Sunday, October 21, 2007

My Not-So Secret Affair

I admit it. I'm having an affair. Actually, if you ask Richie, he'll say it's not an affair, it's the major defining relationship in my life, and he's the one on the side. I disagree with him, but why argue?

Who is this significant other I've been carrying on with? Well, it's a what, not a who, and I'm talking about magazines. Not just any magazines, though. Oh, no. I have standards. I like my magazines glossy, and full of fashion, hair and makeup. None of those "Make Super Crafts From Egg Cartons!" flimsy things. I want more ads than articles, filled with clothes that I'll never afford. I want to see styles and haircuts that I would never try in my real life, but are so much fun to imagine wearing. I want to know where Jennifer Aniston gets her eyebrows waxed and where America Ferrera shops. I want to see what everyone wore to the annual Council of Fashion Design Awards.

I learned to read at an early age, around three or four, and began to read everything I could get my hands on. I used to get teased for reading the cereal box as I ate breakfast. Hey--if you were as sheltered as I was, you'd be an avid reader, too. Throughout my childhood, I never knew or cared to know much about fashion, or magazines in general, although I will always hold a special place in my heart for red dresses, thanks to an episode of The Muppets starring Rita Moreno. My uniform was tee shirts and jeans, sweatshirts in the winter. My hair was clean, but I never dried it, so it always had an unbrushed look about it. I had a secret obsession with makeup, but it was strictly forbidden in my mother's house. Even as my freshman year of high school approached, this did not bother me, my utter lack of fashion sense.

I remember very clearly the day that all changed. It was late July, and we were school shopping. How I loved school shopping! Not shopping for clothes necessarily, but school supplies definitely. I would pore over notebook, folder, and pen selection for what seemed like hours. I would go home, open my blank notebooks and just stare at the empty pages, intoxicated with the smell of clean paper and the promise of what knowledge could fill those pages. I would take my carefully selected pens and write with excruciating neatness my name and the name of the teacher assigned to that notebook. I remember that I color-coded my notebooks. English always had a purple cover (my favorite color for my favorite class), History had a red cover (for all the bloody wars, you know...), Science was green, Math was black (because it was a fate worse than death to have to take a math class), and any other disliked subject was assigned the color yellow. Yes, I really am that much of a nerd, because now, even at age thirty, that system makes sense to me.

While on one of these shopping excursions in the summer of 1992, I had an awakening of sorts. You see, I saw the cover of Seventeen magazine. Even now, I can still recall that cover. A girl with long, straight blonde hair running down the street, looking back and laughing at the camera. She was wearing a red plaid skirt with a matching jacket, and a black turtleneck underneath. What really caught my eye, though, were her legs. She was wearing combat boots and black tights on her mile-long legs. In my world, you wore skirts only to church, and then with flesh-colored pantyhose, and combat boots were for, well, combat. I was fascinated with this freak of nature, and I implored my mother to buy it for me. My mother reluctantly bought it for me, as if the act of her buying a fashion magazine would lead to my spiritual demise, or worse, hanging out with the so-called "in crowd". Now that I think about it, she probably thought they were linked.

As soon as I got home, I dove into the magazine. I would have read it in the car, but it was placed in the back with all the other school supplies. I wanted to know--who was this running girl on the cover? Where she going? Was she running to something or away from something? I was highly disappointed that there was no story about this girl, just several pages of her modeling back to school clothes. It was like the JCPenney or the Sears catalogue, because it actually taught me how to put clothes together. I got tired of being the girl who was either overdressed or underdressed for everything; of being the girl who was teased for wearing white shoes with a blue-and-cream colored skirt to church, or being called an ice cream cone for wearing tan pants with a pink turtleneck. Of having your first boyfriend ask why you would wear black shoes with khaki pants and a brown sweater.

I looked forward to every issue, and it never occurred to me to ask for a subscription. As I got older, my taste in Seventeen faded, and I moved on to what I thought was more mature fare. I was eighteen and a freshman in college when I bought my subscription to Cosmopolitan. I thought it was what women read, but I was quickly disappointed and canceled my subscription. I moved on to Glamour, but that disappointed me, as well, because there was nothing really glamourous inside. It felt like Cosmo with clothes.

My real love affair began when I picked up a copy of InStyle right after Richie and I started dating. It was thick and glossy, and it struck me as something like Fashion for Dummies, which was exactly what I needed, the way it was basically put together as a fashion workbook for different events. It even taught me the right way to blow-dry my hair. So in all, I kind of owe InStyle for helping me look like a put together person, not the spaz I really was on the inside. I still read InStyle to this day.

If InStyle is a how-to manual, then Vogue is a textbook. If you need a thorough fashion education, Vogue is your go-to magazine. Vogue is where I learned fashion terminology, fashion history, fashion economics. You know the old joke, "I read it for the articles"? Well, this is very true for Vogue. In Vogue, they don't just write about clothes, though there is no shortage of those types of articles. They don't interview celebutantes and flashes-in-the-pan. Their writers interview the people making the clothes; making the news as the wives of this country' s leaders; making news on their own by trying to make the world a better place.

I have a system for reading the magazines. Come on, you know I have a system. I have a system for everything, so you really shouldn't be surprised. InStyle and Vogue come at the same time, so I start with InStyle, because it's like a brain appetizer and dessert, whereas Vogue is the entree. I flip through InStyle, then Vogue, taking in all the ads and photography, dog-earing pages of looks that I like, just like the librarian told us not to do. I stay in Vogue, and read it cover to cover, from Anna Wintour's "Letter From The Editor", all the way to "Last Look", which showcases outrageously ostentatious and expensive things. After I've devoured Vogue, I take up InStyle again, and read it cover to cover. It's been said that I disappear and am oblivious to the world around me when the new issues arrive.

For the longest time, I had a difficult time throwing the magazines away. In 2001, I had back issues of InStyle from 1998. When I discovered that I was expecting Cathryn, that was what motivated me to clear the clutter. Now, I just save the pages that I like, and throw the magazine away when the new one comes in. I even have a bulletin board in my closet where I pin the pages.

So basically, I owe my entire life to the August 1992 issue of Seventeen. Because without it, who knows what I would have worn on my first date with Richie?

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