Then vs. Now

Who knows why one starts thinking about something… it may have been the “lose ten pounds” uttered but unuttered resolution (isn’t it cool how I did that?) that led me to it, but for some reason the other day I remembered/realized, with a combination of nostalgia and horror, that way back in the day (ie, my late teens/early twenties) it used to take me TWO HOURS to get dressed to go out at night.

Well, “going out” (in other words, presenting oneself to the world as a creature worthy of the world’s interest) has not been part of my life since the days of the dinosaurs, but nowadays, I pride myself on how quickly I can get myself ready to leave the house: the less time I spend on that, the more I can spend on quality things… like reading a magazine, drinking a cup of coffee, tinkering with the way this blog looks. I can shower in three minutes. I no longer futz about with hair dryers, make-up, interesting clothes. In short, I am a fashion dud, and that saves a lot of time.

Back in the day, when I spent those hours on grooming, it’s not like I was painstakingly shellacking a ‘do onto the top of my head or trowelling on the make-up (though for a while I was partial to heavily-kohled eyes); it’s more that getting ready to go out was an aesthetic process.

Back then, I worked at a vintage clothing store and received a portion of my pay in clothes (one of my favorite pastimes was spending the hour before closing on Saturday nights picking a new outfit for the evening), which might give an idea of what I mean here: we’re talking dressing as a performative act. A leather miniskirt that belonged to the wife of the owner of Capricorn Records during the Allman Bros heyday. Brocaded sixties cocktail dresses. Midriff baring shell tops with sequins lying close as fish scales. Paisley-patterned cotton dresses worthy of the best 50s’ housewife, way too big and belted with a leather belt, accessorized with granny boots.

Imagine the scene: victorian house, chopped up into rentals, complete with sofa on the front porch. The younger version of myself examining herself in the round Deco mirror of a vanity with peeling veneer picked up at Goodwill. She has to try on at least five outfits. The mirror of the vanity must be hung with twinkling Christmas lights. The music on the stereo must be a tad melancholy (rainy nights and Leonard Cohen singing Chelsea Hotel, perhaps?)

Oh, those were innocent days, weren’t they?

For a while, the store where I worked also carried mid-century modern housegoods: gaudy lamps with swooping shades, McCoy vases. Big yawn as far as I was concerned, though I was happy to sell them to elderly hipsters (as I considered those over 30 to be) . Clothes were what it was all about. They were where it was AT. The rest was secondary (though, thankfully, I did spend some of my pay on a few of those lamps).

But here’s an interesting thing: While mucking about with the header of this blog yesterday, which on one level is the biggest time-suckage imaginable, I realized that I may not spend any time dressing myself these days, but it’s not that I no longer care about aesthetics — it’s just that the focus of my desire for attractive aesthetics has changed.

Clothes were once my armor, my palette; were plumage and shell I took creative joy in embellishing. And just as I once took pleasure in putting together an outfit, I now take pleasure in putting together my house, my yard (though whether anybody else in the world would agree with the success of these efforts is debatable, I realize).

Is it motherhood or larger cultural currents that’ve caused this shift? On one hand, back in the day when I was getting myself up like a cross between Cyndi Lauper and Jacki O, who would’ve dreamed that an entire nation would someday become obsessed with “home improvement”? On the other hand, my life is mostly played out on a domestic stage these days and I spend a heck of a lot of time here.

Back in those old days, when I was young and foolish and judgmental (and sure I knew EVERYTHING) I perceived anything more than a minimum of attention paid to ones surroundings as a particularly vacuous past-time. And now here I am, fiddling with how this blog (which is viewed by an audience of no more than ten) looks.