Hi, I’m Mary, and this is my column no one asked for about things I like!
Once upon a time, I was a television producer with a closet full of work-appropriate dresses. I would lay out my clothes before my workweek started, then hang them in my closet in the order in which I planned to wear them. I had a pair of knee-high suede boots with 3″ stacked heels that slouched down over my tights, which I paired with sensible wool shifts and pencil skirts. The year was 2008: skinny jeans were a brand-new concept, the babydoll silhouette was making an unfortunate comeback and women were only allowed to wear sneakers to the gym (though Train discouraged even that). No one knew what the fuck they were doing, sartorially speaking. I still had a pair of tiny sweatpants with an ice cream patch ironed on which I’d purchased in college from a brand I’d heard Paris Hilton liked, for Christ’s sake.
By 2009, I’d begun to find my style, by which I mean I’d seen the movie (500) Days of Summer and, like so many young women I knew at the time, had decided to cast myself as a Zooey Deschanel type, minus the blue eyes and power over men. I was living in Atlanta, depressed, grieving and bored out of my mind. My mother had died a year earlier, which meant there was no one around to tell me when my clothes were unflattering, and without her harsh (but necessary!) criticism, I spent weekends (I was working Monday – Friday from 12 p.m. – 9 p.m., an enviable schedule at CNN. The tradeoff? I was working for Nancy Grace) driving to the Lenox Mall to troll Anthropologie for human-sized doll dresses.
That was a decade ago. I recently celebrated the 10 year anniversary of the time I sobbed in my (temporary) office after one of the longest days of my life, which began when a man called the police to report that his young son was stuck in a hot air balloon that had accidentally been launched into the sky and ended with the discovery that the boy had been hiding in the attic the whole time and the father had fancied himself some sort of rag-tag Kris Jenner, except instead of exploiting his children’s asses, he wanted to exploit their passion for adventure, which was really his passion for attention.
That was the day I decided to leave that job, and perhaps the beginning of my slow descent into casual dressing. A year later, I moved to New York and discovered that the city demanded far too much walking for me to comfortably wear high heels. I lost weight and fit into jeans again. I bought my first Breton striped shirt and wore it until it had huge, yellow pit stains which were resistant to even the heaviest laundering. I wore sneakers to work.
I grew up.
Now, all this time later, I have about ten dresses hanging in my closet. A couple are casual, and though I almost never wear them, I keep them around in case I wake up on a hot summer day and decide my pussy needs some air. The rest are special occasion dresses, not particularly formal but wedding-appropriate nonetheless. I have worn a dress exactly twice this year, once to a wedding and once to a rehearsal dinner (I wore my fancy jumpsuit to that wedding. All the hot California lesbians in attendance told me they loved it).
I haven’t bought a dress in probably five years, and I still love the last one I purchased. It’s a silk shirtdress, black with a beautiful red floral print. It’s a style that normally looks terrible on me, loose and shapeless, but cut well enough that it flatters my short, curvy body even without a belt. It has long sleeves with buttoned cuffs and a crisp shirt collar. Sometimes I button it all the way up. Sometimes I don’t.
What I love about the dress is that it looks like a beautiful silk blouse…but longer. It’s from a French label called Sézane, which has become one of my favorite places to shop, particularly for luxurious silk blouses in gorgeous prints, my preferred formalwear.
I love silk blouses for a few reasons: first of all, they’re beautiful. Secondly, they perfectly tow the line between fancy and casual. A great silk top is nice enough for almost any occasion but, unless you’re at a backyard barbecue on a 95 degree day, you won’t look overdressed. Third, they’re sexy without trying to be sexy. A good blouse drapes gorgeously over some titties and may even show a hint of cleavage (or, if your boobs are small as mine, sternum) — but no more. Lastly, you can dress a nice blouse up or down. I have several that look great with jeans, and also with my one and only skirt (a button-front leather mini, also from Sézane).
This past spring, I bought a jumpsuit I love, which I wore to every semi-fancy occasion all spring and summer long. I knew, however, that the garment wouldn’t work in fall or winter, so toward the end of the summer, I splurged on a new fancy piece, the Everlane silk top pictured below.
It’s a semi-casual look since it’s short-sleeved and shaped like a bowling shirt, but that’s what I love about it. The color is vibrant, the silk substantial, almost crepey, but lightweight at the same time.
As a comedian/freelance writer/dog walker/casual bitch, I almost never dress up. When putting on clothes eight or nine months out of the year, I follow one rule of thumb: if I can’t bike and/or sweat profusely into it, I’m not wearing it. But, after purchasing this top, I decided I should try a little harder, especially when I’m onstage, so when I got a gig at a comedy club earlier this month, I wore this top to perform on the Saturday night shows. This is what happened.
It was Vermont in October, and the club had been freezing the two nights prior. That night, however, was cold enough that they’d bumped the heat up and well, um, I wear natural deodorant.
So, lesson learned: silk, especially in a bright, solid shade, may not be great workwear for a comedian — unless the occasion truly calls for it. I often think about what I would wear were I ever to perform stand-up on television. This is a difficult prospect for a modern comic, especially a female one. Many women wear nice dresses on late-night shows, but I feel uncomfortable performing stand-up in one (I’ve done it about three times, and at least once I showed the audience my butt semi-accidentally), ditto a skirt or a suit. A beautiful silk top, however, with dark jeans and a nice pair of shoes seems like the perfect outfit — for any and every occasion.
My sister, who has incredible taste and a beautiful collection of silk blouses (not to mention an actual job that requires she look nice every day), purchased the most amazing shirt from Sézane a couple of years ago. It’s bright green with pink flowers, and I’ve often thought it would be the perfect piece to wear on TV, and still regret not buying it when I had the chance. So when I saw this blouse on their website a few weeks ago, I knew I had to have it. I ordered it and it’s even more beautiful in person, both classic and cool, elegant and casual.
It felt ridiculous to spend so much money on an article of clothing I have no occasion to wear, but I knew if I didn’t, I’d regret it. I momentarily wondered if I were behaving like one of those women who buys a wedding dress before she finds a partner, but the difference is that I can wear this shirt to Thanksgiving dinner and no one will think I’m having a nervous breakdown. Maybe I’ll never wear the blouse on television, but a TV-ready outfit can be useful off camera as well. I told my therapist all about this blouse, suggesting this may be the most absurd way I’ve ever justified my shopping habit, and she replied simply, “You need to buy the shoes too. Red bottoms.” Suggesting I buy a pair of Louboutins for a purely theoretical future opportunity? She gets me (though I would, of course, wear clogs).
My therapist believes in manifesting your own destiny, and often tells me every single thought we have is determining our future. If I can use that as an excuse to shop, I’ll do it, honey! At this point, I’ve built a nice little collection of silk blouses, much smaller but more versatile than the dress collection that overwhelmed my closet 10 years ago. Last week, I wore the black silk blouse pictured at the top of this piece to the opera, and I looked so sophisticated that no one there could tell I was on drugs. If I’d been wearing a flouncy bicycle-print dress, at least a few of the elderly people sitting on either side of me would have suspected I was tripping balls. I guess what I’m saying is I’m growing up! But not that much.
I should make it clear that I have nothing against dresses, but I live in Brooklyn, where dressing casually is the ultimate power statement, where women dress like men and look somehow more feminine. There’s something very sexy about the female body in a masculine shape, the suggestion of curves hidden beneath stiff fabric — or at least that’s what I tell myself every morning when I get dressed. A silk blouse is, of course, pure femininity, but a button-down shirt as formalwear is a masculine concept. It’s dressing up without feeling dressed up, a very powerful statement indeed.
My closet looks so different than it did a decade ago. For starters, I have half as much clothing. What’s really changed is not my wardrobe, however, but my sense of self. A decade ago, I didn’t wear clothes — I wore costumes. I had no idea who I was, so I dressed like who I wanted to be, or who I thought I should want to be. Now, I dress like myself. Even when I’m in formalwear, I’m comfortable, relaxed and confident no one will see my butt (unless I really, really want them to).
It feels good to find your style, to know your wardrobe is full of clothes that make you feel like yourself. In my case, however, I didn’t really find my style, I simply realized it was right in front of me all along. I almost never saw my mom in a dress. She preferred a nice blouse or sweater paired with relaxed chinos or jeans. Her wardrobe wasn’t exactly glamorous, but it was elegant, and she certainly knew what she liked. Though it took me a few decades to figure it out, it turns out it’s what I like too.
As always, I’d like to clarify that this is NOT a sponsored post. I received nothing for it and am pretty sure no one cares about my new silk blouse. Still, if anyone is reading and ever wants to give me literally anything for free, fancy top or not, I WILL TAKE IT!!!!!!
Anyway, I hope this was helpful. I’ll be back with more unsolicited recommendations soon!