“Don’t call what you’re wearin’ an outfit; don’t ever say your car is broke. Don’t worry ‘bout losin’ your accent: A Southern man tells better jokes.”––Jason Isbell, “Outfit”
I’ve never been a clothes person. Fashion is like geometry to me: I just don’t get it; I’m missing that part of my brain. I sometimes watch What Not to Wear on TLC, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I generally don’t see much wrong with the “before” pictures.
I had a brief taste of label hysteria back in 1989 when I was not allowed to join the fourth-grade Esprit Club –– rejection that probably had more to do with my eagerness to correct the other children’s grammar and my dearth of appropriate social skills than with my lack of designer clothes.
But beyond that, I’ve never cared about brands or styles or fabrics. I’m a few short months away from 30, and most of my wardrobe is from Forever 21, with a few pieces from Target and thrift stores rounding it out. When I read The Devil Wears Prada, I was genuinely bewildered that Ann Taylor and Express were mocked for being cheap and tacky –– that’s where my nicest clothes come from.
I’m not frugal –– I spend my money in plenty of ridiculous and frivolous ways, trust me –– but I just can’t even fathom paying more than $200 for any single piece of clothing or shoes.
I am, however, completely enamored with the South. (Not the ignorant racist part that everyone automatically associates with this region –– even though, sadly, that is far from unique to us. I am disgusted and ashamed by Confederate flags, but I’m still proud to be a Southerner and, though I love them both, would side with Lynyrd Skynyrd over Neil Young almost any day.) I love Southern literature and collard greens and bourbon. I love the fact that my cousin and my uncle got into an actual physical altercation over who inherited my grandfather’s skillet. I love red dirt and buttermilk biscuits and magnolia trees. And, even though I generally couldn’t care less about matters sartorial, I have an absolute weakness for seersucker and white linen.
And now that Easter –– and that brutal winter we just had –– is behind us, we can once again wear both. (Some authorities say it’s Memorial Day, but if Errol Laborde says Easter, I’m saying Easter, too.) The summer in New Orleans, at least to me, has become bookended by two great events defined by fabric: Sippin’ in Seersucker, which is tonight and benefits the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and White Linen Night, which is held on the first Saturday in August and celebrates our wonderful Arts District.
I always get a little melancholy when Jazz Fest is over, but I love Sippin’ in Seersucker, too, because it reminds me of what a fun-loving diverse city we are. Arts benefits in other cities are boring, pretentious, stuffy, self-congratulatory; the point is raising money, doing good deeds, supporting worthy causes. In New Orleans, first and foremost, it better be fun. And the kinds of people who attend arts benefits in, say, New York City? Well, it’s hard to imagine some of them dirty and sweaty and eating crawfish bread in shorts and tank tops, but here, even the social elite love Jazz Fest.
I’m not part of the social elite, but I am part of the media, which means I’ll be attending Sippin’ in Seersucker tonight, if only because free food is appealing on a journalist’s salary. My social skills have come a long way since I was turned away from the Esprit Club, but my fashion sense hasn’t, and so I appreciate the simplicity of events that dictate to me exactly what to wear.
The calendar still says it’s spring, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s summer in New Orleans. Put on your Southern best and join me for a mint julep on Canal Street, won’t you?