Most Alaskan women have a special outfit my sister, whom I’ll forever refer to as “Sniggle frumps,” calls a “getup.” Getup refers to the fact that this uniquely last frontier outfit is (usually) donned when one gets up in the morning. Sniggie’s is quite typical: a pair of swanky yet comfortably ratty men’s longs with the rear end blown out, a nightie shirt that’s not only four sizes too big but could best be described as, “Have you been going through the yard sale reject bag again?” and a robe that does not have a tie or half of the left sleeve.
All the while she’s sporting her infamous sawed-off Extratufs, black-brown undereye semicircles from the previous day’s mascara a look she’s affectionately nicknamed “my raccoon eyes” and what she calls her “scary chicken hair.” Without going into gruesome detail, scary chicken hair is a cross between roster-tailed cowlicks and a nest of curls gone ferociously feral. The overall effect is daringly adventurous and avant-garde. She likes to tell the story of the time she drove “the Goom” to school while still in her getup and she ran out of gas.
My neighbor and one of my highly cherished best friendly girl chums, whom our entire family affectionately calls “Auntie Me-Me,” has her own noteworthy variation on the “getup.” Although Me-Me goes with the whole gender-borrowing oversized husband’s plaid quiltie look, she cuts across generational gaps (and her lawn) by coordinating her top wear with her son’s outgrown, threadbare jeans, a huge hair clip and a pair of neutral Ugs. While in some fashion circles this kind of jet-stalling trendiness is considered a fashion faux pas, Me-Me pulls this entire ensemble off with distinctly practical, yet casually elegant, European flair. She often wears her creations out into her yard long past morning. She’s been spotted this spring attacking those annoying dandelion sprouts with a screwdriver.
Mom’s style, bless her Jane Russell, cross-her-heart, 18-hour brassier, is beginning to get rather brassy as she approaches her golden years. Once a model for Fashion Wagon, Minnesota Woolens and a prestigious chewing gum commercial celebrity, Mom used to adhere to the tried and true elegant satin gown, classic bathrobe and girlie slippers look. However, since last winter’s cold snap, she’s experimented with several innovative interpretations of the layered look. According to Papa B. she is up every morning, dressed to the nines in 1) silk underwear; 2) snazzy lace tights; 3) a comely camisole; 4) festive yet frayed anklets; 5) cashmere knee-highs; 6) flatteringly striped wool socks; 7) a sizzlingly slouchy velour leopard-print jogging suit, worn both under and over the robe; 8) bunny boots that are so not Hugh Hefner; 9) and on occasion accessorizing with a chick, quilted down vest that’s lost most of its feathers and thus doubles as a boa.
A few of my adored and much-admired friends, whom for some reason don’t wish to dis-clothes their identity, have developed their own signature styles.
Ravishing flair and middle-class taste aside, more than a few of my “you go for it” longtime post-gold-rush girlfriends share the same vintage philosophy that goes something like, “I don’t care that ‘it’ was a Christmas gift given to me sometime around the era when shoulder pads, big hair and petticoats were all the rage, it’s comfortable, and as a matter of fact, yes, I’d wear the stuff they trash on ‘What Not to Wear.”
This season, a very dear and very expectantly ponderous pal is bringing large style to a new high-fashion altitude. Even while accomplishing her daily morning duties as wife and mother, she is dressed to kill in her camouflage Army fatigues (into which she’s cleverly inserted a flesh-colored belly panel). Paired with a charmingly folksy pastel maternity frock and casual flip-flop flats, this hot mama is sure to crash her shopping cart nicely into any civilian scene.
Then again there’s the lovely “whoopsie,” who, for reasons known only to her, wakes up and literally throws on whatever she can find when she hops out of bed. Honestly, I’m impressed with any woman who can confidently wear a dog hair blanket as a cape and/or poncho if it has a hole in it and pull it off with such spiffy vogueishness.
In an effort to get a guy’s point of view, I asked a happily married fellow what his wife wore when she got up in the morning. “She doesn’t actually get dressed,” he bragged. With a sheepish grin he added that she didn’t actually own any real lingerie either. “She goes to bed in her mom uniform (a pair of stretchy pants and a t-shirt). That way when she gets up, she’s already dressed. Perfect for sipping coffee and surfing the Net.”
“Our mom wears embarrassing stuff in the morning,” confessed two impressionable young ladies. They went on to say that their mom’s robe was so ragged that all the terry cloth fuzz was worn off. “Mom’s robe looks like a balding burlap bag and since she had her mastectomy she’s taken to leaving her “girls” on the piano.” They guessed this strategy works for their mom because the piano is by the door, if someone makes an impromptu visit, she can strap ’em on in a hurry. “Really, we wish she’d get a new robe,” the girls lamented.
I do have one obsessive-compulsive friend. Defying local fashion trends, “Tootsie” won’t be caught outside her front door while letting her perfectly prim pj’s hang out. Always well-heeled in a pair of Smurf blue slippers and matching cozy morning socks, my footwear-fetish friend confided, “I like my blue socks the best. I’m not into fru-fru colors.” Last week, however, she did experience a mild anxiety attack when she lost her socks and had no choice but to wear her pink socks that, in her opinion, clashed terribly. So much for the joy of sox.
Being a candidate for Geranimals for grown-ups, I must confess that I’ve a committed a multitude of glamour goofs. If my wardrobe could come out of the closet, it would make a statement that went something like, “Nordstrom’s, Sears, Penney’s, anyone, please edit me!” But this Alaska, darn it.
For those who do not truly understand the poshly debonair habits of these wild creatures known as Alaska girls and pioneer women, let me explain: It’s not like my girlfriends and I don’t enjoy perusing through the latest Victoria’s Secret catalogue, even running our credit cards up now and again for that oh-so-special little number. However, we know that anywhere three miles north of Fredericks in Hollywood, this stuff is way too skimpy to wear unaccompanied by warmer outer vestments. We know the effects of hypothermia, we know that true fashion only runs robe deep, and we understand it’s what we have on underneath it all that counts.
As Dorothy Parker liked to say, “Brevity is the soul of lingerie,” so I’ll wrap up my SpongeBob SquarePants boxers and my lovely pink embroidered Wonderbra with a favorite (embellished) quote from Mark Twain: “Clothes make the man, (or the woman!) naked people have little or no influence on society.”
Jacki Michels is a writer, wife, mother and owner of three Wonderbras.
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