The first sign that my wife was feeling a little pressure was the email I got from zappos.com. For those of you who have been living on the Nikumaroro atoll in the Pacific Ocean where Amelia Earhart may have ditched her plane in 1937, Zappos is an online clothing company, but it is best known for shoes – and its policy of paying for customer shipping on returns. This means that a person can order 17 pairs of shoes online, keep the one pair that she likes, and send the rest back at no charge.
The email I got from zappos was an order confirmation. In all fairness, my wife did not order 17 pairs of shoes. She ordered six. Yup, six pairs of dress heels with bows and buckles and colors such as “ascot macau.” I’m a writer, and I couldn’t begin to tell you what color “ascot macau” resembles.
Why was my wife ordering six pairs of dress shoes when we live in a Vermont village where “dress shoes” mean “mud boots?” Because her mother turns eighty next month and is throwing herself a swanky birthday bash in Manhattan – and so my wife needs to represent. She has three sisters, and they live in Paris, Manhattan, and just outside of Boston. And those women know shoes. The last thing my wife wants is to reinforce her sisters’ stereotype that a Vermonter’s idea of heels are Birkenstocks.
It is also worth noting that my wife had to find a new dress to go with those shoes. My daughter and I went with her earlier this month when she went shopping, because she finds it extremely traumatic to take her clothes off in department stores, which – in her opinion – have conspiratorially demeaning mirrors. To quote her: “They get their mirrors from funhouses. I am not kidding.” She also tends to go shopping in blue jeans, which means she’s likely to be wearing knee socks. To quote her again: “No fancy dress looks good with knee socks. But do you really want to be barefoot in the changing room?”
I have put a lot of thought into the shoes I will wear to my mother-in-law’s party, too. I will not wear the orange high-top Converse sneakers my wife got me for Christmas, as much as I would like to. Instead I will wear the black Oxfords I bought at the Macy’s in the Burlington Town Center Mall in 2008.
Guys really do have it easy. For my mother-in-law’s big birthday bash, I will wear those three-year-old shoes, one of the three neckties I own, and a Michael Kehoe blazer I bought – again – in 2008. Just for the record, I have purchased that identical blazer three times going back to 2002.
Of course, I also don’t have fashion conscious siblings to increase the pressure. I have a brother who – if this is possible – dresses even more casually than I do. He is absolutely brilliant when it comes to low-maintenance clothes and hair. To wit, to stave off baldness as long as possible, I see my pal Don O’Connell at Burlington’s O’M Salon every five or six weeks so he can work whatever magic he can on the few hairs that cling to my scalp like survivors from a cranial shipwreck. My brother takes the opposite tact: He runs an electric razor over his scalp every Saturday morning and recreates that fabulous fifties ultimate buzz cut. He looks like Beaver Cleaver’s five-year-old friends from the eyebrows north.
Now, my wife did find a spectacular dress and some pretty hot shoes. (Jets football coach Rex Ryan would approve.) I am confident that she will be the best dressed of the four sisters. Moreover, she is all set for Kate Middleton’s and Prince William’s wedding this coming April, assuming we’re invited. No guarantees, but you never know.
And for that royal shindig in England? Trust me, I will be styling in my new orange sneakers.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on January 16, 2011.)