In a Sinister Fashion

Insidious Chic

On Wednesdays, I usually have dinner and a movie night with one of my sisters. Recently the movie we watched involved a scene in which a character’s attempt to trounce some villains was thwarted by the pocket of his pants catching on a doorknob, causing him to take a pratfall instead of leap on the bad guy.

We both found this funny, not because we’re particular fans of slapstick, but because we’ve both been hurt, or at least seriously let down, by our clothing on multiple occasions. And I’m not talking about the outfit that is just a bad idea from the get-go—the one that causes your waitress to inquire if you’re a member of a religious organization, or random strangers to ask you what aisle the pet food is in. I’m talking about actively malevolent clothing that puts you in some very bad situations.

After we finished the movie, my sister and I played a treacherous fashion game of “Can You Top This?” and I believe I emerged the winner.

I opened the bidding with my tale of the time I was at work, seated at my desk and wearing a dress with a long, full skirt. I scooted on my chair to the filing cabinet near my desk to retrieve a file. But on my return scoot, the chair came to an abrupt halt. My skirt was caught in the casters. Not only could I not propel myself forward, I couldn’t even stand up. My dress, with its billowy swath of material, had become so entangled it forced me into a half-crouch, from which I tried to lift the chair to free the hem, which the wheels held in a death grip.

It was even more awkward and harder than it sounds. I managed to extricate enough fabric to allow me to sit down beside the chair to work the rest of it out. I didn’t manage a dignified response when a colleague spotted me through my half-open office door and asked what I was doing. Just before she started laughing uncontrollably.

My sister countered with an insidious garment story of her own. One day, alone at work and wearing a very slim pencil skirt, she pushed back from her desk—which was located in an open office configuration, separated from visitors only by a counter. Her chair flipped backward, leaving her staring at the ceiling with her lower limbs straight up in the air, imprisoned by the taut grip of her skirt. Urgently trying to right herself before anyone came in, she discovered that her straight skirt gave her no mobility. She couldn’t lower her legs. Only by bracing her arms, heaving her hips and flinging her body to the side was she able to get out of the dead bug position. From there she emerged upright but shaken. And no one was the wiser. Until now.

But I had the winning entry with my tale of a city commission candidate, a pair of slippery shoes and again, a desk. (Perhaps it’s not the clothing, but the combination of office fashions and office furniture that lies at the heart of our tales of woe.)

As a managing editor, I had invited all the candidates for the local city commission to interviews in my office at the newspaper. I was newly in the position and eager to project professionalism, confidence and tough-minded journalism. I chose a business-like outfit with practical pumps, no frivolous shoes for me. When the first candidate arrived, I ushered him into my office, seated him and stepped behind my desk to start the interview. It was then that my cruel shoes let me down. Abruptly and literally.

The soles of the shoes were unexpectedly slippery on the hard plastic mat beneath my chair. In a nanosecond, I was lying on my back, gazing at the underside of my desk. I don’t know who was more astonished at my sudden disappearance from view, me, or the would-be commissioner. I scrambled out from under as quickly as I could, but I’d lost both my dignity and my ability to conduct a serious interview. Plus my toe really hurt. He was kind enough never to speak of it again.

There are, sadly, more such stories involving car doors slamming on trench coat belts, scarves caught in drawers and swing coats causing unfortunate accidents on stairs. I will not go into them here. I will, however, say that I am seriously considering titling my next book Dangerous Clothing. Not compelling at first glance perhaps, but it would be a darker tale than one might think.

This blog first appeared in 2016.

Eight Million Stories

Life is a story…

My husband Gary is a man of many stories. He’s served in the U.S. Army, taught high school business classes, coached a winning football team, worked as a school administrator, a firefighter, business manager at a university, traveled extensively and he’s never met a person he didn’t enjoy talking to.

Gary often doesn’t recall the exact details, but it never stops him from telling the tale. Not so long ago, we watched a movie from the 1940s, called The Farmer’s Daughter. He suddenly said, “I sat next to that woman on a plane once.”

“You sat next to Loretta Young?!” He hesitated for just a fraction of a second before saying yes. But it was long enough for me to flash on other confidently told Gary stories that have a fact-based core, but often dubious supporting details.

Upon repeated questioning, he gradually acknowledged that it might not have been Loretta Young, it may not have been on a flight to Michigan, but he stuck to his assertion that it was definitely someone famous. That I believe. But whether it was Loretta Young, Loretta Lynn or Coretta Scott King, is lost to the ages.

What got me started on this train of thought was a visit with my dad’s favorite cousin. Lois is lovely and kind and at 90-plus, she has many stories to tell. Her husband was in the Air Force and during that time she and her children traveled with him to many parts of the world.

“I fell madly in love with John when I was in high school, and I was lucky enough to have him for more than 50 years. I don’t watch much television, but when I see a travel show sometimes I think, ‘Oh, we walked on that street,’ or ‘Oh, I’ve been to that spot before.’ We danced on the beach at Ipanema once. We had so much fun that night.”

Everybody has a story; I learned that when I was a young reporter. When Lois told me hers, I had a glimpse of the giddy young girl she once was. She’s still a favorite relative from another generation, but now she’ll also always be the girl who fell madly in love and the happy wife who spent a romantic evening dancing on the beach.

Our stories embody and enrich our lives, and when we share them they can enrich the lives of others as well. The Naked City was a long ago television show that I was deemed too young to watch. But I can remember hearing its iconic closing lines wafting up to my bedroom through the registers from the living room below.

There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.

This week I hope to learn some new stories. I hope you do, too.