You didn’t ask me, but I’m here anyway so I’ll tell you what I think: As soon they can, a lot of people will return to wearing real, stylish clothes and abandon the pandemic habit of existing in glorified toddlers’ outfits that are a small step up from pyjamas.
The other day while out for a walk – there’s nothing else to do except walk and wonder what’s new on Netflix – I saw two young women who were, as we say, dressed to the nines. For a minute I could overhear their conversation and the gist was that they were well-pleased with themselves for dressing up to go downtown and make the long journey from the suburbs. They stood out, and they knew it.
Speaking of Netflix, ask yourself what you remember about The Queen’s Gambit. You remember the clothes. To-die-for-clothes. The end of fashion isn’t nigh, it’s headed for a new beginning, because some people will always treasure clothes and know that certain items in their wardrobe form a narrative; a life lived and adventures experienced.
Worn Stories (streams Netflix) arrived recently and claims to adhere to this belief in clothes as a source of personal history, knowledge and understanding. The series – based on the book of the same title by Emily Spivack – doesn’t do a perfect job. Far from it. One drawback is its opening, which is illogical. That opening is concerned with nudism and the viewer is treated to interviews with naked people extolling the virtues of a no-clothes life. Great. Good luck to them, but some of us would like to get on with the clothes stories.
Using all kinds of tricks to elevate the series above people merely talking about clothes – there is all kinds of animation used – the stories float by, but some are far more powerful than others. The story of Tim Cappello and his codpiece has both poignancy and energy. Cappello played sax for many bands but most famously for Tina Turner and his solos on some of her recordings are iconic. One time, while on tour, Turner insisted on giving her sax player a leather codpiece to wear onstage. It would give him stage presence and add to his performance. She was right.
Then, having a sax player in a band went out of fashion and Cappello faded into obscurity. He was playing local bars and it felt like sax playing was nearing extinction. Then in one of the quirks of the popular culture, a sequence from the 1987 movie The Lost Boys, in which Cappello was featured as a big, brassy sax player wearing that codpiece, became a viral hit. His career was revived and we see him today, playing away happily in that codpiece. It was the codpiece that accounted for both his initial fame and revival.
Less successful is the whimsical yarn about the two cousins and a coat that went missing at a restaurant. They set out on a complicated, one-night-in-New-York-City adventure to find and rescue it. They met a guy who was very stoned. The upshot is the two searchers for the coat got to know each other better on their adventure. More interesting is the profile of one Mrs. Park, who after losing her restaurant business in South Korea, emigrated to New York. She was lonely and bewildered but a gift from her local Buddhist temple, a yellow sweater, had a transforming impact on her. The vignette of Mrs. Park and her pals rehearsing their disco-dance moves is beyond charming.
Author Emily Spivack appears in one episode exploring the baby clothes her mother has kept from her early childhood. And there is the sobering story of an airbrush artist who runs a T-shirt store in Philadelphia. He used to make gloriously colourful fun items for people. Right now, he says, “The reason people are coming to me, in the city of Philadelphia, is usually murder.” He means that young Black men are shot often, and part of the ritual following the death is the victim’s mom and family ordering up T-shirts for the funeral and memorial parties. We watch him guide a grieving mother through the process.
The stories told – in episodes about 35-minutes long – vary in tone and texture, as you can tell from my synopses. But there is one underlying theme: We have an intimate relationship with clothes, one that transcends the fad for lazy clothing, which was a marker of the pandemic. In that intimate relationship, we recognize how certain items define us and we, in turn want to be recognized for our clothes.
There’s a Versace fall coat I have, acquired for $100 in a sale, that’s been in my closet for more than a year. I will be back wearing it, come hell or high water. I treasure it more than the fleece, loose jeans and sneakers I wear as I write this.
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