Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Nice Camel Sweater
When you grow up under a very tight reign, acts of rebellion are small and narrowly focused. For me, it manifested in the rejection of all things light brown. On my yearly preschool clothes shopping trips, I would invariably be steered towards clothing that would be in the light brown family - beige, tan, camel, etc.*
I suspect that the palette was being pushed at me because it spoke calmness, safety, moderation, or neutrality. But I didn't want to be calm or neutral. I didn't want to be in a blue-color factory town. I didn't want to be in the suburbs. I wanted to be in the big city. Bright neon lights and bold colors.
So in time, I grew to hate the family of light brown - it symbolized parental authority and all things boring. As if they were not only neutral enough, the color names were invariably prefaced with the very unnecessary "nice." So "recommendations" always took the form of "why don't you get that in a "nice camel" color."
I hated sweaters, too. I felt confined, uncomfortable, and restricted in them, just as I did in my hometown. However, a sweater is a sensible article of clothing and, like the beige family of colors, is another element in the wardrobe of the moderate. So, the sweater became another irritant in my life, something forever being sold to me by family and clothing salesmen. Put all the elements together, and the worst offense imaginable was a family member promoting something like a "nice, camel sweater." You know what not to buy me as a gift.
Recently, while eating dinner with a friend at the Olive Tree Cafe, I spotted a group of women awash in the color of my youth - every variant of beige, tan, cream, light brown, and camel was represented, even in their hair.
My dining companion that night is an NYU student and team member working on this blog. Inexperienced in the ways and means of the city, she respects the wisdom I have gleaned and trusts my insights based on nearly a half century of observation and study of the peoples of New York. So she listened intently as I began to dissect and analyze this group of women for her and explain how it was obvious that these women were clearly from the suburbs.
Not only were they wearing every shade of light brown known to humankind, their entire demeanor cried out-of-towners - they were so gentle and benign-looking, with no edge anywhere to be found. I pointed out how one woman wore her bag slung around her neck while eating - the classic fearful tourist. I explained how one of the key elements in identifying visitors is that everything they wear, from footwear to headwear, is about COMFORT, often at the expense of style. And look - one was even sporting a nice, camel-colored sweater.
Before we left, I wanted to corroborate my theory. In as polite a way as possible, I would tell them that I was a curious New York blogger and ask them where they were from. I would then return to my dining companion with evidence of my superior skills in observation.
They were quite approachable and friendly, as visitors often are. I introduced myself and gave them my card. "Why are you here?" I asked. "To celebrate a birthday," they answered. "Where are you from? "We're native New Yorkers. Upper West Side, Manhattan." I knew it. What gave it away was that Nice Camel Sweater. :)
*Note: To make matters worse, I love blue, however, when I was in high school, jeans were not allowed.