I've always enjoyed the security a good suit brings. A well-fitted jacket allows me to enter a room brain first, body second -- an asset, I thought, when I was looking for my first job.
My mother, a former model (and a dame if there ever was one), never bought that. "Show a little skin, will you?" she begged every time we went shopping and I plucked a tailored suit jacket from the rack. "Look where skin got your Aunt Betty."
Where it got my aunt was the top: Miss Brooklyn 1939. In her official photo, Aunt Betty stood a proud 5-7 with luscious curves, long red curls, sash, tiara and high heels. She had, as my Uncle Phil still says, "great gams." But I didn't want to win a beauty pageant; I just wanted a good job.
So there we were, back in 1986, in the dressing room of Loehmann's in Paramus, N.J. My mother sat on one of the long, hard benches that grace the no-frills dressing room. I tried on a black Anne Klein suit. My mother bit her lip as I turned my hopeful eyes toward her. "It's nice," she said, offering the blandest word possible. Words like "fine," "perfectly presentable" and "neat" fell from her lips with each jacket I tried on. Then she suddenly bolted to the door and said she'd be back in a minute.
My mother reentered the dressing room, her arms full of clothes, looking triumphant, as if she'd just bagged a rare tiger. Which, really, she had. She unwrapped the most remarkable two-piece jungle print sarong, shoved it at me and said, "Here, try this!"
I fingered the sarong and wondered just how I came to be her daughter. She saw the disbelief in my eyes. "Not for your job interview," she laughed. "Just to see you wear something fun." Then she threw down the gauntlet: "I dare you." I accepted her challenge and tried on the sarong. I looked ridiculous. "You must have confidence," she said to me in her best "I'm your mother, I know best" voice. "Watch."
And I did. She put on the sarong, her long manicured nails tucking in the final piece of cloth. At 55, she still had it; she actually looked sexy. She threw her head back and said, in her husky smoker's voice, "See?"
I did see. I saw that the dame in her could make any shmatte look good. But I didn't have her confidence. I still don't, and 15 years later, I still wear the same kind of clothes I wore then.
We met recently for dinner. She was wearing a red leather cutout jacket, the top of her cleavage peeping through. I was wearing my usual. She reached across the table, touched my face tenderly and said, "You're 40. What are you waiting for? Show a little skin."