Vintage clothing does not travel well, which is why my wardrobe has slowly morphed into an easily-squishable pile of stretch cotton jersey dresses and 20-hole boots that can survive the treacherous cobblestones of Europe. When I am in ess eff, I take out my much-loved early sixties cotton shirtwaists and t-strap heels and wear the ones that don't clash too terribly with my violet hair. I wear what I have, but I don't buy new ones, so I don't spend a lot of time trawling ebay and etsy, vintage shops and second-hand stores--well, not like I used to.
I do not buy old dresses anymore, but stories about old dresses and costumes rediscovered still make me happy. For example, the wig worn by Alla Nazimova in the 1920's film version of Salome
, inspired by the Aubrey Beardsley
illustrations, was recently found in a trunk in Georgia
. And the New Yorker has just written an article
about 21 Callot Soeurs recently found in a Florentine villa. The Callot sisters made haute couture dresses in Paris from 1895 until the 1950's, but I mostly know them from offhand mentions in Proust, and photos of their beautiful late Edwardian, early 1920's gowns.
The Callot sisters beaded the holy hell out of everything. It turns out that beading is hard to preserve. "The sequins on two dresses are plagued by 'inherent vice'—a degradation of cellulose nitrate," according to the New Yorker. "These gowns appear to be melting." Dresses also suffer from "memory," the technical term for "wrinkles left in garments by repeated wear." Gowns never really get over the imprint of the body that wore them--their sweat, their shape, the places where the fabric stretched. Our brains never really get over the imprint of our habits--our terrible childhoods and misshapen relationships and too much time spent on planes and in empty hotel rooms. We too suffer from memory. And from inherent vice. And perhaps we look like we're melting.
That was a bit of a sudden turn, wasn't it? I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to break old habits, how to do things differently--maybe how to do this all without melting. This is not something I would tell a stranger at a cocktail party. Dear stranger, I have about a million acquaintances, but only a tiny circle of very close friends, and the person that I talk to when I need to tell someone the things I would never tell a stranger at a cocktail party is someone who does not live in ess eff, someone I do not see or talk to for months at a time. When we are in the same place at the same time, our expectations are so high that failing to meet them sends both us into a spiral of passive-aggressive distancing and silence. Oh, you haven't talked to me in six months? I didn't even notice, I was so busy poppin' bottles at the club because my life is so full and fabulous without you. I am possibly still angry about that time you moved out of the country without telling me, but I am not very good at finding or identifying my feelings while I'm having them, so I will never bring it up.
Someone once told me that every fight that E and I have is really about who loves each other more. Maybe it's true, at least in the sense that I am sensitive to the sighs and tiny silences of my tiny circle of close friends, but it's not an observation that does much to show us a way out of this. Every fight that E and I have is really about our mutual inability to say "You've hurt my feelings" and "I'm sorry." And so, like professional engineers, like goddamn adults, like people who are trying to be better than we are, we have agreed to the following:
If the other person has done something that upset you, let them know at soon as you realize this. Do not make accusations. Don't yell. Don't make assumptions about how they must feel about you in order to do such a cruel and terrible thing. Don't stop talking to them for months at a time because if they really loved you they would reach out and ask what they've done to upset you. Just tell them when you can.
When you've been told that you upset your friend, apologize. Say that you are sorry. Don't get into a Jesuitical argument over the interpretation of your words or actions or whether or not they have a right to be upset. You are sorry and you will do your best not to do it again. Full stop.
At this point, you might hug. Hugging is optional.
We suffer from memory and inherent vice, but I think that maybe it is possible that we don't have to melt and rot and fall apart. At the very least, I'm going to find out.