When I began to suspect I would never reach 5'5" in stature, fashion became my method of standing out in a crowd.
In the 1960s, it was with great anticipation that I moved from New York City to San Francisco. I'd heard the City of the Golden Gate was the Paris of the West. Venturing down to Market Street, I saw women outfitted in suits, gloves, pillbox hats and high-heeled shoes with matching purses. How boring! At the time I favored capes, long skirts and dangling earrings that dared to make a statement.
Avant-garde dressing had not reached the West Coast and my capes were made fun of. One woman actually compared me to Zorro!
Living in San Francisco didn't last long and I moved to Los Angeles. That's when I first experienced "culture shock." Los Angeles was at least three years behind New York when it came to what was in style. Interpretations of "high fashion" blew me away. When leg warmers came into vogue, I'd see women wearing long woolen leg warmers with shorts when it was 80 degrees. What were they thinking?
One of my passions is hats, which became my trademark. Ladies' hats went out of style but for me finding the perfect hat for my outfit was always a delicious challenge. Even to this day, when I'm wearing a large hat, there is a smile under the brim.
As time passed, my way of dressing became more imaginative. One time my brother flew out from Connecticut to visit. We drove out to Venice Beach, where the boardwalk was filled with bodybuilders, bicyclists, skateboarders and a plethora of unconventional people participating in strange activities.
Nothing caught my brother's eye as much as the young women zooming by on roller skates wearing only teeny bikinis.
Vendors were selling all kinds of jewelry, handmade purses, T-shirts, watches and things not worthy of mentioning.
"Let me buy you something," my brother said.
We stopped at a stall where I spotted a most unusual piece of headwear made from chain metal. Mel thought I was nuts, but said, "If you want it, I'll get it for you."
The headpiece became one of my fashion triumphs. I never saw anyone else wearing one, other than in films featuring the Knights of the Round Table.
Dressing became more informal as the years went by. People going to the theater would show up in shorts or blue jeans. Instead of wearing long dresses on opening nights, many women wore outfits that looked like they were returning from a sports activity. Although I hate to admit it, eventually I too chose comfort over elegance.
Even though I was aware of changes in fashion, I was appalled at my teenagers' choices. One day my older daughter, Elizabeth, came into my bedroom to use the full-length mirror. I was reading and didn't notice her or her outfit.
"Do you like this?" she asked, spinning around to face me. I almost fell out of bed. Her outfit was shiny black plastic! Her lips were glossy black, reminding me of Hollywood's concept of a vampire.
"Are you planning on a crime spree this evening?" I asked. Then, more hopefully, "Or are you going to a costume party?"
She gave me one of those "Oh, mom, what do you know?" looks, and off she went.
Just when I thought it couldn't get worse, it did. While shopping at a fashionable department store, I found a blouse I liked but it was wrinkled. I asked the saleswoman if she could steam it. She looked at me as if I were speaking a foreign language. When I persisted, she walked out from behind the counter … wearing cut-off jeans. I then understood her lack of comprehension and left the blouse on the counter.
What about today's fashion? How do women walk in those 6-inch heels with 2-inch platforms? And why do they carry handbags as big as suitcases?
For men, why has high style become the grungy, unshaven look? Send me a man dressed in a suit, tie and cufflinks on his shirt sleeves. If he recently shaved, smelled of cologne and had combed his hair, I would find him irresistible.
Going down fashion memory lane, I'd choose those guys and gals of yesteryear. I'd probably even go for the boring look of San Francisco, when fashion had a touch of class.
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Do you have a favorite accessory, or a fashion flashback you'd like to share? Email Alexis Powers at email@example.com