WAY BACK IN the Pleistocene era, when I and other magazine editors were required to wear high heels every day, I would watch racks of trend-forward clothing roll down the hall at work and think of the dinner party scene in “Beetlejuice.” As the character Delia Deetz, Catherine O’Hara wore aggressively fashionable, all-black outfits imagined by director Tim Burton and costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers. Incorporating razor-sharp angles and millinery that obscured her vision, her look was expensive, outlandish and fun. To this day, when I see capital-F Fashion, I remember Delia and her dinner guests, who took themselves very seriously until they were forced to dance to a Harry Belafonte song.
Confession: My pandemic-shrunken life more closely resembles that of Geena Davis’s “Beetlejuice” character: a ghost locked for eternity in her own home, garbed in simple cotton dresses and sometimes a calico apron. To my Covid-era mind, this season’s Deetz-ian runway trends, including pale leather opera gloves and ballooning sleeves, seem even more like theater costumes than they do functional clothing.
“ Incorporating some bolder trends into my rotation of denim and oversize button-downs could check off a few boxes on my “Improve Your Life” to-do list. ”
To be clear, I’m not mocking them. I long for a shot of glamour, and for fashion to return in its full, impractical, joyous glory. Incorporating some bolder trends into my rotation of denim and oversize button-downs could check off a few boxes on my “Improve Your Life” to-do list, too—offering me distraction from the mountain of grief and grim current affairs, a good reason to leave the house and an excellent excuse to not wash a single dish for a while, because, you know, I’m wearing gloves.
I borrowed four major fall trends and took them for a spin: heavy fringe, exaggerated puff sleeves, skirt suits and opera gloves. The goal was to see if and how they would work in my current life in Southern California, a steady rotation of yardwork, writing, cooking, cleaning, reading, managing 13-year-old twins’ schooling from home, Zooming, fixing up a rustic house in Santa Barbara county, seeing friends in their backyards or from a safe distance at the beach, occasional takeout and working very hard not to lose my mind. I started with fringe.
When I first unzipped the Prada garment bag and saw the substantial fringe belt and oversize underpants that had been described as a “skirt” and the accompanying cashmere-blend blazer, I thought, “I don’t have a mask for this.” Or a place to wear it. I’d spent the day puzzling over a broken water heater and something called an Incinolet, an electric toilet that incinerates waste, in a fixer-upper of a house that my husband and I bought as a retreat. I texted an old, dear friend who agreed to meet me for a socially distanced drink on the terrace at the Belmond El Encanto hotel, known for its sweeping views of the Santa Barbara harbor and well-heeled guests in cashmere separates. I put on the belt/skirt with a long white button-down I cinched at the waist with an odd pillbox fanny pack, also Prada. “I’ll be the one who isn’t wearing pants,” I explained to my friend. As I pulled into the valet line, something I hadn’t done since early March, I worried about flashing the parking attendant, something I hadn’t done since the mid-1990s. In the lobby bar, some women in chic, pale denim and sparkly sandals looked twice, mostly out of curiosity (I hope). The heavy black fringe felt cool and silky against my bare legs. When the temperature dipped below 65, the jacket felt sturdy and cozy, like a much-needed hug. My friend said she was reminded of the flapper costumes we once wore to a mobster-themed fraternity party decades ago. If this fringe-skirt trend is a sign that we’re headed for a Roaring Twenties reboot post-pandemic, then I’ll take it, happily.
Imposing Puff Sleeves
Next, I opened a box containing two black, structured puff-sleeve tops from Sea New York, which were a slightly more somber pivot. My first thought: “This, I can do.” For one, the sleeves’ volume (they’re huge) and modest neckline felt vaguely Amish, which is my speed, in general. And the thick, black cotton with a touch of stretch was easy to move in. Same goes for the giant sleeves, which were barely noticeable when I was running errands, until I had to reach for my seat belt and they got in the way. When I zipped up one of the shirts, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was putting on very stylish mourning clothes, which felt sadly on point. Sometimes fashion is a celebration, and other times it’s social commentary. Wearing this long-sleeved black shirt with my face covered in a mask, even with a pair of slim-cut jeans to the Whole Foods and the hardware store, felt like a statement on our times.
Escapist Opera Gloves
The gloves felt less sensible, and shoving my slightly rough, un-manicured hands into them was a multifold challenge. A) I had to think about my hands. (Dear cuticles, I’m sorry.) B) Wearing them made performing any of the tasks that fill my days—making specialty lunches for my home-schooling kids, washing endless dishes, commenting on social media, digging out dead rosemary bushes—impossible. C) They felt ridiculous. Then the lightbulb appeared over my head. No doom-scrolling? No dishes? So many of the things making me miserable were put on hold for as long as I wore the gloves. It was a revelation. I slipped into a Marine Serre pair that extends above my elbows and is covered in a tiny black salamander print, then I drove down the 101 at sunset with the windows down, smiling to myself, taking comfort in the fact that the world is still a place where tiny-salamander gloves are designed, made, sold and purchased. Weirdly, it felt like relief.
Assertive Skirt Suits
The final trend in the mix was nostalgic for me. When my twins were toddlers and a behavioral situation devolved to the point where it felt like they were staging a coup, I would reassert my authority by sternly saying, “I used to have an assistant! I ran an entire department!” They had no idea what I was talking about. But reminding myself of the days when I wore skirt suits to an office made me feel more in command. Putting on a gorgeous wool Max Mara suit felt like visiting an old friend or mentor. The skirt was a little short for me—I’m a believer that no one should be forced to show their knees in public. But the jacket’s fit was perfection and it helped create that illusion of control. Who doesn’t need a little help in that department right now?
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Appeared in the October 24, 2020, print edition as ‘‘I Tried Some Weird Gloves’.’