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March 26, 1994 - Image 61

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-03-26

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By Susan Roberts


! fs two o'clock in the morning. I am stand-
ing in front of the mirror modeling a $250
rayon dress that was my major clothing
purchase of the year. Amanda, half asleep,
is propped up on my bed in the posture of
a dying soldier. A weary voice comes from
her inert form: "Would you do me a favor and
lose those shoes?"
Though she has been up since 6 a.m., I will
not let her fly home to L.A. tomorrow until
she has done her annual review of my closet
The lateness of the hour hardly matters, since
exhaustion cannot blunt her fashion instinct.
For her, beauty and ugliness are
questions of fact, not taste— as
if you had pointed to a lamp and
asked if it were on or off.
So far tonight, she has quar-
antined all my cropped jackets
from five years ago. ("Believe
me," she says, "none of us needs
that hip area highlighted") as
well as several more recent pur-
chases, which evoke in her a
pained and worried look. In ad-
dition, I now have a pile of things
that could be saved by altering,
and another that could be saved
by changing the buttons.
At last we come to the rayon
dress, which thankfully passes
muster. "'That's actually not bad," says Aman-
da, rousing from her torpor. "Try it with your
little suede boots." Then, spying a black silk
surplice blouse in my closet— a long-forgot-
ten Kmart find— she tells me to put it on over
"Should I just leave it open, with the strings
dangling down?" I ask, skeptically.
"Trust me," she says. And as always, she
is right The dress— previously too good to
wear except to weddings and wakes— now
finds its true calling as part of a grunge en-
semble, long and flowing and unconstricted.
I am so excited about my new look that I burst
into an imitation of Stevie Nicks, who I now

remind myself of. Amanda seems to be
pleased as well, because the outfit satisfies
her current bottom line. "For me, these days,
ifs all about drape," she says.
Each year, I await the latest watchword
from Amanda, l&e a colonist waiting for fash-
ion news from abroad. This time, it seems,
the word is drape. Over the next year, this
word will become my theme, my leitmotif,
guiding me through 365 days of dressing de-
My relationship with Amanda began near-
ly 20 years ago when we were roommates

at college in New York. I had come from a
family of Ohio Presbyterians for whom a great
love of clothing seemed vaguely porno-
graphic. I was expected to dress neatly and
appropriately on all occasions, but fabulous-
ness was out-of-bounds. That would have been
vanity, the deadliest of sins.
So for me, to meet Amanda was like biting
into an apple from the Tree of life. We then
had the pleasure of scampering around the
garden of our dorm room concocting fig leaf
outfits for our nights on the town. Amanda,
whose forebears had been furriers and tai-
lors, awakened me to the softness of suede,
the tenderness of cashmere. To her, garments

were not merely sensuous, they possessed
emotional and imaginative depths. AT-shirt
was prized for the James Dean-like way it
showed off the neck, a skirt for suggesting
the Romantic poets. All were to be worn with
self-dramatizing flair, as a kind of challenge
and invitation to whomever one might meet
"I know that you are looking at me," one said
through one's clothes. "I am also looking at
Today, as a professional stylist and de-
signer, she helps other women translate their
personalities into clothing. Her clients are
eternally in her debt, knowing
that dressing is one of the few
types of power more accessible
to women than to men. Ike me,
they live by such pithy Amanda-
isms as the following: (On hav-
ing your colors done) "That's
for idiots;" (on the rationale for
having highlights put in your
hair) "If you're going to wear a
dark palate, you have to bright-
en your head a little;" (on what
to do if you have large thighs)
"Accept them and be free."
Above all, Amanda says, nev-
er dress for men, but for your-
self and other women. Sexuality
is important, but, like charity, it
should begin at home, with feeling good in-
side your clothes. Overt sexiness should be
balanced with humor, one hand taking back
what was given with the other. In other words,
go ahead and wear that Albert Nipon sarong
shortened to six inches above the knee, but
round out the picture with Doc Martens and
thick socks.
Our visit over, I gather all my rejected
clothes into Hefty bags for Goodwill. Ah well,
I sigh. Ars Tonga, fashion brevis. But I have no
regrets. My closet is now full of garments with

Susan Roberts is a free-lance writer based in Siver Spring,



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