Hanging in my closet as I write this, carefully protected from dust and moth by plastic bags, are:

1.  One pair of navy blue silk Armani palazzo pants, never worn since I bought them on sale at Neiman Marcus in 2000 even though I have several long-sleeved white silk blouses, also unworn and in plastic bags, purchased especially to wear with the pants if I were ever to wear the pants;

2. One pale greige Armani summer suit with elegant but difficult front closure, bought on sale at the Newbury Street Armani store in Boston in 2001 and worn twice to client Board of Directors meetings while I still practiced law.  One daughter-in-law now suggests jacket could still be worn over sleeveless black dress in late spring and early fall, but perhaps doesn’t realize that sleeveless dresses are not  (or should not be) for eighty-two year-old mothers-in-law, who in any event no longer attend events where Armani jackets wouldn’t look out of place;

3.  A St. John sequined knit jacket (color: peach), with matching knit short skirt, long skirt, and  floor-length pants (skirts and pants without sequins), purchased reluctantly at Neiman Marcus to wear as mother of groom on two separate occasions in the  summer of 2003 — short skirt in June for younger son’s wedding, long skirt early in September for older son’s wedding.  Pants never worn.  Skirts worn only once each.  Price:  $2500 (plus tax) in 2003 dollars for whole kit and caboodle. Too expensive to give away/donate/throw away.  Too good for every day.

There’s more, of course.  And I haven’t even begun with the unworn shoes,  unused handbags, leather gloves, three large silk scarves still in their lovely Hermes orange boxes, and even never-worn hats in my possession.  But here’s a good place to stop and consider “too good for every day.”

This expression, and the conduct it purports to justify, came from my parents in my youth. They had both gone a long time with hardly any possessions at all.  In their youth, they had with great difficulty escaped war, revolution, inflation and penury only to arrive in a new land where at first they had to scramble to earn even enough to eat and rent a room.  It took quite a while before sales at the seductive department stores in New York that lined Fifth Avenue from 34th Street to 59th Street were within their reach.

Accordingly, they always said of their own new clothes and shoes, especially if “expensive,” that they were too good to wear every day. Such purchases were taken out of their boxes, tried on once more at home to make sure there had been no mistake, and then carefully put away, with their tags still hanging, in protective plastic bags. The tags and bags made the “good” clothes hard just to slip off their hangers and put on, even if it was a special occasion. “Good” shoes also had to be extracted from their bags, and the shoe trees removed, before wearing. Better, and easier, to wear the same old comfortable things all the time. That way you wouldn’t spoil the “good” ones.

Their philosophy could not be applied so rigorously to purchases for me while I was a child because I was always outgrowing my clothes; if everything new had been saved for “good,” I would have had nothing to wear.  That said, one dress and one pair of shoes were always designated as not for every day.

It did apply, however, to dishes and flatware and tableware.  After I grew up and my mother took a job at an upscale department store in Los Angeles where she enjoyed an employee discount, she acquired a whole set of fragile Noritake china for twelve.  It had a dainty silver-edged rim of delicate pale blue flowers and was nearly translucent when held up to the light.  But it was perhaps only once or twice used on an actual table, when a guest my parents considered sufficiently important came to dinner. Moreover, the Noritake took up too much room, and might be exposed to too much knocking about, on the kitchen shelves. It therefore needed a fine china cabinet of its own, which was duly purchased for a very good price at an estate sale in a wealthy suburb and placed against the wall in the dining alcove.  Once in the cabinet, God forbid the Noritake be actually taken out, eaten on and have to be washed. A piece might break in the sink — and then it wouldn’t be a complete set, to be admired through the glass doors of the china cabinet.

Need I add there was eventually a silver-plated Revere flatware service for twelve in its own velvet-lined mahogany box, to be used with the Noritake if the Noritake were ever used?  (Sterling was forever beyond my mother’s reach.  Not that she wouldn’t have reached if she could.)  And there were odd bits of crystal glassware, from which my parents seldom drank. (Never a whole matching set, alas!)  There was also a shelf in the linen cabinet for fine linen tablecloths, with matching linen napkins. And napkin rings.  The tablecloths came in various sizes, for variously sized tables, all but one of which my parents never owned.  Thank goodness my mother did not go in for cut glass, a mania in which my second mother-in-law overindulged.

[I once also had a sister-in-law, acquired through  late marriage to a former brother-in-law, who not only put plastic covers on her “good” upholstered furniture, but also plastic covers on the allegedly “antique” wood tables and cabinets in the living room. I know she was saving everything from cigarette burns and circles made by wet whiskey glasses.  But saving it all for what? For whom?]

I understand now that all this saving was like saving money in the bank.  It was to have for a rainy day.  It was because “we may never again be able to afford another like it.”  Some of that is likely what keeps the Armanis and St. Johns and Ferragamo shoes, and virgin Hermes scarves and Longchamps handbags safely in my possession — although I almost certainly will never again have any occasion or opportunity to flash such finery.  For a very long time in my life I had absolutely no discretionary money at all, and then during a relatively brief period of lawyering (after paying off all debt) I did have the money to buy these very nice things, and now I don’t and never will again.

“Wear them, use them!” says Bill. I know he’s right — at least about the shoes and scarves and handbags.  (Armani at Whole Foods or walking along the Delaware-Raritan canal might be a bit much.)  So what if I can’t replace them when they wear out?  I’m wearing out too, although I hate to admit it.  I might wear out before the shoes and bags.

That’s what happened to my parents. When my mother died, I found two double-wide closets full of nearly unworn clothing that was too good for every day.  Hanger after hanger of immaculately preserved black and navy and grey coats and dresses the Duchess of Windsor would not have turned up her nose at. Half a dozen pair of Italian pumps made of beautiful glove leather, much too small for me and ten years out of style.  Bags, scarves, kid leather gloves in eight neutral colors, fine hemstitched batiste handkerchiefs, some embroidered by hand with her monogram: “M.”

I kept three of the handbags (one was a Mark Cross), some of the scarves, the gloves (although I never wear gloves until it’s too cold to wear my mother’s unlined ones), her few pieces of real jewelry (one of which I had given her) — and also one red sweater that must have been much too big for her but did fit me, because it had kept a faint trace of the fragrance she favored. All the rest I had to give away to the nursing aides who worked at the assisted-living facility where she spent her last weeks.  What else could I do with it?

A daughter-in-law accepted the box of Revere silverplate.  I don’t think she’s ever used it though.  Maybe it’s too good for every day? The linen and napkin rings I donated to the Vietnam Vets. Neither daughter-in-law wanted the Noritake.  I don’t either; it’s not what I would have chosen if I had to choose a china pattern.  But there it is, taking up space in my kitchen cabinet.  Sometimes I even use it, usually when we have more than two or three other people for dinner — because I myself have no “good” dishes. It’s so clearly not my style that when I do set it on the table, I have to keep myself from explaining that it’s my mother’s. Unfortunately, so far there’s been no breakage; it’s still a complete set.

I’m also working on wearing the Hermes scarves and carrying the Longchamps handbags more often.  Really I am. The Armanis and St. Johns?  Habits of mind are hard to break.  Like Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll think about them tomorrow.



“If people don’t want to listen to you, what makes you think they want to hear from your sweater?”  Fran Lebowitz, Metropolitan Life (1978)

I hate it when people wear clothing that talks to you.  Little children may get away with it because they have no say in the matter. Still, do I really have to learn the tiny tot whining for ChocoPops in her mother’s supermarket shopping cart is “Daddy’s Princess?” Just because Mommy — or whoever thought that toddler-size pink t-shirt with the sparkly crown on it was so darling — wants us to know Daddy adores his noisy three-year-old so much? The kid herself couldn’t care less what her t-shirt’s saying. What she’s thinking about is the chocolate cereal.

[Mandatory disclosure:  When I first became a grandmother, I once purchased from a local coffee shop a very tiny orange t-shirt sized for a six-month-old that proclaimed, “Sleep Is for the Weak!” When his parents opened the package, they did laugh.  However, I don’t know if they ever put it on the baby. In any event, it was soon outgrown.]

But what about the well developed adult woman in a t-shirt that proclaims across her developed parts: “Don’t even think of it!”  What was she thinking of?  Or the ones who want everyone standing behind them to know they get their car serviced at Gus’s Garage or buy their books at BookSmart or shop at Shop-Rite?  Why have they turned themselves into unpaid walking billboards for the commercial enterprises of others?  Do they really need a free t-shirt so badly?

Then there are the fans wearing an oversized replica of a favorite sports star’s shirt and number.  They’re usually male, but not always. Who are they kidding?  Am I really going to think they’re whoever it is, just because of the shirt? Or is the shirt an expression of solidarity with the star?  Does Vinnie LeCavalier need to know they’re rooting for him — if they were ever so lucky as to pass him in the street while wearing his name and number 4? Does anyone else need that important information? (Not me, that’s for sure.)  Perhaps it’s comforting to push into the stadium, beer can in hand, labeled as a member of the right flock of sheep: one of the LeCavalier or Cabral or Pineda fans, or the fans of the next great guy to save a game for the team.

There are very occasional and judicious exceptions to my ranting. During a trip to Greece shortly after I met Bill, I spotted a grey t-shirt hanging from a pushcart near a tourist spot in Athens with some unreadable Greek on its front and an English translation on its back.  The English side declared,  “All I know is that I know nothing. Socrates.”  At that point in our relationship, I hadn’t yet ascertained Bill’s feelings about clothing that spoke, but wanted to bring him back a present and rather thought he might like this one.  He did like it, although he mainly wore it around the house.  As he sits in chairs a lot, or else lies down, and I still don’t know how to read Greek, that seemed a happy compromise.

However, my usually negative personal feelings about ready-to-wear with a message don’t matter.   Other people’s clothing can talk till doomsday, at least in America — because the First Amendment says it can.  Every kind of speech is protected. Even if deemed hateful. Or tasteless. Or distracting. Or isn’t spoken, but worn.  I cannot impulsively tear from your body your offensive white short shorts with “No!” and “No!” imprinted on each cheek.  Never mind the assault-and-battery part of it. Your two “No!”s have constitutional protection.

Of course we tend to forget what we’re saying when we don’t ourselves see what we say.  Packing for the trip to Greece from which I brought back the Socrates t-shirt, I realized I needed something to protect my face from the sun. Having no bendable summer hats of my own, I looked for what my sons might have left behind when they grew up and moved away.  And found — Red Sox caps and Red Sox caps and Red Sox caps! With perhaps just one thing in their favor: They were monosyllabic. All they said was “B.”  (An unmistakeable capital “B,” bright red and edged in white.) I had no time for scruples, chose one and zipped up the suitcase.

Cut to the Acropolis in summer —  crowded with bodies nearly immobilized in the overpowering heat, and with snatches of all the world’s languages in one’s ears. Suddenly I heard — slicing through the confusion with welcome clarity:  “Hey! Boston!  How ya doin’?”  He was tall and sweating and grinning and young, and I was very glad to see him.  We gave each other a high five, and parted forever.  It was great. Thank you, son’s cap that exclaimed (in red) from the top of my head:  “B!”

But suppose clothing speaks a foreign language?  How do I feel about that?  Assuming the clothing looks good to start with, the statement imprinted on it becomes a kind of design.  Except to people who can understand what it says. Or who ask what it means.  But you’d be surprised at how many people can’t, and don’t.

You know those “additional features” that are frequently appended to DVDs of classic movies, where surviving cast members recollect what it was like to be in the movie?  A couple of summers ago, Bill and I watched the Criterion Collection DVD of “La Ronde,” made in black and white just before World War II.  A French movie.  In which everyone spoke French.  (Criterion provides the subtitles.)  One of the survivors, a very young man in the movie, was rather long in the tooth by the time of the additional feature, which had been shot in color. He sat in his garden wearing a faded yellow t-shirt that said, “Homme Inoubliable.”  (Unforgettable Man.)  He had a twinkle in his eye, and spoke entertainingly about making movie love to Danielle Darrieux, and I wanted his t-shirt.  Yes, I did.  Not exactly his, but something like it.  Maybe black (black is always good), with long sleeves.  And with two classy words in white italics across the front that almost no one would be able to read.  I immediately ordered a long-sleeved black t-shirt online from Lands End.  Bill did the rest.

If you don’t read French, you’ll just have to figure it out.  And remember, Bill ordered the lettering.  So it’s his statement, not mine.


In English, I remain the modest and unassuming person you’ve come to know. And sometimes like.



As far back as I can remember, I have loved clothes.  I speak of “clothes” inclusively.  Meaning also shoes, hats, bags, gloves, nightwear — anything you can put on that momentarily seems to change you into someone else.

As a child, I wanted black patent Mary Janes so much!  At birthday parties, every other little girl wore them, with short white socks that had lace around the edges of the cuffs.  But my mother said Mary Janes weren’t good for the feet.  I had brown laced shoes from the Indian Walk store instead — until we moved from cold, grey New York to sunny California, where brown laced shoes on little girls looked wrong.  A fashionista even before the term was coined, my mother at last permitted white-and-brown saddle shoes to enter my sartorial life. Although not made by the Indian Walk company in which she had placed such trust, saddle shoes were apparently minimally acceptable because they did have laces and an arch. Mothers seem to have been obsessed with arch support in the 1930’s.

Come college, came brown penny loafers.  No more laces, not much arch support, and a pronounced tendency to slip off the heel when on feet in motion.  But how could she say no, when they were on almost every page of the college issues of Seventeen and Mademoiselle?

I leave for another time the complex topic of pumps and trying not to fall when having to stand up and walk away from a chair on three-inch heels.  I hadn’t really meant to begin with shoes, anyway. It just sort of happened.

The first piece of clothing I bought all by myself with no thought of what my mother would say (although it was she who had given me the money) was acquired the year after World War II.  I was fifteen and a half and needed a new blouse. And so I went shopping at Macy’s one Saturday with Hellen Guggenheimer, who I thought the prettiest — and who was the prettiest — girl in my class.  [She was also one of the nicest, which is why I am using her real name — just in case she is still alive and might be reading this.]

Since Hellen was perfect, any blouse she chose would have to be perfect, too.  And it was!  A cream-colored “poet’s” blouse in some floppy synthetic fabric, with dropped shoulders, a large floppy rounded collar and a loose floppy white bow you could tie and untie.  Everything draped and flowed (including the long sleeves you could roll back) and seemed to me to be right out of the early part of the English nineteenth century.  (Why I thought this, I have no idea; there was nothing Regency about it, except perhaps the dropped shoulder seams.)  Fortunately, Macy’s still had two on the rack.  Even more fortunately, my mother made no objection.  I continue to remember that blouse with great affection.  I even wish I still had it, floppy synthetic fabric or no.

In fact, I remember clothes owned and loved in years gone by far better than I remember much of what happened in those gone-by years, or many of the people I once knew.  For starters, there were the four outfits purchased at Henri Bendel to see me off to a splendid start at the “fancy” girl’s college that had given me a nearly full scholarship — ensembles selected to offer no clue that my tuition and board were almost free.

First, a very scratchy tan-and-brown tweed suit with pencil skirt, to be worn with a short sleeved beige cashmere sweater at the many football weekends to which I would presumably be invited by as yet unknown young college men.  Next, a violet wool off-the-shoulder sheath dress (with thin cloth-covered belt) that came with its own violet cloth corsage and required a strapless bra.  My mother carefully removed the corsage after we had got the dress home so that there would be somewhere to pin real corsages, when the as yet unknown young men would give them to me at evening dances after the future football games were played.

My whole freshman year I got invited to one football weekend.  At Princeton, of all places.  [Where I live today, although not because of that weekend, I assure you.]  It was a blind date.  The game was a disaster for Princeton. (They lost to the University of Virginia.)  The date was a disaster for both the violet dress and me.  (The strapless bra required by the dress was lifted from my suitcase by Virginia pranksters while I was wearing the scratchy tweed suit to the game; the date was disappointingly short in height, soon very drunk, and wholly without thoughts of corsages, real or otherwise.)  Thereafter, the tweed suit and violet dress reposed undisturbed in my campus closet, never to be worn again.

Also purchased at Bendel’s in preparation for college life was a three-piece blackish-green pinwale corduroy ensemble, with a full skirt gathered on a narrow waistband and a fitted collarless jacket with slashed sides and wide slashed three-quarter sleeves that permitted the ruffle-edged long sleeves of its companion paisley cotton blouse to show through.  I liked the corduroy outfit best of all four because it seemed to me late Victorian in feeling, although it lacked hoops. (What was this desire to retreat by means of costume into the past?)   Another plus:  you didn’t absolutely need a girdle or panty-girdle to wear it, as you did with sheath-shaped dresses or skirts, except maybe to hold your stockings up.  [I never did like garter belts; they got pulled down by the stockings attached to them whenever you sat down, and dug into your stomach thereafter.  Pantyhose?  Not on the market yet.  They came along four or five years later.]  I kept the corduroy outfit for years — to flee into the nineteenth century whenever I felt like it.  My don liked it, too.  It must have looked modern to him; he taught Shakespeare.

The fourth Bendel purchase was a two-piece “cocktail” dress in  dark emerald green taffeta: it shimmered invitingly under the light.  It had a “New Look” flared skirt imitative of the post-war Dior silhouette and a fitted three-quarter sleeve jacket with lapels and taffeta buttons running down the front that invited unbuttoning by anyone daring enough to try.  What could we have been thinking, my mother and I?  To what cocktail parties would seventeen-year-old me be invited where this sophisticated item might come into its own?

I wore it for the first, and only, time to a New Year’s Eve party given by my first serious boyfriend’s uncle.  Everyone else at the party was in their forties or early fifties.  The living room was full of bridge chairs set up like seats in a little theater, all facing a very small television set placed on a table between the two windows of the room.  The set was such an expensive state-of-the-art new thing that it was deemed worthy of a whole New Year’s Eve party all to itself!  First serious boyfriend and I sat on our chairs in the back row and held hands shyly while the black and white “entertainment” flickered between the windows. Occasionally, he eyed my taffeta buttons. But even the subsequent under-the-mistletoe kissing, in full view of the collected guests, was chaste.  Poor first serious boyfriend had to wait till we reached the relative privacy of my mother’s living-room sofa.  (My parents were already in bed.)  Only then did toying with buttons begin, and treasures concealed by the shimmering green jacket were at last revealed.

Poorly sewn on, two of the buttons fell between the cushions of the sofa and were found next morning while I slept the sleep of the not-quite-just (but not-so-bad-really) in my maiden bedroom.  They never got sewn on again.  Perhaps because there wasn’t going to be another New Year’s Eve party until next New Year’s Eve, and by then both my mother and I had forgotten about the buttons.  Or perhaps for some other reason best known to my mother.

Uh-oh!  Look at the word count of this post!   And I haven’t even reached the beautiful black wool dress with white cotton pique collar and cuffs that the saleswoman at Saks assured us had also been bought by Mamie Eisenhower.  I wore it to my one sophomore-year football weekend.  This one was at Yale.  My host  was a graduate student — in the law school!  But I’ll save that story for another time.

Scratch that.  At this rate, it looks as if there are going to be a lot of other times. I’ve got sixty-three more years of clothes to tell you about.

Bet you can hardly wait!