Joy and I were talking the other day and she instructed me to enter my thoughts on living in exile. Since I always do what Joy says, I will begin with my "favorite" pet peeve. First let me say that I willingly came north upon marriage. This is only because I had no idea what I was giving up. Twenty years ago my future husband drove to Memphis and kidnapped me. (That's another story). For now suffice it to say that I ended up in Chicago. Chicago is a pleasant vibrant city. Unfortunately from October to May it is also the coldest place on earth outside of the arctic circle. If you don't believe me just go up there for Christmas. Of course I did not know this at the time of my abduction. So on my birthday in January I put on what a Southerner thinks of as warm clothes and prepared to go out for dinner with my beloved. Picture it: one Black Southern woman standing on the El platform in a skirt, tights and a wool coat. No hat. By the time we arrived at the restaurant I was a fudgescicle. I "insisted" that my very frugal husband hail a cab to take us home.
Not to worry, though. After 10 years in Chicago my husband relocated us to his home town in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is further east and south. We were leaving the prairie! Sigh. There's one thing you need to know about Pittsburgh. Noone dresses here. I mean noone. Not even the Black women dress. This is disturbing on so many levels. I realized I was in some parallel sartorial universe when I went to a play in one of the beautiful theaters bequeathed to the city by one of their many robber baron benefactors. I looked around and people were wearing jeans, and even sweats. I'm not talking about those cute matching track suits either, I'm talking about honest God gray sweat pants. It was 8:00 on a weekend evening, so I cannot even fathom what possible excuse these people could have had.
Being an open minded person, I thought that maybe I was being too harsh. Perhaps the theater had designated this as a casual night and I had missed the memo, maybe these people meant to go to the Steelers game. I was ready to believe anything in order to avoid the possibility that I had landed in a place where people did not know what to wear when they left the house. After 10 years here, I'm sorry to report that my first impression was more than correct. Just last weekend I ventured out to the theater once again. Having lived here a while I dressed down. Since it was the 5:30 show I wore a pair of black pants and a brocade jacket. It didn't help. My husband now sees my reactions to what people are wearing as part of the evening's entertainment. I can refrain from commenting in public (I am still Southern) but when we get home, I just have to say something. I try not to, but it's just too much. Since we have a daughter, I have had to work really hard to instill the proper values in her around this issue. Trips down home and lots of supervised shopping have helped.
The way people dress is so bad that even the merchants have given up. Last summer I had to do a show down home. I needed an outfit for the second half, something simple and elegant. I had to go shopping in Nashville in order to find anything suitable. My other recourse has been catalogues. It's not just dressy clothes, either. People don't know what to wear to work! I,ve seen teachers in capri pants and house shoes, secretaries in fishnet stockings and spike heels, receptionists in torn jeans and sales people in lord knows what. There are two types of business dress here: sloppy and wildly inappropriate. I finally knew I had to leave when I tried to sell some business suits to a consignment store. One was a $400.00 Mark Shale wool suit in Olive green. It was in perfect condition and I was only selling it because I will never be that size again. I had another Mark Shale suit that had a cropped jacket and knee length skirt that I took by as well. I had purchased both of them when I worked in Chicago where people actually wear clothes to work. I had both suits cleaned, and took them to an upscale consignment shop. The woman told me that she couldn't sell anything like that in Pittsburgh because "women here don't dress like that". I finally gave the clothes to Goodwill. As my husband and I plan our retirement, my one requirement is that we move someplace where the women are familiar with the little black dress. Every time I see a woman in a little black dress here, I know that she's either obscenely wealthy or from out of town. I must admit that my standards have fallen since I've moved here, and I often take advantage of my surroundings to cheat on the clothing thing. It's a slippery slope. I just have one request: should anyone see me sitting in nice restaurant in a stained sweatshirt please organize an intervention!
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