No one knows what the body can do. -Spinoza

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Holy Lord Guides me to Fashion

It turns out, I do believe in god. Perhaps, more accurately, I believe in signs--portents, omens, messages of mystery delivering instructions on what to do, and what to avoid. But, surely, such signs must be offered to us by a higher power. Years studying philosophy made me believe I was an atheist, but as every good conversion story reveals, in a moment of weakness I was guided to that greater power to whom AA asks us to surrender.

I spent a summer living in a dorm tower on the University of Toronto campus, just around the corner, it turned out, from the Bata shoe museum on one side, and Holt Renfrew on the other. At night I'd venture to the curb in front of my dorm to refuel after hours of reading 18th and 19th century German philosophy (Kant and Hegel for those of you crazy enough to care), and take advantage of Toronto's blessed summer offering--street meat, as the locals call it. That's right, all summer I just ate sausage. Well, sausage and ice cream, truth be told. There was an amazing home made ice cream parlor about a mile from where I lived. I'd balance out the enormous fat and salt intake with a walk sweating through the heat to the treat shop.

It turns out, weeks of intellectual diligence, studying the insights of long dead dialectical thinkers, living off salty stuffed pork, and frozen dairy, leaves one vulnerable to the interfering powers of the lord. I met my higher power through the guidance of Joseph, a sales manager at Holts Renfrew, Bloor Street. I walked in off the avenue, simply needing distraction from translated German philosophy, and discovered the gown department on the second floor. Joseph floated me through the floor-length satin or shantung dresses, along the rows of silk and tuile until we came upon a black, layered chiffon, floor-length gown by Brazilian designer Carlos Miele. It was love at first site.

Over a mug of Czech beer, a British novelist I met in Prague several summers ago had offered me what she claimed was her greatest insight --always try the dress on. A world of hardship can be solved from that one act, she said. If you don't try the dress on, you'll always wonder over it. If you do, it might not fit, and voila! problem solved. So, when Joseph offered that I could don the Carlos Miele, I accepted.

The thing is, a floor length multi-layered chiffon gown never fits straight off the rack. It's understood that if you're wealthy enough to need such an item, you'll have to get it altered well in advance of the event you plan to wear it to. So, naturally, I expected to simply experience, for the first time, seeing myself in three-way mirror wearing an item of clothing usually reserved for multi-thousand dollar fundraiser dinners, and other such exclusive occasions. Joseph would pull the waist snug and I'd get a glimpse of myself in a life I don't actually live, wearing that dress. But, instead, as in every good conversion story, I entered the dressing room alienated and alone, wondering if there was any power greater than me that could guide my life, and I came back out of the solitary room again certain that there was. The gown fit, straight off the rack. Carlos Miele was to be my own. I tried the dress on, and the lord had spoken.

When I purchased the gown Joseph's associate asked me if I had an event to wear it to. I responded, no, I don't, but I believe in being prepared for spontaneity. If such an event arose, how would I jump at the opportunity without the appropriate attire? Happy even at the sale, the woman looked at me as though I were crazy. It turns out, however, from one perspective, she might be right. I've never actually worn the gown outside of Holts, except for one time in my living room, cosmopolitan in one hand, Rene Caovilla heels on my feet. It was a damn good cosmopolitan, and its red color looked extra pretty against the black of my gown.

I've spent this week rearranging the contents of my closet, only to see again this gown zippered up in its protective garment bag. I'm still certain god was telling me something when it fit so perfectly, and that I did right in taking it home. But, I also realize that others might think me crazy for doing so. How could I spend money on a gown I'd only ever wear for cocktails in my living room?

It turns out I made the bold move to plan for spontaneity. If I suddenly join the jetset elite, or get invited to a high end political fundraiser, I have the perfect attire. Purchasing the gown was based in me needing beautiful things in my life, including extravagant ones, but also in me being committed to even the unlikely possibility of such invitations. I can only reasonably respond to such an invitation if I have something to wear. But, also, in choosing to live with such a view, I'm choosing to define myself as someone that cares about such things. The dress, in that way, represents how I want to identify myself in the world. That is, as someone so open to spontaneity, I'm willing to plan for it. But, then, from an another angle, it turns out I've not gotten the opportunity for this one possibility. And, that's the other thing about what is chosen by any of us--it's not just up to me to decide what I might get to do. I am at the demands of what is beyond my control too. Others might think I'm crazy for owning such an extravagant item (I won't tell them I've also been drinking champagne every day for two weeks), and maybe their judgment I can feel guilty about or not. But, I am still subject to being judged. And I'm also at the mercy of whether or not I ever find an appropriate event. It turns out, I'm a victim of the limits of reality, even if that reality does include my belief in signs.

I guess part of my conviction in having the Carlos Miele, is my willingness to push the limits of how I think about what is possible for me. In doing so, I change too what I can see my life has to offer me. I come to understand my opportunities in a new way. In choosing to believe the gown fitting meant I should take it home, I also chose to believe in myself as someone that could live such a life. And so, I change who I was before that moment. But, further, not only did I bring something beautiful into my home, I also promptly stopped eating sausage and ice cream every night so I could keep fitting into layers of chiffon. One choice influenced my others.

I've rearranged my closet. But the Carlos Miele still hangs in its garment bag from the back of my closet door. Tomorrow, I'm thinking, it might be time again for cosmopolitans.

1 comment:

  1. oh it kills me!

    i think you were right to take carlos home with you. the joy you felt while wearing the dress with a cosmo in your hand was palpable. i think some day, only a few years from now, you and i should go to a society event - like the snow ball in toronto (for charity, even), or something like that. while i agree that one should always be prepared for spontaneity, i also think that one must create one's opportunities sometimes. you've got the dress part taken care of, and the event part is easy.

    i also enjoy that this was a religious experience for you. i think i've had experiences close to this, but not quite like it.

    on the topic of champagne and gowns, i am suprised and amused to discover my new perspective on value - that is to say, i no longer think that an article of clothing or footwear, etc., is wildly expensive if it costs more than my rent. i know that the value of the piece is much greater. some practical measures of extravegance aside, beauty and quality are priceless.