By Naomi Serviss
I’m done with denim.
Bell bottoms, low-rise, cropped, straight, pre-stressed and skinny jeans are dead to me.
I have cred.
As a blue-jeaned Baby Boomer, I expertly treasure-hunted my high school and college denim wardrobes in myriad Goodwill stores.
My designer duds-divination skills bloomed during Cheltenham High School days in Elkins Park, a posh Philadelphia suburb.
These skills weren’t honed because of my mother’s commitment to quality clothes and shoes that fit.
She was a medical transcriptionist in a Philadelphia radiology office.
It was located at Broad Street and Olney Avenue.
A dicey neighborhood in the ‘60s and dicier now.
There was a subway stop into Center City.
My mother trolled cheap clothing stores on her lunch hour. She may have invented layaway.
The radiology office was near the Broad Street train.
A vividly etched memory imprinted as I descended the filthy Broad Street stairs. I was en route to San Francisco to meet my boyfriend.
She rallied her maternal instinct and shouted:
Don’t come home pregnant!
As a kid, I inherited clothes from two older sisters.
A generation older.
I was oblivious to fashion. I just needed tree-climbing and creek-wading clothes.
I didn’t care what I looked like. My getaway clothes.
I would leave and spend hours away from my toxic family.
My mother didn’t speak if she could scream.
I left often.
I was sensible about poison ivy and continued down the wide gravel path past two public tennis courts.
My goal was the well-tended athletic field about a mile away.
It contained everything you’d expect in a wealthy school district.
I’d lie down on the grass and spin cloud stories.
Curiosity saved me from drowning in neglect.
Miss Rich was my first and second grade teacher.
She visited our apartment near the train tracks.
Miss Rich said I had proudly showed off new shoes. That hadn’t happened before.
It was a privileged elementary school. Kids wore their bespoke status with style.
Mrs. Vinet, my fifth-grade teacher, graded the class on personal appearance.
O for Outstanding
G for Good
S for Satisfactory
N for Needs Improvement.
Mrs. Vinet gave me an N.
My scarlet letter.
I started to pay attention to labels.
I knew a lot of popular girls. They always seemed dressed up and spotless.
I’d get invited to their immense homes.
Foyers with mirrors and piano rooms. Housekeepers, landscapers and pool cleaners. Two kitchens. Two parents.
When invited, I’d tag along to the Villager Shop with Susie and her strict mother.
Her mother ordered seasonal outfits. Circle pins were big one year.
I took mental notes. I picked up nomenclature.
Stitching, aligned seams, durable, breathable fabrics and tailored hems.
Lessons learned and passed on for posterity.
As a mother of two on Long Island, I knew which thrift shops were tops.
The ones with the most expensive and least-worn castoffs.
The pandemic turned my comfort zone into the twilight.
There are some upsides to hibernation.
I ditched my hold-out jeans. The pair with embroidered hems.
I banished confining pants.
Harem pants with a decorative flap are my new uniform.
Paired with an assortment of colorful crop tops.
Easy on, easy off. No more hard pants, ever!
I’m Faye Dunaway in the Mommy Dearest wire hanger scene.
My outlook has shifted this year. I know what’s essential.
Comfort is key!
By 6:30 a.m. I’m ready for my daily Central Park walk.
Wearing neon-pink biker shorts with side pockets and a Mighty Mouse T-shirt.
Biking shorts are surprisingly forgiving. And comfortable!
Today I walked with Robert, a new friend and former soap star.
I wore my paisley leggings and Modigliani T-shirt.
After walking to Summit Rock and back, I savored a redemptive shower.
Effortlessly eased into elastic waist harem pants and black crop.
I was home.
Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com