how I made it through my east coast, prep school existence without amassing a closet full of blazers. After spending my earliest years in a Catholic school uniform, I happily greeted the relatively laid back dress code of the girls’ school that I began attending in the fifth grade. For good or for ill, I relished the chance to participate fully in the trends that would become signposts of a 1990s adolescence. Blazers were nowhere to be found among the plaid skirts and the platform shoes from Wild Pair and the flared jeans.

At the age of 26 and back at home after being chewed up and spat out by the economy and New York City, I turned to my mother’s closet for a temporary solution to a sudden problem. When it comes to personal style, she and I reside miles apart. After the ups and downs of my trend-obsessed adolescence, I settled into a restrained classicism. She had always been, and continues to be, a colorful risk taker. During my youngest years, she wrapped her hair in vibrant printed scarves and wore one long earring instead of two. She is comfortable with imbalance in a way that I never have been. I long saw her wardrobe as a place for play and fantasy but rarely for inspiration. However, my employment roller coaster had led me to an apparel retail job for the holiday season and a blazer or two would be necessary. I searched through her closet for the first time in years and was stunned to find hidden among the pieces that I’d come to associate with her persona and her presence a classic wool blazer in navy with notch lapels, gold buttons, and a maroon silk lining. The shoulder pads marked it as a relic of the 1980s, but she assured me that she could remove them.

It was the beginning of a beginning. The blazer was longer in the torso than many that I’d seen for women, which made it perfect for me, and for her, as above average height is a trait that we share. It opened me up to new ways in which my mother and I are connected, and it happily started my descent down a slippery slope. The blazers that I collected over the next five years would prove themselves to be more than simple tools to help me ease my way through a life in retail. They became a way to elevate a tee or offset the femininity of a sun dress. They became makeshift jackets and occasional umbrellas. As their number grew so did their breadth. My closet now houses linen and bird's eye tweed, seersucker and shawl collar tuxedo varieties. But I most often return to the classic option that I found hiding in my mother's closet all those years ago. Timeless is a word thrown around in fashion circles quite a bit but that term fits the blazer perfectly. And it, in turn, fits me.

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