Issue Nine - May 2005

Fashion Renegades

by Lorna Reese

My husband and I moved to Lopez full time in July, 1994. Two months later, we stood under a warm, September sun, staining endless boards of pale cedar a rusty red-brown. My shirt and pants were already covered with rust-colored smears and smudges, my hair and face were spotted, and my sneakers looked like something Jackson Pollack might have worn. I stood in my paint-stained plastic gloves, meditatively pulling the brush over the wood, while watching our house being framed in front of us.

“How about a tea break,” Len said, wiping his forehead with the back of his sleeve. In the few weeks we’d been on Lopez, we’d been regulars at Holly B’s. We’d wander over around 4 PM for mugs of English Breakfast tea and a couple of sweets. We’d sit on her deck, pondering our good fortune at actually being here, building a house on our land, living in this place of our dreams.
“Sounds great,” I said. “Just let me change clothes and clean up a bit.”

“Don’t worry about that,” said Len, who had logged more Lopez time than I and knew the island’s ways. “This is Lopez. Let’s just go.” This is how I was introduced to the Lopez dress code. There isn’t any. You just come and go as you are and people accept you. There is no looking askance, no judging. Gradually, I came to feel comfortable wearing what I had on to wherever I had to go. Many times I went to the market in my pajamas, but it was winter and what I wore to bed was a turtleneck and leggings, so no one knew.

My standards have dropped considerably from when I worked in Boston and wouldn’t even go to the corner store without being fully made up. Now, most of my favorite clothes come, not from Anne Taylor, but “pre-owned” from the Thrift Shop or from second-hand places on neighboring Islands. Many of my friends here “shop” at the Transfer Station—our version of the dump.

Since Lopez is a second home to a number of people with up-to-date wardrobes, the “Take it or Leave it,” aka Neil’s Mall, often yields some terrific finds. A carrot-colored high-neck wool sweater with a zipper. A great-looking linen pants outfit. A turquoise merino sweater made in Ireland. There’s even kind of a game we play to see whose outfit cost the least.

I’ve grown to prefer used clothing. It’s already broken in, soft, comfy. I don’t fret if salad dressing drips onto the front. New garments I’ve always regarded as things to be kept clean, and consequently save for “good”—whatever that is. Naturally, I hardly ever wear them. It’s no wonder I can keep a garment almost like new for 20 or 30 years.

Everything I wear now has to be comfortable, first and foremost. My shoes are all sensible flats with good arch support. (Fortunately, fashion has headed in this direction with shoes, too.) I have not worn heels of any height since my wedding in 1986 and in the almost eleven years I’ve lived on Lopez, I can’t remember once wearing a dress or pantyhose—though I still have both in my closet. I don’t bother with make-up and haven’t owned a lipstick for a decade. When a visiting friend applied some color to my lips last summer, one friend greeted me with “Lornissima! Well, well, well!” I felt obvious and was embarrassed.

Around here, if you see people dressed up on a week day—wearing clothes that match or have a jacket—you wonder who died. If it’s a weekend, you hope it’s a wedding rather than a funeral. If it’s two men in suits, you figure they’ll probably be going door to door with religious pamphlets.

At a grand opening last summer, I wore the same second-hand shirt I’d been weeding in that morning, with cleaner blue jeans. A couple of women came in dresses or skirts, showing their legs. Some wore make-up. But several others, like me, were wearing what they happened to have on at the time. I don’t know if we were making fashion statements or if we just couldn’t be bothered.

At an 80th birthday party recently, I wore gray wool pants (bought new 20 years ago, but on sale!) and a black wool turtleneck (requisitioned long ago from my husband). That’s about as dressed up as I get. Several of us laughed privately at gyrations some had gone through to get into their pantyhose, while nearby men wondered what evoked those unseemly giggles from their women. Personally, I just don’t think pantyhose are worth the time and energy.

Going to America—what we affectionately call the mainland—is not much different, depending on what you’re going to be doing. A trip to Seattle to see an art exhibit or hear the symphony might require nicer clothes, if you’ve got some, but if you’re running errands in Bellingham or Mount Vernon, you just want to make sure you’re pretty clean.

It’s not that I don’t like nice things. I’m fond of turning down the corners of catalogs with items that catch my eye—nice catalogs, too! And last week I strolled through a “nice” women’s clothing store on another island. I ran my hands over an ice blue linen top, admiring its svelte cut and daring lines. I pressed my fingers against a pair of feather weight silk pants, so light it would be like wearing air. A celedon-colored sweater on the marked down rack beckoned and I breathed in its newness. There they all were, on shelves and hangars in that clean white store, waiting for someone like me to buy them. Then I left without buying anything. (Needless to say, the catalogs get recycled or replaced by newer ones long before I think again about purchasing anything on those pages.)

So I rarely buy new clothes anymore. I prefer my own or already-broken-in favorites from ten or fifteen years ago. My favorite things today include a pair of black silver tag Levi’s I got for $2.50 and a beat-up green sweater of Len’s.

Oh, and remember what I said about wearing my pajamas to the market? Well, in the winter, I frequently wear the same shirt for several days in a row. To the village in the morning, to supper with a friend and then to bed. The next day, I do it again. This can go on for three or four days, though I HAVE found a way to change my underwear every day, without getting completely undressed. I just don’t get very dirty and I live alone now, so it seems just fine to me. Saves on laundry, too.

Things have changed a lot since I moved to Lopez. More folks are dressing like people in magazines. So on occasion, I DO wonder if what started out being Lopez casual for me may have evolved—or devolved—into slobbery. But you know what? Nothing constricts or confines or has to be ironed. I don’t worry about getting tears or stains. Best of all, I’m completely comfortable with myself as I am, and people seem to like and accept me regardless of what I’m wearing! It doesn’t get much better than that!

©2005 Lorna Reese