Fashion Victim

September 7, 2007

I’ve always loved clothes. When I was very small, and for a very long time after, when I was no longer quite so small, I would spend hours in an attic room in my grandparents’ house, a room that used to be my mother’s, but which came to serve as a repository of all my grandmother’s more glittery treasures: endless boxes of costume jewellry and hats and old dresses and robes and the occasional stray piece of hard candy, invariably scooped up by my little sister for exploratory sucking. My grandmother herself was, to my mind, dazzlingly fashionable, in her red lipstick and her turbans and her wide-cut trousers. She looked like every heroine on every old black-and-white movie that we watched on her ancient television on Sunday afternoons, right down to the scotch-on-the-rocks rattling in the glass in her hand. She loved glamour, my grandmother, and I loved it with her.

When I became to old to play around in her attic of treasures – when, indeed, she died and my grandfather sold the house and got rid of her things, to my eternal dismay – I began assembling my own collection. Goodwill, Salvation Army, Value Village – these became my attics, to be rummaged through for treasure, and rummage I did. By the time I was in my early twenties I had a vast collection of vintage clothing and accessories – snakeskin stilettos from the fifties, an Yves Saint Laurent pea coat from the sixties, ultrasuede Halston from the seventies, polka-dotted Versace from the eighties, and all variety of treasures from across the decades (the perfect faded Flintstones pajama top featuring Pebbles and Bam-Bam: timeless) – that I delighted in and which I dedicated, in secret, to my grandmother.

Treasures from that collection have come and gone, but I still have most of those clothes, tucked away in storage, preserved for…? What? My daughter, perhaps, if such things become of interest to her. Or perhaps just for the sake of collection. I’m a magpie when it comes to clothes – I collect and keep – both because I love clothes for their beauty and because I fear (a hangover from the loss of my grandmother’s treasures, no doubt) missing out on or losing something that should be treasured. I collect and I keep and I never, ever regret. Not for me, in other words, the ministrations of the What Not To Wear fairies – I would love somebody to provide me with a new wardrobe, but not at the cost of the old. Unless by ‘old wardrobe’ we are not referring to my literally old clothes – the ancient Dior, the faded von Furstenberg – but to my new old wardrobe. My mommy wardrobe. And not even the tatty yoga pants and tank tops that are its mainstay – I love my yoga pants. No – what I would happily get rid of is the shoes.

I say that I never regret clothing and footwear choices – not even the Azzedine Alaia knock-offs that I wore in Europe in the early nineties, scandalous bits of fabric that they were, nor the purple Minnie Mouse-style stacked heels that I wore at the same time – but that is not, strictly speaking, true. I sort of regret this:

That, my friends, is a Birkenstock. Just one, because the other has been spirited away by a cat, or by the angry ghost of my grandmother, who would have recoiled at such hideousness. But it is, still, my Birkenstock. A Papillon Birkenstock (oh, the irony, such a cloddish shoe named for a butterfly!), and one with a sort of Pucci-esque print, but still. A Birkenstock.

It was, in my defense, purchased in the later stages of my pregnancy, when my back was aching and my knees buckling and my feet swelling beyond recognition. It was hot, I was heavy, and ballerina flats were no longer keeping me aloft. I needed serious orthopedic mojo, and the Birkenstock sandal came highly recommended. And it certainly lived up to its reputation: once my feet were comfortably established in the smooth curves of its sole, the Birk carried me gently, firmly, through the hours and hours of walking that were keeping me sane in the last, interminable, months of pregnancy.

But: they were nevertheless Birkenstocks, and they were ugly, and I knew to be grateful for not being able to see past the vast expanse of my belly to my feet below, which I knew were splayed out beneath me like great flat hippie pancakes garnished with a slash of raspberry jam.

I don’t know that I would do it differently, if I had it to do over again. Those hideous foot-swaddlers saved my back. But for a wannabe-Holly-Golightly girl who had grown up – on the Pacific Northwest, surrounded by fleece and hemp-shirts and Birks, Birks, as far as the eye could see – swearing to never, ever let so much as her manicured pinky-toe touch the edge of such a monstrosity, the fact of having succumbed to the siren-call of comfort and crashed upon the rocks of orthopedic footwear is difficult to bear. I have worn Birkenstocks. I have worn Birkenstocks more than once. I may well – if another pregnancy is in the offing – wear Birkenstocks again.

God – or Nina Garcia - help me. And, Grandma? Forgive me.

(This is part of PBN’s ‘Little Black Book Of Style’ Blog Blast. You have until midnight tonight to join in, too.)

(Also, for those of you following the Soovy discussion - to Binky or not to Binky? – there’s been a vote for ‘only bad mothers give non-infants binkies’ in the comments here. Maybe Wonderbaby is going to fulfill the promise of her BillyBob Binky…)

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    Heather B. September 7, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    I own several pairs of Birks. I’ve even gone so far as to go to the Birk outlet two hours away just to get a pair. And I really have no excuse for them except they’re comfortable, but I am this close to having a closet full of Dr. Scholls, converse and crocs. I’m lazy and I’d rather be comfortable than wear five inch heels.

    Sunny September 7, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    What’s the general consensus on Crocs? Because everyone I know tells me they are hideously ugly…but it’s like walking on a cloud of brightly colored happiness!! I did own Birks too…I gave them up when I started shaving my legs again. (Years ago)

    slouching mom September 7, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    Yeah, I’ve gotta say, those shoes are a bit like like oil and water. It’s a nice enough print, but what does it have to do with Birkenstocks?

    nomotherearth September 7, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    Well, my friend, I just bought Crocs for the very reason that you bought the Birks. Now, they are the nice Crocs – just two slim straps across the feet – but plastic Croc shoes they still remain.

    They’re comfortable, though, and not much is these days. They’re also the ONLY shoes I own that currently fit my feet. I don’t know what’s become of me..

    petite gourmand September 7, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    I gotta say..I’m lovin my birks these days…
    then again, there’s a time and a place.

    kittenpie September 7, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    Oh god. Having attended a certain very crunchy small university, I am totally Birks-averse. I will not, cannot. Not in a house, not with a mouse.

    pinks & Blues Girls September 7, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    Oh yes, those Birks have all the familiar wear-and-tear markings of a good, comfortable ol’ stand by shoe.

    I rejoice in my old Birks – but I haven’t worn them in years! Now my Uggs are my tried-and-trues.

    Jane, P&B Girls

    Julie Pippert September 7, 2007 at 6:11 pm

    Hmmmm…I stick to flip flops and am usually safe.

    However I find myself craving some very comfy sort of Mary Jane style (or something better…I’m sure I don’t know) that can go with my ultra cas slack, capris and skirts, for Fall.

    Thank goodness I have my very own style maven aka my sister.

    Using My Words

    flutter September 7, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    Oh sweet, fancy moses those are really, really ugly. The look really comfy though….

    Mrs. Chicky September 7, 2007 at 8:34 pm

    Even I, the recovering wannabe hippie, have never owned a pair of Birks.

    I say we should get your Birks (Birk?) together with my Dead t-shirts.

    Alley Cat September 7, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    Funny – I am watching What Not To Wear as we speak. The girl they are overhauling right now makes her own clothing from silk worms and her pet goat. You are not in the same category. As for your shoes, anything goes while pregnant. I won’t call the fashion police on you. (as if I am one to talk)

    Sarah September 7, 2007 at 10:31 pm

    Holy flashback Batman! I’m just reminiscing about my brown Birks with the floral pattern. Bought in Ithaca, NY (hippie central) in…oh…1993?

    I just got rid of them.


    SUEB0B September 7, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    I generally have no comment on shoes. I just don’t care enough.

    But those, my dear, are the goddam ugliest things I have ever seen.

    I am glad they helped your feet, but yeesh.

    I have long skinny high-arched feet and walk in a sort of duck-footed gait, so birks are the most ridiculous bad thing on me. I was at the birk store with a friend who was trying them on. I got yelled at by the lady working there because I said they were not comfortable on my feet. She YELLED at me. She was such a true believer that she couldn’t see NOT wearing them.

    painted maypole September 7, 2007 at 11:34 pm

    loved the gwen post… and oh I want to hang out in YOUR attic! I won’t even make you get rid of the birk (but only one? I think it is time)

    Karianna September 7, 2007 at 11:47 pm

    Love the Birkenstock. Love the Croc.
    This particular one photographed seems to have a Pucci-vibe. I like that, given the stereotype of Birks.

    Jenifer September 8, 2007 at 1:46 am

    I have never been able to buy a pair, just trying them on hurts. I have been told you need to wait for the breaking in to happen, but I guess I never had enough faith.

    Crocs on the other hand are sooo comfy the minute you put them on. I can see them being the choice next time around…and they are so ugly there is really no use defending them other than to say they are like pillows for your feet.

    Delilah September 8, 2007 at 9:41 am

    Never owned Birkenstocks but became addicted to Crocs during my last pregnancy. Comfort is the key!

    winslow1204 September 8, 2007 at 10:22 am

    I am terrible about holding onto clothers forever…

    Her Bad Mother September 8, 2007 at 10:38 am

    I had crocs for about a day, before the cat ate them. I figured that was a sign from the gods.

    Her Bad Mother September 8, 2007 at 10:39 am

    (they were comfortable, tho)

    thirtysomething September 9, 2007 at 10:35 am

    Birks and Crocs. I own both and am proud of that fact.
    How fun it sounds like it was for you as a child, my daughter would be in little girl heaven with such an attic in which to dream her days away.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Oh, the binky thing–let it live on! My last baby is amost 2, and still has the thing, I sure don’t plan on rocking her little world (or mine for that matter) by taking it away before she is ready to surrender it. I am going to try the ‘passy fairy’ thing around age 3, if she still has it, if that doesn’t work, she may start K with the darned thing, and that should cure her right there! Do not sweat the small things is my motto for mothering 4 kids.
    I love your blog title, by the way!

    Laural Dawn September 9, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    I totally hear you on the Grandmother thing.
    My mom’s mom had a passion for (fake) jewellry and would wear multiple rings on every finger. When she passed away my aunt went through her jewellry box, took the real stuff and left all the costume jewellry. I LOVE it. And wear it.
    And then on Mother’s Day my grandma passed away. We went through everything and I asked for the jewellry – another aunt wanted the wedding rings, etc, but for me it was all about the large brooches.
    I wouldn’t wear all of them, but some of the stuff is beautiful – and it has a lot of meaning to me.
    But, by all means keep all your stuff for WB.
    It’s magical and wonderful!!!!
    (but, yeah, the birkenstocks can go)

    ewe are here September 9, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    heh heh. I’ve always found Birks rather hideous, too, as well as the Crocs that seem to be absolutely everywhere these days. But, then again, I’m no fashion queen; I wear Ecco shoes/sandals pretty much everywhere. ;-)

    Lawyer Mama September 9, 2007 at 8:33 pm

    Oh no! I’m a clothes HOUND & I almost cried reading about your lovely, lovely vintage collection. I really hope you don’t keep the Birk (singular) in the same closet as those lovely clothes. Your grandmother would roll over in her grave!

    I understand your transgression though. I wore heels up until the last week of both pregnancies when my feet just couldn’t take it anymore!

    Jenifer September 9, 2007 at 9:44 pm

    Ummmm… I wear my Birkenstocks every day. Oh wait let me rephrase that. I wear my no name, brandless, Wal-mart knock off, Birkenstocks every day.

    I am going to fashion hell aren’t I?

    Gunfighter September 9, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    Birks and Crocs are evil… and they must be destroyed.

    First time visitor, by the way… I think we have mutual blog buddies.

    Christine September 9, 2007 at 10:46 pm

    i have a friend who has a vintage clothing and purse collection that is out of this world. you would LOVE her!

    and that show is bad. sorry, love, but really. birks and crocs have never touched my toes. but never say never i guess!

    Lady M September 10, 2007 at 6:42 am

    I love the sound of your grandmother’s treasures and would love to sit for an afternoon looking through yours. As I face cleaning my own collections, I’m torn between being ruthless and tossing the things I’m not likely to wear again (early 1990′s Gunne Sax wedding dress that I wore as a costume, etc) and keeping them for a dress-up box for future kiddie parties.

    Liz September 10, 2007 at 9:47 am

    I never really knew my grandmother, but I do remember those turbans, the squishy, rubbery feeling of the material. And the smell of the mothballs. They were kept in our attic-entryway closet along with her furs, that always scared me. Grandmother had a fox stolle with the head and feet and glass eyes… YIKES to a young girl.
    But about the Birks: I heart them. I have many pair. And Crocs, too. I used to love fancy shoes, but my feets and my back begged to differ. I’m all about the comfort.
    I love fashion as well, but fashion does not love me…me with the boobs, and hips, and saggy flesh belly. So I settle with watching the fashion on television.

    TB September 10, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    I’m a lifelong Birk’s devotee, but I never really claimed to be fashionable. I blame it on all the weed I smoked.

    But then again, my favorite shoes now are my Crocs flip flops. They’re even more comfy than the Birks. I’m much more a function over form type of girl.

    m•riah September 10, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    I rock the tokyo cloggy birks and am having hang ups about wearing them bc they are, in fact, Birkenstocks. But they were on sale and seemed like a good idea at the time, and feel oh so nice when my feet hurt. I am too damn old to care anymore.

    the weirdgirl September 12, 2007 at 1:25 am

    Pregnancy has forced many of us to make the fashion faux pas. I have never worn Birkenstocks, though. Even when my husband tried introducing me to them waaaay back when we first dated. I was fully into my Doc Marten stage so he probably figured what’s one fat shoe for another? (Damn, I miss my maryjane Docs.)

    (And if I really want to sound like a snob I’d admit to not wearing Uggs, Crocs, OR flip-flops either. I can’t stand a toe wedgie, especially one from $2 plastic.)

    I have all of my great-grandmother’s paste jewelry. In fact, those brooches were the one thing that made me feel a smidgen pretty when I was horribly bloated during pregnancy. I also buy up vintage buttons at flea markets and work them into new jewelry pieces. They just don’t make paste like they used to! I don’t want to do glamour everyday, but it’s great having it around for a special occasion.

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