Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dressing Up in Boston

Arggh. I just remembered that we are going to a "business awards gala dinner" tonight, sponsored by  the local branch of a European chamber of commerce. Two hours of cocktails (not for me, thanks) followed by two hours of a rich dinner (salad and bread for me). The only person I'll know is my husband; he'll know two or three others out of hundreds. This is surely a major networking event, which means I need a serviceable response to, "And what do you do?" Since I don't do much of anything these days, I need a creative answer. I shouldn't resort to wisecracking, as I am often tempted: "I just got out of prison so I'm still getting settled" or "I'm home-schooling our cats."

I suppose I can tell people I'm a writer. Or is that stretching it too far?

If I manage to behave myself, I should be okay. The way I "network" is to pepper whoever I'm talking to with so many long-answer questions that they can't pepper me back. Seem fascinated by everything someone says and they'll eventually wander off thinking you're brilliant. (It works best with men. But like all forms of combat, it's exhausting; there'd better be Diet Coke.)

The other problem, of course, is that I have to dress appropriately. This requires not only having the necessary items in my possession, but also the detective skills to determine what they should be.  There is no dress code on the invitation so I am left to my own devices. No way am I going shopping. As Henry Thoreau reminded me again after he was done playing with my iPhone the other day at Walden Pond: "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes" — a Boston motto if ever there was one, which we interpret as: "Don't shy away from new experiences but always be the person you are, looking as you do." (Henry wore a tie and a flower in his lapel, but apparently didn't deal with his hair.)

When I see the word "gala," I automatically envision black tie and formal dresses. I think of the Met Gala, where stars wear extravagant gowns, starlets and models wear sparkling micro-minis, and Tom Brady greases his hair into a quasi-Mohawk. Gowns? Oh, god. Surely not.

But Mr. Brady has provided a clue — or so my detective instincts tell me. It's obvious to me that he's Bostonian by default now, despite the relatively brief time he lives here. Hair-wise, at least, he's making "Boston" choices despite a California mansion, a Manhattan apartment, and a supermodel wife. In the past couple of years he's gone from long and shaggy to boring to emulating a tufted titmouse. Those are Boston choices. We tend to be casual, if not actually schlumpy. We tend to make lazy, odd, or dull choices, and we'll dress down more often than we'll dress up for occasions.

It seems that even fashionable Europeans working in Boston for a while do not look quite like they do at home. Their style is affected by contact with our atmosphere. Not everyone at this gala will be foreign, of course: there will be many locals, so I'll bet there will be someone in chinos and someone without a tie.

I deduce that it would be a big mistake to dress up very much for this affair.

[Aside: These days, Possum likes to sit on the sofa arm, not far behind my chair, to tap me on the back with his needle-like claws. He's trained me to turn my full attention to him for conversation and petting. Since the poor fellow "erupted" from both ends unexpectedly this morning, he's getting extra cosseting, if that's possible. And here he goes (ouch!), so please excuse me....]

My detective skills tell me that, since this is a business gala, almost everyone will wear office clothes, dismissing the "gala" aspect as too much trouble. I predict that every man and most women won't bother to change after work. A black suit with some rumpling and a top that's dressier than a T-shirt will likely be the women's uniform, although some youngster will wear a strapless or sparkly prom dress — because she read "gala"and the tickets cost a fortune (ours are free), because young women love to dress up, and because making fashion mistakes is also a Boston thing.

As for me, I am now complacent about dressing for tonight. Silly me to worry. This Bostonian can handle it. In my closet is a demure black dress. I have elegant heels as well as relatively chic flip flops, which I can wear to traipse downtown and then hide in my black Longchamp tote. (It won't be the only Longchamp at this gala.)

This is how we do things here; no need to fuss. How nice! And there will be the amusement of spotting that prom dress.

Update: My husband has decided that he only needs to go to the gala for a few minutes to talk business with a colleague, so I am off the hook if I want to be. I think I'll go with him and leave before the dinner, just to see if my sartorial conclusions are correct. I always get melancholy for Possum at these affairs.


  1. Christine Nuwayser D.May 31, 2012 at 4:44 PM

    As someone somewhere once said, "A writer is someone who writes." Qualified, you? Definitely. But the cat homeschooling answer works, too.


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