Ever since she watched the I.T. Crowd, a British television comedy about a three-person tech office plus one former company executive turned goth consigned to the basement of their corporate headquarters, my younger daughter has wanted a suit.
She has no idea what a business woman (or man) might actually do, but no matter. Her model was the I.T. Crowd’s Jen. This is not like watching The Wire and wanting to go into law enforcement or social work, or even deciding to become a lawyer after an episode of admiring nicely-clad Ally McBeal.
Here’s a clip of the episode where Moss and Roy give Jen the internet, to share when she accepts her Employee of the Month award.
As part of my daughter’s ongoing fascination with suits, she likes to accompany me to Ann Taylor, where she rounds up the kinds of clothes she thinks I should wear. And nods approvingly or says, in horror, “No, just, no. Mommy, no.”
After that she loves to be taken to Justice where she can inspect all manner of glittery, scented, spangly products aimed squarely into some receptor of the brain of 8-to- 12-year-old girls, but that are decidedly unbusinesslike.
What’s a girl to do?
Where would you buy a classic black, pencil-skirted suit and statement jewelry for a pre-teen?, my daughter and I mused. What if there were Ann Taylor Kids? Is there a market share for this?
My daughter’s taste in fashion is improving dramatically. Her enjoyment of clothes began early. As a toddler she favored dresses and could put on her own tights. In her early school years, she dressed entirely in one color or wore outfits that made me choke back or choke on the kinds of things mothers say that you vow never to say. Let them express themselves. Let the other mothers judge me based on what she is wearing. I’m okay with that.
My favorite item of clothing in 3rd grade was a bleach-spotted jeans jacket from Gee, the Kids Need Clothes on West 10th Street, a mecca of grooviness. Another favorite was a T-shirt onto which I’d had my mother iron a decal of a woman extending her leg from a bubble bath, which read “Keep America Beautiful.”
I was annoyed, when about 10 years ago my mother, making the guest room ready for the grandchildren, decided enough was enough with this item and stripped it from the teddy bear to whom I had passed it down. Her granddaughter would have worn that shirt happily and she could have enjoyed watching me explain that this shirt, as wonderful as it was, could not be worn to dinner at the nice restaurant.
On the other hand, at age 4, my daughter offered such a frank judgment on my faded J. Crew rollneck cotton sweater that I peeled it off and put it in the trash right then and there. And we were on holiday.
“Ew,” she said. “What is that? It’s hideous!”
And this from a person who thought, then, that a good outfit meant it was all blue.
This was not like her failure to grasp the brilliance of wearing a wrap dress over jeans (pockets and not having to worry about sudden gusts of wind), this was fresh eyes on an unflattering garment. It was shapeless and voluminous; the stuff of the three-way mirror on Trinny and Susannah, when you have to cry, realize how far off the mark you are and give yourself over to them.
Another conversation my daughter and I have had that morphed from a mishearing into a business idea is a video makeover game called Wii Are Beautiful. Like where you really, really work on your avatar.
The whole family enjoys deriding the utter big brother creepiness of OnStar. Ostensibly it is a rescue and recovery service, but it has so much more scope than that. Does the command center listen in on conversations even when their help is not required? Do they side with the sat nav and force you to take to the recommended route, or chime in on family arguments? While their target customer may feel soothed by these images of headsetted OnStar employees taking charge of the situation, I don’t: We’ve called the hospital, we’ve spoken with your doctor, we’ve stopped your car, we’ve locked the doors, we’ve reset all your radio stations (and turned the volume down), we’ve called your husband and told him you are at Ann Taylor, again.
For all that I moan about the endless driving required of one in most of America it seems that the one place where we have a sense of its limitlessness and potential for anonymity is hitting the open road. The little ant trails of recorded journeys on our car’s built in GPS says it ain’t so.
With all the fashion options and female role models available, Jen, aside from the fact that she believes in the Elders of the Internet, is not a bad choice. If I didn’t think it was so impractical, I would buy her a suit. For now, she will have to settle for separates.