Thursday, April 09, 2009

Who Can Wear White?

Yesterday, I was out looking for a nice new shirt and tie for The Rev for Easter Sunday. The weather was nice; the shops weren't crowded; no shopkeepers were too pushy; and for once, I didn't mind the experience too much. In fact, I was so much enjoying myself that I thought, "Maybe I'll just take a look at some dresses." Although I hate to shop, I do so love a beautiful dress.

I shop so rarely that I had no idea which stores sell what, so I made the mistake of walking into a store that was quite obviously meant for women twice my size who think, "Can't have enough ugly stretch polyester." What a horrible place. I mean, shouldn't women who are twice my size get to have beautiful clothes from which to choose? Then I walked into the store meant for girls half my age who must think, "Brightly-sequined gold halter tops and skirts that reach just below my pubic bone are so classy." Finally, I found a store that was selling dresses.

Most of them weren't all that great. What is this infatuation with muted, ugly colors like browns and grays? I didn't think it was possible to turn some of my favorite colors like green and purple into what looks like a dress with ink and puke splotches on it, but it is. Finally, just as I was about to give up, though, I found it: the perfect dress. I can pair it with a flowered, three-quarter sleeve sweater for Easter morning (because it's Easter, which means it's going to be 30 degrees), and I'll be able to wear it all summer long. I chose to ignore the hideous little voice in the back of my head saying, "Don't buy this. You know you should never buy such a dress. You will ruin it Easter morning. You can't afford to be wasting money like that these days."

You see, the dress is white. All white (well, it does have a black belt, but the rest is pure white). I LOVE white as much as I love dresses. In fact, I could probably go from loathing to loving clothes shopping if there were such shops as "All White All the Time." I love the crispness of it, the cleanliness of it, the way it has always seemed to suggest endless possibilities to me. I think of backyards covered in snow with nothing more than maybe a few light bird tracks on an early winter morning. I think of cakes covered in glistening white icing, disguising what flavor lies beneath its tiers. I think of blank pages open to the imagination. Is there any other color that so begs both to be left alone and to be disturbed?

However, I want to know: who can wear white? I'm not talking here about wearing white in a 1980s-color-me-beautiful sort of way, no one advising others that "white just does nothing for those peach undertones in your cheeks." What I'm talking about is the woman who is capable of putting on a white blouse without discovering, a few hours later, two impenetrable orange spots gracing the left breast pocket. Or the guy who can put on a pair of white jeans and not have some kindly youngster stop him in the street to say, "Hey, dude, I think you sat on a blueberry bush or something."

Certainly not I. And yet every single year, I am drawn to buy myself some new article of white clothing. Every single year, I promise myself while in the dressing room, thinking I've never looked so perfect in something, that I am going to be extra, extra careful while wearing it. I won't sit down. I won't lean against anything. I won't eat. I will avoid all modes of public transportation. I will don this article of clothing and spend my day doing nothing more than standing around in a room that has been thoroughly swept, vacuumed, mopped, and white-glove tested. What will I do in this room? I don't know. Perhaps learn to meditate in the mountain pose or something.

As soon as I get this article of clothing home, though, I forget all such promises to keep it in pristine condition. I mean, it's so pretty, and I want others to see it. No one will see us if we're only doing mountain poses in bare, spic-and-span rooms. That's when catastrophe strikes.

I know. You don't believe me, so let me tell you about last summer's purchase, which I actually bought on sale at the end of the summer season the previous year. It happened to be a beautiful white skirt. Those of you who know such things would be able to describe its cut and style. All I know is that it sits just at the right spot between by stomach and hips, falls at the right point on my legs, and flairs a little at the bottom in just the right way. It has flowers embroidered in white and what I think is called eyelet lace. It's light and airy and flippy, and it's the sort of thing that, as long as you don't study all your flaws in a mirror, can make you feel very pretty while you're wearing it.

This skirt knew before I'd even gotten it home that I would not treat it as promised, and it began to loathe me for it. When I had promised to treat it with such care and respect, it had been envisioning all the ways in which it would teach me to worship it while it stood upright in my mountain pose with me. Hymns would be sung. White (non-smoke, non-drip) candles would be lit. Prayers would be offered up to it.

But I brought it home, wore it a few times, and then put it in plastic up in the attic for the winter. It stayed up there seething and inventing invisible stain magnets, which it very cleverly sewed into its lining. Thus, when I brought it back down, early in the summer, thrilled to have it back, it smiled smugly to itself.

I discovered the skirt's hidden magnets one evening when I sat in our library, lap desk on my lap, composing a ghost story. I had been wearing the skirt all day, careful to keep it covered while eating and avoiding getting it anywhere near dust or dirt (not an easy feat in my house). I got up from the chair and walked out to the kitchen to refill my water glass. While in the kitchen, I looked down to find two sizable green ink splotches just above the skirt's hem.

Yes, I'd been writing with green ink. Yes, I was using a fountain pen that has been known to leak. Yet it hadn't. My hands were completely ink free. My notebook pages had no green splotches on them, nor did the chair, nor did the lap desk. No, it seems the ink had just been mysteriously drawn from the pen to the bottom of my skirt with no first stops on hands or paper or desks.

Miraculously, because I am no good at removing stains from clothing, the ink washed off the skirt without much trouble on my part. I patted myself on the back for having the foresight never to touch the bottle of indelible ink Bob bought (or at least not touch it unless I happen to be wearing all black). The tomato stains the magnets drew out of the fridge on the day I wore the skirt and ate not a single tomato were not quite so easy to remove. And now that skirt's been up in the attic for another winter. Do you think I'll manage to get at least one more wear out of it before the magnet pulls some black tar off the street?

Meanwhile, it's a good thing it's too early in the season for me to have swapped winter clothes for summer clothes, and it's safely stored one floor above the new dress. I certainly don't want the skirt teaching the dress any of its tricks. I'd like to get through Easter morning, at least, without looking down to find egg yolk stains weaving in and out of the buttons on its front.


_lethe_ said...

Is it stored directly above it? Dangerous! Seeing the mysterious powers that skirt has I would not be surprised if it leaked onto the dress!

(My first comment here, I think. Hello :-) )

litlove said...

When my son was little there came a moment when I realised I did not possess a single item of clothing that didn't have food or mud or something unidentifiable ground into it somewhere. It was most depressing. I, too, love white, and know exactly what you mean. Ink is particularly pervasive, as is blood. How can it happen when I have no recollection of grazing myself? You are quite right - it's a magnet. It's the only possible explanation!

ZoesMom said...

As always you made me laugh. I love to wear white too and this post reminded me of the time a few years ago I bought my first pair of white pants for work. I felt very grown up the first time I wore them all day at work, got home and they were still stain-free. I think when you wear white you just have to be brave and enjoy.

There are 2 things you need to know about:
1. There is a store called White House/Black Market and all they sell are black and WHITE articles of clothing. In the summer there are a lot of very pretty white things to be had.

2. The Clorox Bleach pen. It is perfect for getting out little stains on white. The stain magnets will hate it!

Susan said...

I'm still laughing over this post. I can't wear white - I drop food on myself every time I eat. It's a contest on who can wear more food, my mother or myself. Usually because we are either busy talking while we eat, distracted by a book while we eat, or waving our arms. I've given up wearing white unless I expect it to get stained that day. I still cry though when flakes of chocolate fall on it (they don't come out) and somehow, you are right, it's a magnet for anything tomatoey. Good luck with the dress, it does sound fantastic! Beautiful! along with the lovely skirt! Maybe if we sing them enough praises, they'll go back to their crisp whiteness..... :-D

Dorothy W. said...

You know, I just had to throw out a white shirt today because I'd gotten ink on it that refused to come out in the wash. Sigh. I like white, if only because I can wear it with anything, but yes, it is a royal pain!

Courtney said...

oh, no. I cannot wear white. At all. In fact, just last week I was drinking a cup of WHITE tea that I spilled on my white blouse and it turned There are - no words.
but like you, I keep on trying. I do think a white dress is much more practical than a white winter coat, which every year I keen for while knowing within an hour I would ruin it!

Anonymous said...

Now that I am post-menopausal, I can wear white. We women have a rough time with our clothes don't we. If we didn't have to clean, cook, etc...we could wear anything.

Stefanie said...

I have two white blouses and that's all the white I dare to have in my closet. It's not so much that I get my white things dirty, you see it is my husband's fault. He is terrible about ruining clothes with stains. And of course he pays no attention and so the stained clothes end up touching anything white I might own and that's all it takes. I have never had an accident with ketchup or spaghetti sauce or ink. Nope, it's all my husband's fault. That's my story and I'm sticking with it. :)

Hope you pretty dress made it through Easter!

Emily Barton said...

Lethe, you're right! The white skirt probably has magnets that can work through floors and pull the white dress up through cracks to cover it in dust and dirt. I moved the dress accordingly. (And thanks for commenting. Hope you'll keep feeling moved to do so.)

Litlove, yes, ink and blood. We know blood is metallic. Ink must be, too.

ZM, oh yes, very adult to be able to wear a pair of white pants all day to work and back again. I'm not sure I ever managed. Becky pointed out the White House/Black Market site to me as well, and I'll have to get one of those Clorox pens. One of the best things about white is that it can just be bleached.

Susan, please keep singing their praises. I managed to make it through Easter with no stains on the dress. Maybe I can do the same with the skirt once it comes out of storage.

Dorr, of course, black can be worn with anything, too, which is why it's my best friend.

Court, oh yes, I drool over those beautiful white winter coats, along with white cashmere sweaters, articles of clothing I will never, ever get to own.

Violette, yes, to be a woman is to be particularly rough on white. But at least these days we aren't the ones always expected to keep the man's whites white as well as our own (although I do happen to have one of those husbands who thinks that if he can't get a stain out, that I have some sort of magical powers that can do the trick. Sort of like my ability to find mustard in the fridge that disappears when he's looking for it).

Stef, that's it! It's all Bob's fault, of course. How come I never noticed?

Anonymous said...

Zoe's Mom already mentioned White House Black Market - which you would enjoy 50% of! Also, as a mother who is either constantly stained by children or dealing with children who are constantly stained I swear by Oxi Clean. The spray is incredible and the powder works great too. If you're going to be brave enough to sport anything white you have to own Oxi Clean.