Monday, July 14, 2008

The Glamour of a Uniform

We were already late to meet everyone for dinner but we needed a few last-minute props, so we drove to a Target in a weird mall that had been implanted onto the side of a mountain. There were four of us ladies and only two needed to be involved in choosing props, so we split up and I took a quick sweep of the clothing section. I've been stalking a cute dress I saw on two people. I'd asked and had been told it came from Target. I didn't see that one but I did grab a grey dress with a gathered neck and sleeves and a smocked waist. I liked the feminine details combined with the utilitarian color. And why not? It was twenty-two dollars.

I hustled up to the registers and saw Molly already on line.

"What did you find?" She asked.

I unfurled the gray dress and it was like a starting gun had gone off. Molly made a guttural sound of delight that attracted the attention of the others.

"I need that."

"Get it, Molly, get it, get it!" Denise shrieked from ten yards away.

"Go get it for me," Molly yelled back at her. "You get one too! We all need one!"

Denise took off running and Sarah called after her, "But what about me?"

"Do we have time for this?" What had I started? After a couple laps back and forth, we had four matching gray dresses (plus a spare in green) and a gleeful plan for us all to wear them to the last day of the shoot.

"They're somewhat Shaker...esque," Sarah offered. We'd been shooting at a Shaker village.

"I think they're more Urban Milkmaid," I decided. The ladies concurred. We all liked the idea of dressing alike, but I couldn't commit to the pact; not until I had tried the dress on. Tiny Denise had tried hers on right in the middle of the aisle over her current outfit and it looked great, but the rest of us have curves. I suspected it would flatter my two more hourglass friends more than it would me.

After dinner with the crew at a wine bar, Molly and I decided to make it an early night. We got a bit lost on the way back to the Ramada and by the time I got to my room, I felt half asleep. I had little hope for the dress used the last of my energy to try it on. Then I looked in the mirror.

I grabbed my key card, scampered down the hall barefoot with tags hanging off me, and knocked on Molly's door. She opened it immediately and stood there in her own gray dress and smile.

"I love it!" We squealed at each other and then went to twirl in the mirror.

All four of us showed up in the dress the next morning and we agreed it looked great on everyone. While no one could possibly have match the frantic level of enthusiasm we reached in Target, it did make the rest of the crew giggle, and our photographer surprised us with a set of matching Shaker straw hats. Mine will definitely be my new beach hat.

Later in the day, as we were all packing up tables of props, Molly said she found it very soothing to the eye to look over and see all of us in the same outfit. We agreed there was a girly thrill in dressing as a team. Costume parties aside, the last time I can remember being dressed alike with a group of friends was fifteen years ago, when I was a waitress at a 1950s-themed restaurant called Blueberry Hill. We wore purple cheerleader uniforms to work. Also we did dances to fifties songs while we waited tables, but I digress. I met two of my very dearest friends at that job, and whenever I spend time with them, I still picture us in those goofy getups. And it was so easy to get dressed.

Tim Gunn has something to say on this matter in his book, A Guide to quality, Taste and Style:

"I'm not advocating wearing the same thing in the same color day after day, but most of us are comfortable in a uniform. By 'uniform,' I don't mean a Stepford Wife blueprint of exacting sameness. I mean a cache of categories of separates that can successfully interact. My mother is constantly asking me how it can be that I wear so much black, adding, 'And how many black turtlenecks must you own?'"

But some would vehemently disagree with this strategy:

"The uniform is worn as part of a group statement. It serves to announce your sameness, not your distinctiveness, and thus it is a sabateur of style."
-- Quentin Crisp and Donald Carroll, Doing it With Style (1981)