Fashion is a foreign language to me. I don’t look dreadful; I look unintentional. This fact became crystal clear to me one night when I was in college. I was living in a townhouse apartment; our one telephone was in the kitchen. When the phone rang one night at 2 am, I streaked down the stairs to answer it. A husky voice answered my hello with, “What are you wearing?” It took me a second to look down, and answer in surprise, “Nothing!” That I had to think about what I might have on before I could answer my crank caller wasn’t that unusual for me, really.
There was a time, later, when I paid more attention. In that other life as a magazine editor I was crushed by a New York fashion snob snub I read once: “The women I saw on the street in Portland looked like hash: nothing but Gortex and fleece and ugly shoes.”
Well. At least I shopped at Nordstrom’s in those editor days, and made a passable effort at accessorizing. Matching earrings in both ears: triumph.
Six years into this chef turn, I read the Sunday Times Style Section with increasing amusement, and my favorite column is the occasional, “What I Wore” in which some junior publishing exec with a big checkbook and a small figure chronicles her week’s wardrobe changes. And changes and changes. I haven’t seen people change clothes so often since I was dressing a peeing, pooping, puking four- month-old.
I thought the Times might like to know what I was wearing. So I sent them this. Never heard back.
Tuesday: First day of my work week, and boy am I happy for the pile of five clean, black Nora’s Table t-shirts, one for every day of the week. Since I’m really careful about wearing a black bib apron all day long now, (I resisted for some time, preferring au natural) the constant duck fat grease splatters are fading, and what’s left, the apron covers up. Hate the confines of the too-big aprons, though, the way they’re designed for men. The top of the bib hits me mid-boob, and is constantly twisting one way or the other. When will the restaurant linen industry read that statistic about how 50% of all restaurants are owned by women, and start making the bibs with shorter neck straps?
Wednesday: Yesterday’s restaurant pants are still clean enough for another day. Where’s that clean sports bra, though? Yesterday’s smells like chicken soup. Pants probably do too, but they’re far enough away from my nose that I don’t notice it.
Thursday: Clean dark green cargos are just the thing today, when I have several meetings and need my cell phone, some tip cash, a pen and a small notebook as I dash from the kitchen over to Dog River Coffee.
Friday: Ugh! My Keen kitchen shoes have been splattered with chili sauce and what looks like carrot puree. Better hit those with a sanitizer rag after I get to work. Hopefully, the accountant won’t look down at my feet when I stop by her office on the way in.
Saturday: After last night’s crazy packed house, my feet hurt and this stupid apron feels like a boat anchor. Glad for that pair of black checked kitchen pants with the pull on waist band. Super comfortable for the week’s last night on the line.
Sunday: Can’t leave the couch for at least three hours, that’s the rule. And what better outfit for reading about style in New York than a worn pair of blue sweats with elastic ankles, circa 1999, a big lavender fleece I bought on sale, on-line, probably because no one else wanted a large lavender fleece that makes you look like the Pillsbury Dough Boy on a ski vacation.
Sunday night, we’re invited to a house concert, and later, to dinner at friends’. I pull my wedding ring out of the jewelry box where it stays all week so I can keep it out of the fish, sanitizer and dish pit. Time for a cute khaki, gold, brown and magenta skirt I bought 18 years ago (no lie) from J. Crew, white cotton t, dark green hand-knit sweater, brown leggings, and brown boots. Take that, Miss Junior Publishing person. I even accessorized. And no fleece in sight.
A strange thing does happen, though, when you are pretty much wearing the same thing, day in and day out. What you are wearing becomes far less important than what you are doing while wearing it. I stopped wearing makeup a number of years ago, not because my face was improving with age, but because it irritated me to spend so much time getting myself READY to do something. I just wanted to do it, straight away. This, incidentally, is why I never understood the attraction to pornography.
It is still possible for me to shower, wash my hair, dry my hair, and be dressed in 15 minutes. And I feel scrubbed and clean and refreshed and … altogether myself. I think this attitude is what I bring to my food, too. It’s not dressed to kill, but empty below the garnish. It’s clean and real and true to the music, through and through, and flavorful to the bone.