Lately I’ve been wearing Norris Church Mailer’s castoffs around town. In the final years of the last Mrs. Mailer’s life, I had a friend who was dating her youngest and most toothsome son. It was no surprise, since the two (three, really) looked an awful lot alike, and when cancer whittled down the former Ford model’s once-impressive figure, I ended up with some of her size 12s.
At the time they drowned me. I was still keeping up with the Joanses and working at a gossip magazine where the median size was 2. But I was loath to throw out Norris’ gorgeous time capsules of late-70s and early-80s swank: padded ultra-violet sweaters, studded oversized belts, striped silk blouses. Fingering the materials, I’d transport to hey-day Studio 54 and Elaine’s, where clear as day I could see her towering like a brick-house over her bossy little husband, shining the good-natured self-enchantment that made her such a gas to be around even when she was suffering.
Then in a rare bright spot of this dreadful spring, I realized her big bolts of glamour finally fit me. Rather than feeling like a paunchy, middle-aged failure, it was as if I’d grown into a woman I revered. Behold the power of the right second-hand piece.
I try not to write about what a terrible clotheshorse I am. It’s not a labels thing. I tend to look down on designer clothing, a residual of coming up in a town where the most flamboyantly wealthy people were also the blandest. What I dig are wildly individualized uniforms–projections of what and who a person is feeling on a given day. Audrey Hepburn on Acid! Space Crone Liberationist! Erma Bombeck Chic! Every outfit is a costume, an opportunity to radiate a unique frequency of light, and this requires an array of options that would appall a certain organizing guru whose surname starts with K and ends with O. As in uh-oh. Continue Reading →