The Re/Dress NYC
opening reminded me of a reading at a women's bookstore in the eighties, except with an overwhelming amount of gorgeous, big-enough clothes and burlesque dancers instead of books and novelists. But the feeling, that feeling of an excited crowd pouring in and being welcomed in ways that they couldn't quite believe (except for those who know, for whom this is home, and those folks, in between eating strawberries, trying on hats and making Sputnik plans -- I asked, it's a monthly dance -- they were all pretty cheery and happy to say hi) and finding things that they might not have been able to say they wanted, that old time gonna-change-the-world-one-poem-at-a-
time headiness totally translated into vintage linen and rhinestones.
That's surprising to me, but it's true. A lot of that's about Deb Malkin, the store's owner, who was resplendent on Wednesday in a corset and a plaid bustle skirt from Bertha at Size Queen
. The store has a narrow, open space above the huge floor, and looking up at Deb with her decollatage and bustle while she leaned over the rail to talk to somebody below was the kind of vision of determined joy in action that can go a long way to get a person through a cold, tight February. I know Deb through fat activist circles, and, as so many of you do, here on livejournal, and I feel graced by that. And, for me, that was a huge part of the experience, getting there with Leah and Tony and Becca, abundance already, and then seeing so many folks who I respect or admire or feel slow affection for, and so many others who were in the midst of their community, having a party, and so many others blissed out by treasure hunting, dazzled by what they could find and wear and afford. I think I got the last glass of champagne, but I was long since high on the sheer, crackling plenty of it all.
As I'm writing here about clothes shopping, about plenty, I keep getting little scratching thoughts about my own money worries and about how it's a moment of economic change and fear for many (and nothing new in that for many more), but, for me, this strange, sudden abundance in the form of a vintage clothes store beyond a fat woman's dreams didn't feel out of balance. It felt like a palpably generous human endeavor, a beautiful risk in inviting the fat girls (self defined! a big range of folks! many genders, and plenty not girls, but this was my feeling, my experience of the moment) in to play.
The truth is, I didn't even begin, literally did not even begin, to scratch the surface of looking at the clothes. I don't know if I could have taken a fraction of it in if I were there on a quiet afternoon, and as it was, I was too excited by it all to have a chance. But I decided to look for work clothes, and Becca helped me try on jackets and gathered a whole bunch of possible pants for me, and gave advice and got feedback. I came home with a short black linen/polyester jacket, size16 (I'm telling you -- the whole world tilted), and I'm wearing it as I'm typing. It cost me $12. I'm kind of in love with it. It's a simple thing, but it's clearly a power object, and smells, ever so faintly, of a good, gone perfume. Becca made me swear that I'd iron it, but I haven't, just yet.
A tall woman at the back near the row of spectacular, glittery dresses held up a long brown item that swept low in the back and high in the front, and asked us, "What is this?" We decided that it had to be a dress, because it was so long, but eventually we talked someone else into to putting it on, and it was a ballgown skirt. It swept the floor and made a magnificent funnel tornado twirl when she spun. It zipped together in a v at the back. I was in line to check out before the dancing started behind a woman who was bought two elegant purple bags full of things, one of them with black boots sticking out of the top. Her voice shook with emotion when she said thanks. I think the neighborhood word is going to spread fast.
I didn't see into the dressing rooms with the zebra striped curtains because they were all occupied, but I saw the eponymous picture on the one named for Mama Cass. I just took off my leggings and tried on pants in my pink tights in the wide, wide spaces between racks. Deb showed me my own picture among all the others in the cozy lounge, with its gold couch (the woman sitting next to me explained that she was a graduate student in journalism liveblogging the event). Someone from the Mayor's office read a proclamation making it Re/Dress day in Brooklyn, so much better than trying again to put the whole borough on a diet. The dancers could do amazing things, and I was struck by their athleticism, the strength they used to move, along with everything else. Bertha literally made me cry by talking to me in an enormously present way about my novel, and the hard moment I'm in with its fate in the world. We didn't get a chance to talk much, but she went in so deep so fast and looked in my eyes. It almost makes me cry again, just thinking about it. I talked a little with Geleni (so many people there! so many faces shining among the clothes), who said that having online lives together was like being in touch through the collective unconscious. This trip to Re/Dress really did feel like a wade into that kind of common pool.
And the store is there, open, ready for other, quieter other days, ready for other explorations of what kinds of cuts and fabrics people have the means and the impulse to inhabit. I ran across a phrase recently in Netherland,
a novel I loved: entrepreneurial wistfulness.
It's been haunting me for various reasons: because I have that for my novel, I think, in that, separate from what it has in it as a book, as what I want (I always want this) to be art, I also want very much to have it make its way in the world. I can taste it, I can feel it, as a character in Netherland
dreams of a cricket stadium. Re/Dress (that tiny poem of a name) is past wistfulness into the very tactile present, and it's a fabulous place to walk into. I'm going again, when I can.