Before the days of personal shoppers and professional stylists, there was a person known as the saleslady. She could be found in the ladies department of virtually every shop and department store above the level of Sears or Penney’s . When there were new arrivals of dresses or shoes, she would judiciously put back, in the appropriate size, any offerings that would interest her regular customers, and give them a call.
So it was that I began shopping with Mother, taking me with her to follow up when she would hear from “‘the lady” at Dyer’s or Mrs. Kamel at Jeffrey’s. Looking back, it should have been a huge red flag that I didn’t kick or sulk about it. Instead, I looked forward to going, knowing we might slip around the corner to Joyner Fry to get something for me if we were headed to Mary V’s, and perhaps start the day with lunch out (maybe Luby’s?).
Daddy was apparently in on it, too, because by the time I was 10 or 12, he would consult me for ideas for “what to get your mother” for all the gift giving events of the year. The two of us must have been quite a sight going into these ladies shops, with me picking out something Mother would like and Daddy paying with the cash that men had in their wallets before credit cards replaced currency.
Mother had a very real sense of what was right for her. She gravitated mostly toward beige, taupe, and cream, or some combination thereof. Pastels in spring and summer, richer colors for the rest of the year. Patterns and florals reserved almost exclusively for casual clothes.
One year, Mother bought a solid white shift dress for Easter that was so different from the rest of her clothes. She never wore white. There were shoes to go with it, a pair of white ostrich embossed leather sandals (high heeled, of course). I could have only been more surprised if she were wearing red.
The single accessory she wore with it was an eye-catching bracelet with multiple strands of pearls and tiny gold chains with a single large charm of some sort. We would now call it a statement bracelet.
In an unscripted line, Dame Maggie Smith said on the set of Gosford Park, “Difficult color, green…very tricky” upon seeing a co-star arrive on set in a green dress. Julian Fellowes loved the remark so much that it was incorporated into the script for her to say as the Countess of Trentham. Some among us may argue that white isn’t really a color, but whatever it is, it’s as tricky as green.
The only time I wore a white outfit was to some kind of theme party at the Hall of State at Fair Park at least 40 years ago. My date was blond and dashing in a tailcoat; I suspect I looked more like John Travolta a good year after his sell-by date. My friend Danny made the front page of the fashion section of The Dallas Morning News; I was cropped out of the picture. I never wore all white again.
Of course, here we are today, and all of us are wearing white. At least, all the white people. And while we individually may be eggshell, porcelain or bone, it’s all white. I suspect when it comes to this white look, less—for once—is not more.
Neither small ear clips nor a simple sautoir will do. A bold necklace, perhaps, or large disc earrings of such size that they might pick up radio waves from China. Or even a stunning turban a la Lana Turner, done up with an elaborate broach. But whatever one wears with white this season, it needs to be a statement.
But what statement should one make? Well, I can’t say. But I’m pretty sure there are those, particularly the ones who have been listening with those earrings, who will be at least observing the choices we all will make. Bold and brassy might wear better than prim and proper. So be careful—we who have been wearing white all our lives know what a judgmental bunch we can be.
More importantly, there are those watching who won’t be wearing white at all. As is said so often these days, let that sink in.
Too much? Is there even such a thing in this situation? Too little? And what about, heaven forbid, too late? Any statement accessory worn once is a bow to fashion. Wear that statement piece every day, and it becomes a signature.