Gauchos Make the Heart Grow Gladder

Yesterday I read something that described this run of weather we’ve been having in New York as “sprintertime.” It’s an inelegant phrase but accurate just the same: Cold rains, colder winds, and then bright, emotionally distant sunshine. If it suits me fine just now it’s because I’m in the midst of a run of work that’s equally inhospitable. Add in taxes and death–so predictable!–and I’ve become a dreary Dora.

What’s kept me going besides my permakitten joyously galloping around the apartment (she adores these big breezes) is what’s kept me going for an embarrassing swath of my life: the promise of fashion. As a person who works and lives alone and has been trying in recent years to date fewer fuckwits, I do not have as many opportunities for gorgeous dresses as I once did. Most days I wear a caftan until I have to duck out for supplies or a screening. But I study clothes the way my friends with gardens study seed catalogues. Wearable art, candy for the body, uniforms for other, more glamorous lives: As an admirer of beauty not to mention spies, I’ve been fascinated by fashion my whole life.

Every fall I ogle the streets and the shows, and every spring I consider from the confines of my kitchen how it’ll all filter into my trousseau: the vintage fur coats (shhhh), the 1940s silk blouses, the cashmere crewnecks, the boots with many buttons, the rainbow of sneakers, the striped socks, the boatnecked tees, the wide-cut Kate Hepburn trousers, the slim-cut Audrey Hepburn cigarette pants, the hip-skimming sheaths.

This year city fashion is all about gauchos, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Free-flowing yet pussy-protective, they’re women’s liberation wear, modern-day bloomers, pantaloons with a backbone. I still long for the pair I wore as an elementary school feminist.

My mother had majored in fashion design in the 1960s, and though by the time I was on the scene her wardrobe consisted of dungarees and ribbed turtlenecks, she took my fancies seriously even when I was a very small person. She made rainbow pinafores on my command when I was four, pastel plaid bell-bottoms the next year. Those I wore (I’m not kidding) with lensless Gloria Steinem glasses and enormous bee-hives in which I stuck pencils while clacking at a powder-blue typewriter we’d found in someone’s trash. There were some dark elements of my childhood but no one could claim it lacked style.

In first grade I became obsessed with gauchos. At at a yard sale I’d found a tam-o’-shanter–buttery yellow, crocheted with lemon glitter chips–which I felt would go brilliantly with a jaunty pair of corduroy gauchos. By then my sister was on the scene and my mother had her hands full–a second kid seemed less of an addition than an explosion in our household. But I just kept begging and nagging and begging and nagging until one morning there were these gorgeous, bottle-green ankle-skimmers on her sewing machine when I woke up. I wore them every day until they wore out and would have kept wearing them but looked plain silly once I got too long-legged. Long after those slim-jim culottes had been relegated to the scrap pile, I kept thinking about how perfectly me I’d felt whenever I’d pulled them on. A Saltine, a crack reporter, a Nancy Drew for the 1970s.  A Sassafrass ready for everything and everybody.

This season those skinny-skinny leggings that make everyone look like they have a load in their diapers finally are on the way out, and some of the girls and boys in my sally hipster neighborhood can be seen dashing about in gauchos just like the ones I wore decades before. Like I said, I couldn’t be happier. I still have taxes to do, still have so many disappointments simmering on my back burner, but my inner six-year-old is agog. You have an allowance, she whispers. Get’em in olive and black.

Like my mom before me, I’ve never been able to deny that girl.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy