I was saddened by the recent death of Stéphane Audrane, the marvelous French actress who starred in Babette’s Feast, a cinematic gem that won the 1987 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Audrane’s distinguished career spanned six decades and a variety of roles, and she always considered clothing in her approach to characters, she told The Chicago Tribune.
“It starts with the clothes,” she said in a 1994 interview. “It is the first thing you have to think of. It’s helpful because, if you notice, the way you wear your clothes is the way you are.”
When I read this, I felt indicted. Because it’s true, and because I was wearing, again, what has become my at-home winter uniform: leggings and sweat pants, a turtleneck and sweatshirt, wool socks. All in varying shades of grey and black. It’s an easy, practical and comfy ensemble — as good for sleeping as waking — and it matches my cats. Yet I could feel the enervating influence of all that soft, sloppy darkness, an outer muting that mirrored the frequent inner ennui of a post-prime life. The way you wear your clothes is the way you are, Audrane said. Nailed.
Now, I’ve never been a fashion plate; in fact, I’m a late adopter of all trends, if I get to the orphanage at all. But I’m seeing that semi-retirement is quietly dangerous in a boiling-frog way for people who spend great swaths of time alone. Demarcations between day and night blur; associated social imperatives recede. Hygiene begins to feel kind of optional, dressing sort of pointless. You gradually forget you must shower, arrange your hair and attire yourself for the world of people, if only to avoid scaring the Jehovah’s Witness who comes unexpectedly to your door. (I still feel bad about that.)
As I considered Audrane’s observation, I could feel myself slouching slowly toward the day when I would absent-mindedly go to my part-time job wearing bedhead and what amounts to jammies. Action was clearly needed — always a dangerous thought — and whenever action is needed, I know just where to go: Amazon. There I ordered two fistfuls of beautiful Buff knockoffs, multifunctional headwear that can be worn in a buzillion configurations: a beanie, a headband, a balaclava, a pirate scarf (my favorite), a blindfold (mildly troubling), a facemask and so forth.
These very fine products, made of genuine polyester microfiber, have just arrived, having come all the way from China. According to the package insert, they’ve had “hot sale for a long time” due to their high quality, so customers can “buy felt relieved, with happily.” All I know is they’re awfully pretty; by the time I’d opened the cellophane packages and admired each piece, my color-impoverished self had gotten her money’s worth. Just seeing them made me want to spiff myself up.
I intend to wear them as scarves that add panache to my otherwise understated wardrobe and also cleverly disguise my neck wattles, which are a real thing among women of a certain age and men, too, though men don’t learn to care. This plan presumes that I will 1) actually get out of my sweats; 2) figure out how to don the scarves without strangling myself; and 3) accept the sideways stares of people who have actual fashion sense and wonder if I’ve recently had a tracheotomy.
A high bar, I know. But it’s a start, a small step out of my clothing complacency toward a more lively appearance, and perhaps demeanor. Already, I feel relieved, with happily.