Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Right to Bare Arms

It seems to me that the older I get, the less adaptable I have become to what is

deemed fashionable. With increasing age, not to mention lack of exercise and

any sign of metabolism, I have lost that thing called 'tone'. Replacing it is
superfluous poundage and the tendency to 'hang loose' in potentially
conspicuous places, so there is a reluctance to rejoice in the recent reemergence
of the upper arms as a fashion focal point thanks to Michelle Obama
and all the female hosts on MSNBC.

It was not always thus.

As I insinuate my voluptuous body into my Definitely Not My Daughter’s Jeans,
and search, in vain, for anything in an elbow length, I pine for the good old days,
when I took my tiny torso and shapely upper arms for granted and thoughtlessly
hid them away under shirtsleeves, shoulder pads and crinolines.
As children, my sister and I were often dressed alike, (see above and please
ignore the footwear). In summer, we were often dolled up in white pinafores with
bows perched, like butterflies, upon our bare shoulders. We were only 14
months and an inch apart with platinum blonde curls and adorable dimples (well,
she had the dimple, right in the middle of her chin, like Kirk Douglas….and my
father…now that I think of it). We were, naturally, mistaken for twins. In
matching plaid skirts or identical mauve chiffon flower girl gowns with puffed
sleeves painstakingly trimmed by my mother in ribbons and lace, you could 'eat
us up', as the saying went. We even got ‘hired out’ to march at the weddings of
total strangers, we were so adorable.

Way back when I was an adolescent schoolgirl, the height of style was the cotton shirtwaist
dress, with its full, gathered skirt, tightly belted waistline, perky collar and
masculine shirtsleeves. Arm coverings, buttoned at the wrist or casually rolled up
past the elbows and fastened in place with a tab, were an integral part of the
overall 'shirt' effect. I started out in the morning, all 100 pounds of me, crisp and
starched, with both my crinoline and hair, fluffed and teased, ready to take on the
world. By the end of the un-air-conditioned school day, my gingham was as
droopy as my curls, but I was secure in the knowledge that although my elbows
and wrists may have been exposed for all to see, my square shoulders and damp
armpits had remained a mystery.

Later on, the mini-skirt appeared on this side of the ocean, and in the late 60’s
attention, formerly focused on the torso, migrated to the thighs. I was just the
right age to take advantage of its risqué appeal. The original mini, of which I
possessed several versions bought right on King’s Road in Chelsea on my
London honeymoon, had none of the seductive, body-clinging tendencies of
today’s ‘bandage’ version. My authentic Mary Quant mini dresses fell
perpendicularly from the underarms to the crotch in what would come to be
called an “A-Line”, reminiscent of body-concealing maternity toppers. (My sister
wore these duds into her 9th month and no one was the wiser). My chubby thighs
may have been exposed for all to admire, but my slim, shapely 110- pound torso
disappeared under yards of boldly patterned, flouncy fabric.

Occasionally, in those daring days, there was an acknowledgement of the body
beneath the garment, particularly after the designer, Rudi Gernreich, exposed the
top half of the female form in a scandalous series of “monokinis”, (although to be
strictly accurate, there was always a pair of suspender-like straps, purely
decorative, on either side of the actual focus of attention). I was not a total slave
to fashion, so I did not supplement my own wardrobe with a monokini. To
everyone’s relief!

In my mid- 20’s, I succumbed to a brief fashion flirtation with transparency.
Barbra Streisand, a personal idol of my bevy, made an instant impression when
her tush ‘peek-a-booed’ at the Oscars and I took up the challenge. I wore a
strange, but lovely, pale grey unlined chiffon blouse with two transparent breast
pockets to a friend’s wedding, where I attracted as much attention as the bride.

All of it unwanted.

In my still-slim 30’s, or the planet’s 80’s, power dressing, began in a very big
way. This was typified by the shift towards humungous artificial shoulder
enhancements in everything from parkas to pajamas. Not since the good old
days in the 18C, when women strapped panniers around their waists, was the
female form so horizontally exaggerated. Plump, foamy pillows were ‘velcro-ed’
beneath the shoulders of every garment, so that women instantly achieved the
appearance of linebackers. Breasts and arms disappeared behind the curtains
of superfluous material created by this ‘broadening of the broads’, so to speak.

Men went into mourning.

It became necessary to re-proportion the major body part hovering over it all, so
upon the head, long, wavy pre-Raphaelite manes of expensively ‘permed’ hair
were devised to cascade down over the epaulettes. This necessitated a constant
head tossing if you wanted to see where you were going. There followed,
logically, the invention of the ‘scrunchie’, an elasticized hair accessory which
could capably encircle this mane and pull it back from the face when feeding.
Family pictures of me from this era show a tiny face peeking out from behind
massive curls perched atop a wide, shelf-like tee shirt or sweater. Sadly, no
visible signs of the still somewhat svelte 118-pound body, beneath the oversized

Yes, that was when I had straight shoulders and slender, shapely upper arms, all
god-given without the slightest effort of rigorous exercise or magic potions, to
enhance their loveliness. I had a perpendicular spinal column (with no little hump
where it meets the neck), and a tummy so concave that my pelvic bones
protruded more my breasts.

But you’d never know it if you had seen me clothed, which is, of course, how
you would have seen me.

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