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Dirty little negligees / embarrassment & indulgence

in Campus Journal/Columns/Hi! Fashion by

Photo by Ian Holloway
Photo by Ian Holloway

We all have them: those little items of clothing that sit frequently in our closets and occasionally on our bodies. They make us cringe or blush with embarrassment. They could be anything from the UGG boots you wear on cold nights to work in the library to the silky négligée you bought for a boy you hate now — but after all, the négligée is still beautiful; sometimes, you just pull it on — for you — when the heat is cranked high in Willets and you feel fresh and clean out of the shower.

Obviously, we don’t usually like to talk about the things that embarrass us, clothes or otherwise. But often, they are accompanied by woeful stories of middle school or lost love that are unavoidably hilarious. After all, we are talking here about the embarrassing clothes you keep, the ones you still occasionally pull out: there’s something affectionate or worth remembering there. I love my vices, and I love your vices: they’re fun. So here’s to our vices. I’ll share mine, and a couple of others have shared theirs.

A lot of vice is about memory. But mine is about fantasy. I have a dream of a little apartment in New York, with nice old wood floors, small winding rooms, and a claw-foot bathtub. In this fantasy, I live there with a fluffy orange cat reminiscent of Hermione Granger’s. And I stand there, in my silk négligée, waiting for the bath water to run. Clearly, négligées are on my mind in this piece: but it’s this particular one that’s my fantasy, a garment attached to a grown-up life where I am independent enough to buy a beautiful négligée to wear by myself in my grown-up apartment with my perfect fluffy cat winding around my ankles. This négligée is a fantasy about my maturity, about my independence, about my secure future: it’s an item that sits in the imaginary closet of my imagination, that I only pull on in dreamy moments where I ignore the present and indulge myself.

Simon Bloch ’17’s story is about an actual physical item of clothing: a black velvet Harley Davidson hat. It’s his dirty little hat for several reasons. The first is that he and an “ex-flame” of his found it on a bench in ML and just took it together because they liked it so much — though they eventually advertised in the RSD for the owner and paid him for it, each $10. The second is that it reminds him of the “steamy romance, regret, and passion” associated with the aforementioned ex-flame. He hasn’t worn the hat a lot lately, but he informed me that “upon the date of this article coming out, you will definitely be seeing me riding dirty round campus” in the hat — it comes out, after all, for special occasions.

Emmy Liu ’17’s dirty little sweatpants have a history harking back to those universally dismal days of middle school. Although Liu has a collection of gear from the plethora of Bar Mitzvahs she attended, these sweatpants don’t quite fit the bill: she wasn’t invited to the Bar Mitzvah they were party favor to. It was the Bar Mitzvah of THAT middle school boy, the unattainably cool and somehow already seemingly socially-poised one with glorious hair drooping over his eyes. And Liu wasn’t invited. She still remembers it as “the Bar Mitzvah I wasn’t invited to.” But she took charge: she took sweatpants, proof of party attendance, that her friend brought home from the Bar Mitzvah. And she kept them in her closet and wore them around the house for years. They are embarrassing, if now also humorous-because-distant, because of their history, and also because they are sweatpants: Liu would generally not be caught outside her room here in any pair of sweatpants. But these ones are undeniably comfortable. And so she continues to wear them around her room and, on the special occasion when she wants to treat herself to extra comfort, she wears them out and about.

For Gibson Cook ’16, his dirty little leather jacket is embarrassing for a simple reason: it is too small. An indefinite loan from a small friend, the jacket is surprised to find Cook’s arms and torso don’t quite end where it expects them to. But it is just the off kilter nature of the jacket that contributes to Cook’s continuous wearing of it: “It’s a good jacket for going out and kind of getting into some trouble or having some fun.” He admits that “maybe I slept in a stairwell in it once,” and seems contented, if a bit abashed, about the fact. He loves this jacket despite its small size, maybe because it is associated with just the right sized sprinkling of non-conformity and vice.

Often, our embarrassment about certain articles of clothing — or clothing fantasies — is really cheeky, not-so-guilty pleasure: these things are about indulgence. And indulgent clothing can be clothing at its best. One of the things about clothing that fascinates me is the ways in which we use it to make our sometimes dreary, monotonous days a little more exciting or pleasurable. And if indulgence isn’t about pleasure, nothing is. Sometimes, buying a pair of raw silk underwear seems absurd; sometimes, it seems like a great idea. And I assure you, whenever you decide to put them on, you feel like your day is a little indulgent, a little more about what you want.

List the things you think of as indulgent: rich dark chocolate, steaming hot water — in your tea or your shower — a not-so-great but fun novel — or that leather jacket that’s a little small but still makes you feel badass, on the verge of trouble and excitement. These things are all about fantasy or constructing excitement and pleasure in even a small way. And that doesn’t sound bad to me at all.

Have fun, kids. Wear your dirty little [x, y, z]. I’ll meet you on the plane of comfortable imagination in my little silk négligée.

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