The current issue of The New Yorker has a to die for article about Los Angeles shopping and fashion. By “to die for,” I mean that I’d sell my soul to the Literary Devil if I could write as well as Patricia Marx, author of “To Shop and Drive in L.A.”
She captures the L.A. scene beautifully. My daughter and her husband live in Hollywood, so I have a passing familiarity with the vibrant southern Cal lifestyle that is poles apart from what passes for life and style here in staid Salem, Oregon (see my “Wide-Eyed on Rodeo Drive”).
I particularly liked Marx’s anthropological descriptions of some of the female fashion “tribes” that she, an East Coaster, observed during her week long investigation of L.A. shopping.
On Robertson, the sidewalk is jammed with pairs of women with long straight blond hair, all of whom look like Bratz dolls grown up. They wear tight jeans and either flimsy camisoles or little tops by T-Bags or Juicy Couture. Owing to the differential of their stilettos, the women are all precisely the same height. Regulations appear to require that those taller than five feet eleven wear flat thong sandals by Bernardo. The women seem to be shopping for items identical to those they are wearing.
…On the way to put money in the meter, I sidle past a clutch of girls standing outside of Lisa Kline (136 South Robertson). Each is talking on her cell phone, chewing gum, and drinking juice. They wear aggressively short flared skirts and cashmere hoodies that match the color of their Uggs. These are the Elves. I have seen them in other parts of town, too. Unlike the Bratz, the Elves are allowed to have brown hair. Generally speaking, they are in their teens or early twenties, but don’t be surprised if, occasionally, you see an old Elf. Aghast, yes, but surprised, no.
…Ahead of me in line is a woman in her late twenties who is wearing a little bit of everything: ripped-up and resewn vintage cashmere; a cotton tank top; a Balenciaga jacket; embroidered jeans; and a sheer skirt. Her hair looks undone, to say the least. If there weren’t three carbon copies of her nearby, you’d swear she had just run out of a burning building after hastily throwing on as many heirlooms as possible. Call these girls the Drip Paintings. Their look may appear accidental, but it is the result of excruciating attention.
In L.A. you find females attired as Bratz, Elves, and Drip Paintings. In Salem such spectacular creatures are few and far between. Sadly. When a movie lets out here a mass of blue jeans and white t-shirts heads for the parking lot. There’s isn’t a single blond stilettoed flimsy-camisoled Bratz in the whole crowd. Trust me. I’d notice.
In Oregon’s cold rainy weather months (October through June, basically) you do see a lot of Sherpas. These women look like they could be dropped off on a high Mt. Everest base camp and survive just fine. Bulky Pacific Trail jacket. Practical warm gloves. Hiking boots. Ski cap.
If the Taliban ever manage to take over our state and institute a strict Islamic dress code, the Sherpas won’t have to alter their wardrobe; if they were wearing a burqa, they’d be showing more skin.
On the other end of the spectrum, and thank god for other ends, are the Beachies. They don’t consult the calendar or the thermometer when they get dressed. Life’s a beach. Every day is warm and sunny, even if its 28 degrees and snowing. Flip flops. Shorts. T-shirt. The male equivalent substitutes tennis shoes for the flip flops.
Like the female Beachie, he’s not about to wear a jacket just because an Oregon monsoon has turned the Fred Meyer parking lot into a lake. He saunters along, rain plastering his hair, grooving along to what I always assume is Jimmy Buffet playing on his Ipod.
Bratz, Elves, and Drip Paintings vs. Sherpas and Beachies. L.A. has us beat fashion-wise. Score is about a million to one. But I’m happy to live in a fashion wasteland. Nine times out of ten, when I go out the front door I’m wearing my black REI “windpro” fleece jacket.
Nobody snickers at me when I pull up at valet parking. Probably because there isn’t any in Salem. Take that, L.A., land of the perpetual $5 restaurant parking charge.
On the downside, I recall this story my daughter told me shortly after she had moved to L.A. from Dallas, where she had worked for Neiman-Marcus. A fellow N-M employee who was relocating to southern California came to visit her. She took him to a bar near some beach.
On the way, he was telling Celeste how he was hoping to maintain a long distance relationship with his Dallas girlfriend. When they walked in the door of the bar he took in the bevy of beautiful, tanned, lithe, blonde girls who are as common in L.A. as weeds and said, “Hmmm. This is going to be more difficult than I thought.”