Twenty-five years ago this month (July 19th to be exact), director Amy Heckerling’s “Clueless,” a modern take on Jane Austen’s Emma, hit the theaters — not a moment too soon for this new mother.
My first born, Luke, was six months old that summer. When he arrived in the New Year, I had gone from being a full-time ad agency writer to #WFH freelancer and SAHM (stay-at-home mother.)
I also had gone from someone who dressed up every day and chose my accessories with the meticulousness of a fashion editor preparing a Vogue photo shoot to my new black being jeans and a T-shirt. Make that an array of T-shirts, as I changed about four-plus times a day since infant Luke used to spit up on me because, well, the spirit moved him.
One Sunday, my husband Neil gave me a mommy’s day off and I chose to spend at least part of it in air conditioning, as well as the dark, watching the high school hijinks of Beverly Hills teen, Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) & Co.
Although the film had its charms, I remember that through it all, the only thing I could focus on was that these 10th graders dressed better than me. Given my new home-centric lifestyle, I wasn’t about to invest in Chanel, or run around in stilettos and feather boas; my one-time adolescent uniform of Levi’s and cotton tops would be most practical in the house, but when I took Luke out for a stroll to get the air I decided putting on a summer dress, or trousers and nice blouse might help me not only look less hausfrau, but reconnect with the fashionable New York woman I had been.
I’m feeling that way again, with the movie’s 25th anniversary (special event theater screenings are on hold thanks to the pandemic) coinciding with New York’s reopening. As denizens emerge from quarantine, Cher, Dionne, and their bevy of “Betties” and “Baldwins” (female and male hotties, respectively) have also returned, not only to celebrate their milestone but remind us that if we’re going to enjoy sidewalk dining or generally start “rolling with the homies” again, it’s time to forgo our #stayhome, dress-down ensembles.
Although most everyone has spent the past several months “totally buggin” for a haircut and/or color appointment, there hasn’t been too much longing to put back on business attire, and especially where women are concerned, high heels.
Those who perhaps felt trepidatious about working off-site at first, got used to it and realized how less stressful (or perhaps more productive) it can be getting assignments done in comfy clothing and slippers.
But New York is one of the fashion capitals of the world and we’ve always been in a sartorial league of our own. We’ve got to remember who we are.
We’re the home of Carrie Bradshaw and her Manolos (and tutu), Blair Waldorf and her headband collection with the Boho/glam Serena van der Woodsen in tow; we’re the place where black has always been the new black and taking fashion risks is de rigueur; where form and function go hand-in-hand; as do effortlessly stylish and chic.
Keeping that in mind, envision yourself walking down one the avenues. You stop to window shop, then shift your perspective to see your own reflection. Yes, you sigh in relief at your new, worth-the-wait haircut, but then your eyes wander down to below your neck. If you’re still donning something from your shelter-in-place wardrobe, perhaps recollect the harsh yet well-meaning words that Cher shared with Tai (the late Brittany Murphy): “Do you prefer ‘fashion victim’ or ‘ensembly challenged’?” Or her evaluation of male grooming: “It looks like they just fell out of bed and put on some baggy pants and take their greasy hair - ew - and cover it up with a backwards cap and like, we’re expected to swoon?”
If we don’t step it up, people, we’re all going to start to look like those who still live in the home towns we once escaped from. “As if.”
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of “Fat Chick,” “Back to Work She Goes,” and the upcoming “The Last Single Woman In New York City.”