Filtering by Category: Fashion

Notes from the Wardrobe: My Mother, My Closet


One of the interesting things about working on a show that seems at first glance to be a collection of scenes and monologues is that when you look closely enough you find that there is, in the best of them, always a structure. This is absolutely the case with Love, Loss & What I Wore. As I have dissected the script I have discovered that the stories are divided into sections based on subjects. The first section is all about mothers and daughters. This makes sense to me.

Mothers and daughters and clothes are often the first battles in our war for independence. Deciding what we want to wear and how we want to look are the first steps we take away from our parents and into ourselves. It can be an acceptance of the roles and expectations laid out for us or it can be a rejection of them. These battles run deeper than fabric. They have everything to do with how we see ourselves, how we want to be seen, and our deep desire to claim a place for ourselves in the world.

When I think of my own mother and clothes the words that come to mind are impeccable and conservative. My mother loved beautiful clothes, something she definitely passed along to me. She loved nothing more than a beautifully cut suit, with a skirt not too short and a heel not too high. She never left the house without her lipstick on and perfectly placed accessories.

In her gentle way she encouraged her daughters to emulate her. Cheap fabrics, clothes from tacky teen stores, and anything too short, tight or garish was absolutely discouraged. Appropriate was the word when it came to clothes. You didn’t wear pants to church or a job interview and you never ever bragged about wearing a new outfit. Naked attention seeking was tacky and embarrassing. And always, always make sure your hair has some height to it. Having me for a daughter meant that there were more than a few skirmishes over clothes. From the three piece pantsuit she made me wear when I was five to the stiletto heeled sandals I insisted I wear to my sixth grade graduation (I won that one, thank you very much).

It’s taken me a long time to understand that my mother’s feelings about clothes, her desire for conformity and appropriateness were about a lot more than mere appearance. My mother grew up dirt poor in Mississippi. The kid of poor where you go to bed hungry and wake up even hungrier. Where you live in a place with walls so thin that the wind blows right through them, and you hate it, but you realize that you’re lucky to have even that. On top of that she was born with Marfan’s Syndrome, a congenital birth defect. One of the main hallmarks of Marfan’s is elongated fingers and toes and a tall extremely lanky frame. (For reference both Abraham Lincoln and Jonathan Larson had Marfan’s.

Dire poverty and a disease so rare that most doctors can go an entire career without seeing a case of it made my mother a marked woman. She was treated as an oddity by doctors who would bring their colleagues around to examine her without a thought of asking her permission. Her peers mocked her and called her Olive Oyl. It was not a happy childhood.

For my mother to marry, have a house in the suburbs and a closet with lovely clothes was a triumph. Clothing was her armor. To conform, to be “properly” dressed was security. It meant that no one could make fun of her. It meant that she would be see as something other than an illness. If she did’t stand out in any way she would be safe. She didn’t want her daughters to suffer the way she had and so she tried to pass on these things to them.

What makes me sad is that it took me so long to understand this. In many ways my mother would be absolutely shocked by a lot of what I wear. I worry much less about attracting attention to myself and more about what pleases me on any given day. And as for my flat hair...well, the less said about that the better. But because of things she sacrificed for me I get to indulge in the privilege of being a non-conformist. And it is a privilege.

She also left me with valuable lessons. Appropriateness to the occasion is just good manners. LIfe is too short too wear bad fabric. Always look your best when leaving the house, it will make you feel better. And never underestimate the value of a well cut suit.  In these things I think she’d be proud.


Bailey’s Rules of Life, Love & Style #1


Rule #1: Just because it comes in your size doesn’t mean you should wear it.


Someone once said to me that I could never be president because my name (and by extension the rest of me) was too girly. Up until that moment I had never considered a political career, and had a moment of wanting one for pure spite. As we have seen this is never a good idea. But that comment stayed with me for a very long time until I realized that it was absolute bunk. There was nothing wrong with me then and there is certainly nothing wrong with me now. I am a “girly girl” though I hate that term as it always feels like a veiled insult. I love clothes and the freedom of expression they give me. I enjoy the transformative aspect of fashion, I can be who I want to when I want to be depending on my mood. This does not mean I am not a serious person, or that I judge others based on their appearance. This is just who I have been from my earliest memories of fighting my mother on what I wanted to wear.

 Over the years I’ve developed my own style code. As I’ve taught classes to performers about public image, and helped nonperformers define their own style I’ve gradually developed a set of rules that I like to call Bailey’s Rules of Life, Love & Style. Personal style should be just that, personal. Unique to you and your life. While it’s always important to be aprorpriate to the occaision, it’s just as important to be true to your personal style code.  Clothing is meant to compliment who we are not hide it. With that I bring you rule number one...

Just because it comes in your size doesn’t mean you should wear it.

Fit can mean a lot of things. There’s physical fit. Is it too big? Is it too small? Do the proportions work on my body? Is it flattering? This is important but there are other almost more important meanings to the term fit...

*Does this fit my idea of who I am and who I want to be? Clothing is powerful because it tells people something about you without saying a word. What do you want to say with your outfit? What do you want people to know about you? Does the garment in question say that? 

*Does this fit the way I feel? How do you feel when you put on a particular article of clothing? Does it make you feel good? Does it give you confidence? Does it feel like “you”? Our clothes have an emotional effect on us for both good and ill. Life’s too short to wear clothes that make you feel bad.

 *Does this fit my life? Am I buying this item because it truly makes me feel great and confident in my own skin?  Or am I buying it because it’s “on trend”? On sale? Someone else told me I should? If the answer to any but the first of these questions is yes, set the garment free to go to a new home. There’s nothing wrong with trends or sales or asking someone else’s opinion, but when those factors override your sense of self confidence that’s a problem.

 *Does it fit the occasion? Here’s the thing, clothing is certainly about expressing oneself, but it is also a sign of respect. If your basic style is casual and you’re invited to a black tie event, it’s not okay to show up in your jeans and shrug and say “that’s just who I am”. It’s rude. But that doesn’t mean you have to show up in an overly embellished gown and torture chamber shoes. Find something with a simple cut, a fabric like silk jersey that is comfortable yet elegant, and add a pretty pair of flats. It sometimes takes creativity but you can translate your personal style code into any event.

 The bottom line is that a garment that fits on all levels will make you feel great! If it doesn’t you don’t need it. If it makes you want to run for president, even better!

Dance Diary: Coco, I Don’t Think We’re in Armani Anymore


Feathers & spangles & ruffles! Oh, my! 

I hoped it would never come to this. I swore I would never do it. I believe my exact words on the subject were “if I ever even say I’m thinking about doing this slap me”. And I am agreeing to take part in my first major dance competition.  And with that comes the need for a costume.


As someone who has spent a good part of her life refining her personal style entering the arena of ballroom wear is, as one of my Romanian instructors says, “a little bit challenge”. I love rhinestones and sequins and all sorts of embellishments, but I tend to draw the line at eye searing neons and animal prints in shades that any leopard will tell you do not occur in nature. And then there are the cutouts...I could be wrong, but I highly doubt any judge wants to see the scar from my gallbladder surgery. But I also had a broadway costume designer mentor who once told me that the difference between the professionals and the amateurs he worked with was that the professionals were always willing to try anything that the designer threw at them. So when it came time to go to the professionals and chose a dress my rule was “no matter what say yes” (which is also the first rule of improv, but that’s for another day).


Fortunately for me, I found a great crew of experts at Encore Ballroom Couture. It didn’t hurt at all that I came equipped with my own crew of my sister, Evie, and two great nieces, Epuri & Coco (ages ten & eight) for second and third opinions.  Entering the showroom was like landing on planet sparkle. Every where you looked there were beads and sequins and fringe and lace and color. Heaven for the little girls in my entourage and not too bad for their auntie either. It was sort of like being on Say Yes to the Dress Ballroom Edition (hmmm....I might actually watch that show....Cable execs if you’re listening...)


So with the goal of saying yes to whatever they presented me to try on out came the dresses. The first thing you need to know about trying on dance costumes is that the way they appear on the hanger often bears no relation to the way they will look on a human. This was apparent pretty quickly from the very first dress. On the hanger it appeared as a pile of gold and copper stones with a skirt made of varying shades of old panty hose. But once I put it on the stones sparkled in the light and brought out my skin tone, and the chiffon skirt moved like a dream.  


Also, when your entrourage includes an eight and a ten year old there wil be some difference of opinion in what constitutes an appropriate dress. The yellow fishnet dress that was held together by spangles, feathers and a strategically placed flower or two had me breaking into the chorus of “Copacabana”, but for the under twelve set it was just right. Don’t get me wrong, it was the sort of dress that would look gorgeous on a woman with much darker skin and better developed stomach muscles than I, but it was not my dress. Their second choice of a daisy printed dress with a maribou hemline made me look like an extra on the Dukes of Hazzard but on a sunny busty blonde it would be absolutely smashing. 

In the end I figured out that much of what I already knew about dressing in the real world and dressing for the ballroom was not all that different. Jewel tones sing on me and neons and pastels not so much (the less said about the lavender dress that Evie said make me look like a fairy the better). Fringe is my embellishment of choice. The cut and fit of a garment  are my best friends.And always, always listen to the experts when they make suggestions. I’m thrilled with the dress I chose, but I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until March to see it. 


This one came close....