Help, I’ve fallen into a perimenopausal panther print dress and I can’t get up

Last month my closet expanded to include a dress marked with thicker-lined, dotted rosette detailing…detailing which leads me to believe I’m now the rather befuddled owner of a patchwork jaguar print dress.

I’d put money on the jaguar (panther onca) classification being accurate, but since I actually PAID for the dress I’m cutting my losses by using the generic tiger/jaguar/leopard/lion “panthera” label with abandon.

Besides: whichever big cat interpretation I’m sporting, the purchase is still mystifying. One minute I was returning a rather staid work top, the next I was walking out with an alterations chit for a married-to-the-HollyHobbie-Mob extravaganza.

I'm not really sure what to say about my love for this dress

In my defense, there’s so much going on with this dress I didn’t notice the animal print until I picked it up from alterations. Originally I just put it on and thought “Ooooh, flattering colors for me! tulip skirt for faking an hourglass shape! structured but soft fabric! great for travel!”

Oh sure: YOU wouldn't miss large patches of animal print on YOUR caboose etc

That’s not much of a defense, I know. New plead: I subconsciously needed a jaguar totem!

Jaguars live in caves and canyons close to fresh water. In mythology caves are linked with retreat and isolation, a place to go to aid soul work. Water is linked with the emotional body of humans. When the jaguar bounds into your reality it is asking you to go within, to release your fears, to heal your emotions and to awaken your inner sight. When you come out of retreat the jaguar will be there awaiting you. If you choose to follow his lead, he will guide you into the underworld where the secrets of life and creation are to be found.”

Hmmmm. My creative zest has been a bit MIA lately, but overall the last 6 weeks have included a lot of blue-sky-filled outdoor time, tasty Northwestern produce, socializing, and laughs.There’s even a much-needed, water-centric vacation finally on the books.

Shouldn’t that be enough to satisfy my inner jaguar? Why, even without the physical manifestation of its coat I’m practically all-onca’d up!

Jaguar: Endangered. Me: Knock wood, not endangered—though is anything in life certain?

Jaguar: Muscular build. Compact body with stockier legs than the lithe leopard. Stocky head as well, with a larger-looking jaw and an overall more square appearance to the face than the leopard. Very powerful jaws and sharp teeth. Me: Aside from leopard-y arms, ditto. Feral teeth + overdeveloped jaw muscles = unhappy dentist but major advantage if stranded on a desert island.

Jaguar: Unlike most big cats, loves the water. Swims, bathes, and plays in streams and pools. Me: Swimming is the only physical activity for which I have a natural affinity!

Jaguar: Solitary and territorial. Me: Often desire to lock myself in a closet for alone time. Liable to mark territory with aqua walls.

Jaguar: Excellent night vision. Me: Terrible vision in general.

How aligned are we? So aligned that I don’t even know how the average person could tell us apart at first glance:

Who's scarier? A jungle jaguar (panther onca)...or me, in a self-belted panther patchwork design

As the dress has a non-removable self-belt, it’s obvious a VERY powerful force compelled my short-waisted, H/Rectangle-shaped self to buy it and risk a one-way ticket to BlockyTown.

And yet not only did I buy the non-wallflower item, I’ve felt a strong pull to wear it ever since it first entered the house and seared Mr Vix’s eyeballs. [Panther Print Dress Blurb: “He was awestruck! Truly speechless! Wondered…when he’d be seen with me in the…dress!”]

And when I say I’ve been wearing it, I mean it’s been out the door for work and for play.

Adding a ruffled sweater and colored jewelry to domesticate vs letting the big-cat print out of the bag

YES (LAYERED UNDER/OVER) FOR WORK

Others may shudder, but I decided it behooves me to boldly invoke the predator rather than risk being tagged as prey….

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Coerced to capri aka Why the grass is likely greener on my side of the fence

Lately I couldn’t be in less of a mood to see the proverbial glass as half-full, so I decided to toss—toss, not recycle—it.

STUPID IMAGINARY TUMBLER

ENJOY THE LANDFILL

However, the up side of being a hypochondriac is that I’m familiar with the ridiculously large number of studies that show optimists tend to have better physical and mental health…so off I went after the damn thing.

As I metaphorically trudged towards theoretical positivity, I ended up doing some literal hiking. Generally, tromping around in the great outdoors cheers me right up; this time, however, I found the trail’s repetitiveness highly annoying.

GOD I HAVE SEEN THIS SORT OF THING A MILLION TIMES BEFORE

PLUS IT ALL LOOKS EXACTLY THE SAME

Harsh, yes, but: true. In my region of the PNW, October to July rain means we are lush lush lush all winter, all spring, and for half the summer. But—and I say this with complete objectivity—the environmental Rubenesqueness can get a little boring. Variety/spice and so on.

Flipping through the few photos I could be arsed to take during my latest jaunt, I was able to confirm that YES, the landscape was nondescript and it yes, it DID look like any number of random Oregon, Washington State, or Northern California trails I could (barely) recall.

Now of course just because I take the intense green I see all around me for granted doesn’t mean that I should. Especially when others might envy my moss-riddled landscape.

What a motivating force, envy!

Wee ferns glow in the early March gloom

Poor photo quality aside, this gorgeously green shot shows why I shouldn't lose my mind over my brand of (rainy, muddy) PNW winter

And to be extra, mega-fair, I suppose there’s a sliver of a chance the trail wasn’t quite sooooo boring as it seemed.

Maybe I’m just biased against this particular 4-mile stretch of green because it was muddier than I was expecting (it was so non-memorable, I’d forgotten its path wasn’t more rock-strewn!) and I had to roll up my pants to keep them from dragging in dirt soup.*

Because really: if there’s one thing I 99%-of-the-time HATE, it’s shortening my leg line.

L, my houseguest's blaze of orange keeps me safe from wayward hunters; R, the danger of dressing for "easy 4-mile hike to a city café" vs "MUD"

So perhaps I’m being overly critical of Mother Nature’s efforts…but I still say I’ve seen lots better.

*As it was a relatively short and straightforward trail and we were trekking to lunch/wander in the city, I hadn’t seen the need to wear my sturdy hiking boots. Though on second thought….

Gratuitous Color Shot #4: Horton in the house

Lately my time has been occupied with a mix of superficial + potentially life-course-altering tasks, tasks which are helping to distract me from simmering extended-family issues over which I have approximately zero control.

Of course by “distract” I mean “tip my stress management meter reading from ‘Handling’ to ‘Expressing Overload Via Bizarre Minor Health Situations That Generate Eyerolls.'”

I swear I’m putting a lot of effort into stepping back, but really: what’s the protocol when the proverbial elephant moseys into one’s living room and can’t get everyone’s full attention? Besides hope the the elephant is pink, and thus an accepted marker of drunken hallucination.

[Except when it’s an even more tangible sign of HEY, OVER HERE!]

Hallucinating BIG pink elephants or crossing paths with Seattle signage?

Hmmmmmmm.

Though the rosy-colored variety gets a bad rap in Western culture, bog-standard elephants represent many wonderful things in their native lands: faithfulness, intelligence, strength, wisdom, endurance, memory, prosperity, sexual vigor….

All those enviable qualities certainly come in a large, hard-to-miss package, though. Maybe those of us who are waiting not-so-patiently for others to see the room is rather crowded need to take a deep breath—or twelve—and throw tons of effort into channeling the metaphorical guest.

Salad, anyone?

A closet barnacle’s latest chapter aka the Blue Lagoon Dress gets down to business

The Blue Lagoon Dress is jonesing to get on a plane with me, and I find myself at sixes and sevens.

A traveler more intelligent than I would look at her flight date, ignore the dress, and efficiently troll her closet for clothing that’s more or less attractive, appropriate, and practical enough for a location with seasonal heat and humidity.

Me, I’m sitting around in sweaters and boots waiting for the heat to kick on and the atmosphere to knock off the temper tantrums. I’m trying and failing to wrap my (damp and chilled) mind around packing for “business very casual: creative” tasks and “potentially embarrass Ms Madeline’s charming teenagers” get-togethers.

A woman who self-identified as proactive and action-item-oriented would stroke out. Luckily, I’m not that woman.

I swear I’m trying to stay focused…but every time I open the closet door my eyes keep sliding over to a long slice of tropically colored fabric that knows way way too much about me.

That’s what I get for having a cyan-cloaked skeleton in my closet.

Back when the Blue Lagoon Dress first wedged itself into my heart*, I was deeply immersed in a phase of dressing I characterized as “severe and voluminous” but those close to me labeled much more coarsely as “black and baggy.” So I’m not even sure how a garment that was bright turquoise (loud) AND patterned (busy) AND paisley (overwrought) came home with me.

I will say the dress had two major things going for it:

  • a floaty, unstructured, full-length design that covered and concealed a lot of my body
  • two near-weightless components: a slip of silk crepe de chine and an overlay of sheer chiffon

In those days, the first was always a plus. And given that I was living in a region known for long stretches of “95/95” weather—95 F with 95% humidity—the latter had understandable appeal. I was still waffling when my mother offered to buy it as a birthday gift.

SOLD

Nevermind that the dress’ shape made me look like a big blue rectangle from all angles and that the color was too bright: from that day forward, the Blue Lagoon Dress was my default garb if I needed something to wear to a moderately fancy summertime event.

Strangely, once I became aware that the dress’ shape made me look like a big blue rectangle and the color was too bright, the dress didn’t go away. Year after year, closet purge after closet purge, it escaped banishment. And unlike many of its less-than-flattering wardrobe cohorts it also escaped massive alterations. After all, I rationalized, I only had a TRUE need for a superior version of the BLD once or twice a year—so why spend the money on a replacement or a fix?

Clearly this ounce or two of fabric had and has a hold on me. In fact the word “blackmail” springs to mind. But if that’s the case, what shameful secret am I loathe to admit?

It’s actually a chain of interrelated shameful secrets.

1. I love maxi dresses and maxi skirts

Which is why, after figuring out I could corral its billowing fabric with a hip-slung belt and a tonal T-shirt, my suitcase will contain the Blue Lagoon Dress.

Wearing the Blue Lagoon Dress = no fear of (accidental) flashing

L, The Blue Lagoon Dress' billowy fabric gets corralled by a hip-slung belt and cotton topper; R, an aqua T helps mitigate BLD's unflattering brightness

Baby-stepping away from the "Smell my joss sticks" vibe by adding an aqua T and cognac belt

2. My Minimalist Magpie and Contrarian Classicist sides have a love child they refuse to acknowledge: the Persnickety Bohemian

My version of bohemian is neither grubby nor communal, thank you very much. But it allows that being carefree and directionless has its upside. As does having scads of money to further one’s “goals” of being carefree and directionless.

Others may crave Burning Man hijinks, but my definition of bohemian nirvana = lush heiress hideaways filled with color and pattern

John Lennon's customized Rolls Royce

3. I have a (guilt-ridden) thing for cultural appropriation

Many countries have intricately colored and patterned designs that I covet having around me in authentic or Westernized form. In small doses, anyway.

Anthropologie May 2010: A world where indulging one's inner bohemian means ponying up $1100 for a rug and $500 for a hanging chair

Textile historians generally give Babylon/Persia credit for paisley’s origins; the motif then spread to India. In an attempt to cash in on the 19th century fad for Eastern shawls with the pretty boteh/buta shapes, Europe started mass-producing their version of the design. One of the leaders of the pack? Paisley, Scotland.

Fast-forward more than 100 years, and paisley’s on the Blue Lagoon Dress and my caboose.

STILL on my caboose, that is.

4. I’m not ready to break up with the Blue Lagoon Dress

In general, I love the way long, featherweight skirts cycle in and out of mainstream US fashion but always have a whiff of the offbeat. I enjoy how they swish when I walk; I relish the way they make me feel graceful when I sit; I appreciate that they let me be a little slapdash with ye olde razor.

Granted, the Blue Lagoon Dress and I have an uneasy relationship these days. I’m oppressing its innate qualities to serve my own selfish ends, true, but I still appreciate BLD’s easy breezy nature and bold swimming pool shade. When a special occasion calls and it’s too damn hot to care about defining my shape or wearing my best colors, odds are that good that the Blue Lagoon Dress will still be my go-to pick.

It may not be healthy, but as Sheryl Crow sings:

Well maybe nothin’ lasts forever / Even when you stay together

I don’t need forever after / It’s your laughter won’t let me go

So I’m holding on this way.”

* Feel free to guess how many years ago the fateful meeting took place; if you’re correct, you’ll have the smug satisfaction of knowing you were right (a priceless commodity in the Vix Household)

PSA: Threads of History has a fascinating post on the visual history of paisley.

A lingering golden shadow

Having lived with more than my desired share of white, off-white, ecru, beige, ivory, cream etcetera walls, I now live in a house of Crayola colors.

My certainty about the types of colors that would work best in this house sprang from sources both intuitive (spending years in small-windowed houses filled with washed-out colors) and purchased (including 224 pages of validation from colorists-to-the-rich Donald Kaufman and Taffy Dahl). Donald, Taffy, and I agree: when a room is cursed with incredibly limited natural light, using a super-pale paint color results in grimness galore.

And really between the existing 70s-era kitchen and bathrooms I’d say we had enough grimness already:

SCARY! Vix Household bath pre-reno

SCARY! Vix Household bath pre-reno

Rather tediously, however, Mr Vix entered our relationship with a fondness for white, off-white, ecru etcetera walls–and/or an apprehension about co-existing with colors outside of that range. When we first moved in together, all I wanted was to get my paws on a roller loaded with cinnamon paint and all he wanted was Not That.

While our first year in the house included many, many color-related negotiations, I superstitiously avoided introducing the idea of one very-sensible-for-my-climate color range: yellow.

Because thanks to an 1892 tale by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, I’ve spent the last 23 or so years associating said range with oppression and psychosis rather than breakfasts in cheerful diners. All because the shaky mental health of  Gilman’s narrator further deteriorates when she is confined to a single room in her home and forbidden to work, a single room whose dominant color is…YELLOW.

It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw—not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things. But there is something else about that paper—the smell! I noticed it the moment we came into the room, but with so much air and sun it was not bad….[T]he only thing I can think of that it is like is the color of the paper! A yellow smell.”

Virago Modern Classic's latest cover design captures the essence of the disturbing 1892 tale

With that stuck in my brain OF COURSE I ended up with a eucalyptus bedroom. However, and though it seemed like taunting fate to give me what for, I eventually caved and ended up painting my home-based office a fairly mellow shade of gold:

My reluctantly-yellowd home office, on a grey (summer!) day

My reluctantly-yellow'd home office, on a grey (summer!) day

In the 6 years the walls and I have co-existed I’ve yet to go TOTALLY around the bend, so fingers crossed. Though now that the bath’s been redone in pale yellow tile, I admit I have a few twinges of worry. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that my mid-life anxiety started around the time the last bit of grout set the pattern in place. After all, I tore down the old walls myself; I know there’s absolutely nothing trapped behind them.

Or nothing that I can see, anyway….

Going for the light gold: still life with walls and floors

Still life with Vix Household's bath walls + floors: After ~ a year of yellow tile, disaster has yet to strike