Sunday, July 18, 2010

Nightwatch: Costume change

My Friday Nightwatch column from the Irish Independent:
Friday July 16 2010

Surely the surprising thing is not that Lindsay Lohan is going to jail on Tuesday -- it's not even that she had 'Fuck U' painted across her fingernails for her probation hearing.

I mean, come on, I've had expletives written on my nails for all my probation hearings, and the judge always finds them hilarious and not at all disrespectful.It's that she changed outfit three times during the hearing.

Had she mistaken her day in court for a presenter gig at the MTV Movie Awards or something? She arrived in the morning in a sombre, all-black trouser suit. At lunch, she decided to accessorise with a blazer and necklace. By the time the judge came to sentence her, she had stuck on a jumpsuit. Which, to be fair, was a good way to acclimatise to what she'll be wearing in prison.

Now, I know it's not the done thing to admire Li-Lo at the moment. She's not really the kind of gal you'd want organising your girls' night out, for example. Not unless you wanted to wake up in an open boxcar on the train to Albuquerque with a blank memory, a raging hangover and the number of some guy called Bubba written on your bra. Or, depending on your definition of what constitutes a good night out, maybe she is.

I do, however, admire her ability to 'pull together' a variety of sartorial options in a moment of crisis.

This is not a simple case of dressing yourself in the morning. I do manage -- most days -- to make it out the door with shoes on both feet and the requisite foundation garments. Sometimes, I even put something on top of those again.

I watch the American version of What Not to Wear, the one with the aggressive Noo Yoicker female presenter and her poor woman's Gok Wan sidekick. I get the basic tenets of dressing appropriately: no belly tops, no stonewashed denim, vertical stripes.

But dressing coherently under pressure? Forget it. This hit home last Thursday evening, the official start of the weekend. (I do wonder if Li-Lo's drinking habits would be considered as dangerous in Ireland as they are in the US.)

It was one of those 12-hour work days caused by doing three hours of graft, and five hours of Facebook and Twitter, the previous day. I was to meet a group of women in a pub to discuss a project we're all working on. I knew some of them by acquaintance; more I didn't know at all. Two words bounced around my brain. No, not Li-Lo's charming fingernail invitation. First. Impressions.

It's a lie to say that women don't dress for men. Clearly, if you're going on a date, you're not going to get out the sackcloth and ashes to make sure it's just your personality he's after. But it's also very true -- much more so, I would argue -- that women dress for other women.

Pathetic as it sounds, there's a lot of judgey-wudgey stuff going on when women are trying to get a handle on each other. A man might look at another man's feet briefly and think: I like/don't like/have no opinion at all on those runners. I look at women who wear heels that are too high for them to walk in and I immediately make a judgment call on what's in their head, as much as what's on their feet. It's not nice, but it's true, and I'm sure it has been done to me many a time.

So I put a small bomb in the base of the wardrobe and stood back to let it do its work. Not really. But the room did look like it had been hit by a few sticks of gelignite after I had spent an hour pulling things off the hangers and upending the laundry basket to see if the perfect outfit might be hiding in there. (Oh admit it -- everyone has sniffed a T-shirt at least once in their life to see if they might get one more wear out of it.)

In desperation, I ended up going out the door -- late, of course -- in purple tights, a denim dress and mustard-coloured wedges. And yes, it did look as odd as it sounds.

And shame on me for my cynicism: none of the women I met batted an eyelid. One actually told me she liked the colour combo of the tights and shoes -- and sounded sincere rather than just kind.

"Oh, these old things?" I said. "I just threw them on before I came out the door."

- Susan Daly

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