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January 13, 2012 10:09 pm
If I have anything resembling a resolution when it comes to clothes, it is this: every purchase should have a purpose. It is not enough for me that I like something – in order to buy it, I need to know when I will wear it and what role it will play in my wardrobe.
For example, when I saw a silver lurex Dries Van Noten sweatshirt-like sweater a year or so ago, I thought: “That is ideal for all events at my children’s school (class lunches, assemblies, etc), being a little dressier and sparklier than usual but also casual.” And when I saw a Bottega Veneta velvet halter-neck cocktail dress, knee-length and simple, covered in the front but bare in back, I knew it would solve the problem of what to wear to a work black-tie party. And a reissued sleeveless Pierre Cardin black dress with vinyl appliqués originally designed in the 1960s, which could be worn over a bodysuit in winter and on its own in summer, addressed the issue of “what-to-wear-to-a-meeting-with-a-designer-if-you-don’t-have-any-of-that-designer’s-clothes” because: 1) it wasn’t immediately recognisable/attributable (no one would see it and think “Prada, spring/summer 2011”), and 2) even if they did know what it was, Cardin is no longer really seen as competitive but, rather, classic.
It even occurred to me, after attending a Junya Watanabe show consisting entirely of puffa jackets and gowns made of puffa jackets, that said collection was not, as it may have first seemed, a fashion absurdity but, rather, an ingenious solution to the question of what to wear to a luxury brand’s winter outdoor ice-skating party. Admittedly, I didn’t buy one of the puffa gowns, as the practical applications seemed limited, but I did see the point of it.
Anyway, that’s how I shop. It probably reveals some deep-seated, control-related, psychological issues but as a strategy it has served me well. I wear pretty much all my clothes, I wear them for a long time and, mostly, no matter what the occasion, I know what I am going to wear as soon as the invite arrives. Except for one place. A place I go every year, and have been going to every year for almost two decades. A place whose sartorial challenges defeat me. To be specific: the Canadian countryside, at Christmastime.
Before you snort in derision, let me explain. It’s cold. And I get very cold. And I have three children who love building snow forts and skiing, and a husband who used to immerse himself in an icy stream every New Year’s. Plus, I am drawn to hiking around in the countryside, and dressing up a bit at night, for dinner by the fireplace. But I have yet to find the outfit that makes all this possible.
The obvious solution to the cold issue, after all, is clothes – lots of them. And I have layered and layered until I look like the Michelin man. But then I have to come home and peel off and re-suit, peel off and re-suit, a process that takes a good 20 minutes each time. That’s easily two hours lost a day.
My husband thought it might help if I went native and one year gave me an all-in-one zip-up skidoo suit made of materials not found in nature. While I do love it (it’s good for making snow angels), it’s not very mobile – like a toddler, I have to turn my whole body to see what’s behind me – and it plays a symphony in nylon when I walk, which defeats the purpose of woodland hikes to spy wild turkeys. They can hear me coming for miles.
. . .
For a while I considered sacrificing body warmth on the altar of style and machismo and just getting a great cashmere sweater but, after my fingers turned white, I wimped out. Which is why this winter, passing the umpteenth advert on the New York City subway for Uniqlo’s “heat-tech” clothing, I decided it might be time to give technology a try. Or another try, to be accurate. My brother, a mountain climber, spent a few years giving me various just-for-Mount-McKinley-or-Patagonia gear to up my cold-weather tolerance, to no apparent avail.
But while that was largely long underwear in combinations of silk and polypropylene, what intrigued me about Uniqlo was that it offered clothing – jeans and turtlenecks and tights and scarves – as well as the usual undergarments, and for under $100 apiece. It was worth a try.
So here’s what I bought: skinny jeans (still a bit high-rise for my taste but covered by sweaters it didn’t really matter); a purple scarf; some grey cabled tights; a grey undershirt; and Fair Isle leg warmers (for cross-country skiing). I layered the tights under the jeans, the T-shirt under a sweater under the scarf, and here’s what happened – or didn’t:
1) No one laughed or made fun of me for wearing silly snow gear. In fact, no one had any idea I was wearing snow gear.
2) With the jeans over the tights, my legs stayed warm, even when I was not wearing snow pants. Though most denim provides a barrier layer against wind, it becomes cold to the touch, so when it sits next to your leg it feels chilly. The Uniqlo denim stayed at skin temperature.
3) All I had to take off when I came inside was the normal stuff: hat, coat, scarf – although the scarf was nice enough (the fibres make all the heat-tech stuff sort of silky) that I quite liked keeping it on.
It wasn’t a life-altering experience – my extremities, such as hands and feet, still turned white and I had to go indoors every once in a while – but it was an improvement and made me feel less like a cold freak. In fact, it made me feel kind of ... purposeful. And resolute.
More columns at www.ft.com/friedman
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