Beyond Beach Tundra: Clothes for Many Climates

At the risk of exposing myself as the Michelle Tea fangirl that I am, I remember a chapter in one of her books (The Chelsea Whistle, I think?) in which she described reading fashion magazines at a boring receptionist gig, puzzling over the mysterious life the assumed reader seemed to live. This reader had some sort of high-powered professional job and was in constant need of clothes that would take her from “work to play.”

I was like, Right?! You go, Michelle Tea!

Sure, I could totally wear those shoes for ten hours at a stretch.

The unspoken agreement between fashion mags and their readers is that we all pretend that we, the 99 percent, are high-powered professionals who nevertheless have the time for lengthy vacations in the Caribbean (for which we require breezy dresses in mid-January). I accept my culpability in this fantasy, but aren’t there other fun lives we could imagine? Or regular lives made fun by fashion?

First, let’s talk seasons. Once I saw a spread devoted to “global warming,” which was an excuse to show oiled-up models in swimsuits.

Somebody airlift this girl to the nearest Jacuzzi.

But as we’re all unfortunately learning, global warming is really “global weirding,” which means that last week in L.A. it rained so hard that the bashed-in part of my car’s bumper sprouted rust spots like tiny mushrooms, and this week I’m wearing tank tops and mini skirts.

I will spare you the long, horribly uninteresting details of my office building’s heat and air conditioning saga. A typical chapter: our seventy-something landlord assures us that he’s “working on it” and then tells me I look nice with my hair down. When it’s hot outside, we have to wear fingerless gloves (which I happen to love) to type, and when it’s cold, we walk around barefoot.

Sometimes I pretend I’m Bob Cratchit. Even though my boss is totally nice and I have a 403b plan.

The moral to every weird weather story—well, besides that we need to reduce carbon emissions—is: wear layers. But it’s easier advised than done.

I’ve had an inconvenient love affair with coats ever since I saw Rent, in which there is a whole ensemble number devoted to coat shopping on the street in the East Village (see fangirl tendencies). Angel buys Collins a handsome leather trench, and Mimi appears in this awesome coat that looks like it’s made of upholstery. Fake snow falls like fairy dust from the rafters of the theater.

Collins thanks Angel for the coat. (P.S. Don’t judge a musical by its screen adaptation.)

I thought this coat was leopard skin for the longest time, thanks to my nosebleed seats. That’s why it’s important to see a musical many, many times, from multiple angles and distances.

But I live in a region that’s closer to the temperature of a spotlit stage than a snowy street. So I have a closet full of fabulous coats that I rarely wear, and a couple of cardigans that I wear way too much. Cardigans are useful: They’re light, warm-ish and can be taken on and off with no risk to one’s hairdo. No one knew this better than Mr. Rogers, the ultimate practitioner of work-to-play fashion.

Mr. Rogers is not afraid of bold colors.

I like a preppy men’s cardigan or a girly cardigan with ’50s-ish details—always fun to wear with ratty jeans—but I steer clear of anything that looks like it could be half of a twin set. Twin sets, along with khakis and skirt suits, make me feel like I’m in drag, and not in a good way. It’s not that I’m so buck, but given my budget and the minimal time I’m willing to invest in dressing each morning, I know that a mildly funky aesthetic will serve me better than one which inevitably says “casual day at Dunder Mifflin.”

Twin sets: what to wear when you’re eating some flowers.

Hoodies have been maligned a bit on this blog lately, but there’s something sexy about a hoodie under a blazer. Is it because the look says, I give a shit, but I don’t take myself too seriously? Or does a hood resting on a collar just flatter everyone’s neck?

I forget, is a maroon paisley hankie code for “necktie fetish” or “Harry Potter play”?

L.A. has a reputation for good bodies and bad fashion, in part because of a tendency to incorporate beachwear into everything. (I grew up in a SoCal beach town, so shorts and flip-flops make me feel like I’m back in high school. Again, not in a good way.) Remember when Paris and Britney popularized the fluffy miniskirt and Ugg boot thing? Not one of fashion’s prouder moments.

Just back from one of those January Caribbean vacations, probably.

I heard someone refer to the look as “beach tundra.” She didn’t mean it as a compliment, but we’re living in a beach tundra world. We don’t need work-to-play so much as we need snowy street to hot subway tunnel to overheated office to freak lightning storm to inexplicably icy restaurant. That’s not one ensemble, that’s like ten.

On the bright side, costume changes can spice up your day. Even if three of your ten looks are bulky or mismatched, you still look hot seventy percent of the time. Hot in a good way, not a sweaty way.

The All Of The Above school of dressing.

About Cheryl Klein

According to the ads that show up on my Facebook page, I love little vintage dresses and shoes with funky heels (and I should also consider a social work degree and self-publishing). Facebook knows too much, you guys. Other things I like: clearance racks, fingerless gloves, the phrase "a smoky eye," and clothing that reminds me of my early fashion icons--Pippi Longstocking, Punky Brewster and Laura Ingalls.

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  1. Pingback: 300 Conversations About One Thing | Cowboy Coquet

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