Or I could go out that door in the dearest pair of white go-go boots with lime green fishnet panty hose and an Op Art minifrock in psychedelic swirls of purple and orange and a white plastic space bonnet with a Lucite visor. I could go out that door in a black leather biker’s jacket with a 3-D illustration of Saint Francis of Assissi swen into the back and lined with an old British flag and a stretch miniskirt…
Or I could step out in the neatest brown tweed New Look suit with a cream silk blouse and Peter Pan collar and matching cream suede gauntlet gloves and a patent leather pocketbook slung over my wrist and a brown felt turban with a big pearl hatpin stuck into the side and look for all the world like a Sunday school teacher going to a revival meeting.
commentary: I cannot imagine how I missed this book first time round. I was alerted to it by a recent Twitter exchange, where some of my good friends there were all enthusing: Sarra Manning, Marian Keyes and others. It’s not that well-known – Marian K described it as ‘the book you love that no one you know seems to have heard of, let alone read.’ But you’d think I would have come across it, because the book and all the characters in it are obsessed with clothes.
It is a hilarious sendup of New York life in the 1980s, where Reality Nirvana Tuttle is working as a doorgirl at a club: she is the person who sneers at the waiting crowds, and decides who can come in. Based solely on appearance. She is a glorious creation:
I can be vamp, tramp, flapper, mod, postmod, Pop Art, disco, retro, rococo, go-go, gypsy, new wave, new romantic, New Look, Carnaby Street, Cossack, Bonnie and Clyde, directoire, debutante, existentialist, belle epoque, buffalo girl, baby doll, Barbarella, punk, post-punk, Pre-Raphaelite, even preppy if I want to, which is almost never.‘I’d wear a miniskirt in a snowstorm if I felt like it’ she says, giving me the opportunity to feature one of my all-time favourite blog pictures:
[It is from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, ie weather archives, shows a storm in Manhattan, and has the popular title ‘Miniskirt in a snowstorm.’]
Reality wanders through the book starting a nightclub, annoying her neighbours, looking for love and enjoying her clothes. There is a plot but there’s not much point describing it. The point is in the glorious descriptions of her life and her clothes, and in moments such as the one where she decides to get a tattoo of the Chanel logo:
“you have to suffer for fashion,” I tell Freddie as we are walking uptown afterward.
“Well in that case why did you beg her to stop after the first C?”…
“I’ll draw the other C in pen. When the bleeding stops.”
Reality has the winning combination of total self-awareness in some areas and a total lack of self-awareness in others. She is a creation of genius.
I loved this book, and hope – as seems the case – it is going through a revival. There must be many people like me, just waiting to be enchanted by Reality’s adventures.
And I’m keeping this short(ish) so as to cram in as many pictures of great 1980s outfits as I can… mostly from my own collection of fashion magazines of the era.
And thanks to the friends who so rightly recommended it to me…
I wanted to caption this one 'Get me the Fashion Police immediately', but of course this was 1980s, and no-one had a mobile phone. She is merely considering the possibility of a new tattoo...
This sounds like so much fun, Moira! Even besides all those glorious clothes, what an '80s vibe! And Reality sounds like a great character to follow, too. I give credit, too, to being able to skewer society without being mean-spirited.ReplyDelete
Yes Margot - I am picky about my satire, I don't like it too snarky. But this book gets it right, and Reality is marvellous. And those of us who lived through the 1980s - even if not going to exclusive NY nightclubs - have special opportunities to enjoy.Delete
Everyone I know is scathing about 80s fashion, but - I kind of liked it. The supposedly horrible shoulder pads and tight pencil skirts of the power suits: PERFECT for a girl with small shoulders and big hips!ReplyDelete
I liked some of the clothes too. And they were actually more forgiving than some modern clothes. I recently watched some 80s films for young people - eg John Hughes - and was astonished to see how relatively covered up the young women were at, say, a party. The attitudes to women weren't great, but I think in a modern film the young actresses would be expected to have perfect flawless bodies, and show a lot more of them.Delete
I spent the entire decade in uniform but I do remember one wedge-shaped dress I had in 1986 or so with huge shoulders in that glorious 80's blue that's halfway between teal and royal. I feel no desire to ever wear it again.ReplyDelete
I was stationed on Okinawa from January 1981-September 1983 and might as well have been living in the bottom of a well for all the awareness I had of fashion trends. I couldn't shop out in town even if I had wanted to (5'9") and the selection of outfits in the PX was conservative, to say the least. I didn't own a tv and didn't subscribe to any stateside magazines, and of course this was fifteen years before the WWW.
It was a shock to my system to return to the US and see mini-skirts. When did they come back?
Your contributions are always the best, Shay! You paint such a picture of your life back then.Delete
I came back from living in the USA and soon afterwards went to a birthday party event with dancing. I wore an unexceptionable nice party-ish dress. On the dancefloor I realized that every single other female was wearing the same thing: smart jeans and what is known round here as a 'going-out' top, might be glittery or sequinned or a bit floaty. It was fine, people weren't staring at me, but I was completely taken aback that I had had no idea what the dress code would be.
I didn't have the excuse that I had gone away to defend my country!
I don't remember anything about fashion in the eighties. That decade was when we moved to Santa Barbara and got married. Based on the extracts you included I don't know how you missed this book before now, as you say.ReplyDelete
It's funny isn't it? I truly have no memory of ever encountering this book, but it was quite well known at the time I think, exactly the sort of book I would expect to know all about. And I remember the clothes of that decade well.Delete
When we were moving to the US in the 90s I was having a clearout, and was planning to donate a suitcase full of clothes to charity - the pieces I had most loved in the 80s, some of them wild and colourful. I showed the collection to a group of friends and they all absolutely insisted that I keep them, even if I had to store them. I am so glad I listened to them and still have them! one or two of them have popped up on the blog before now.
Moira: What a wonderful selection of bold and beautiful clothes.ReplyDelete
I will make no comment on a miniskirt in a snowstorm.
In looking at the photos I was reminded of Sarah Jessica Parker playing Carrie Bradshaw in the T.V. series, Sex in the City. I know it was first broadcast in the late 1990's but I think Carrie wore some of those clothes. She certainly created a sensation with her clothes on the show.
Thanks Bill! I knew you would appreciate the colourful outfits, and well done for holding back on the practicality of the mini-skirt!Delete
Yes, there is a definite flavour of Carrie Bradshaw here, and her clothes were magnificent.
The 80s were filled with fun books documenting the last hurrah of hedonistic pursuits in the life of young people. I remember reading aloud passages from LESS THAN ZERO to my colleagues at Corning Summer Theater in 1985 and then the book being passed around backstage among all the crew. Those photos bring back memories of the arty young women I knew in my theater days. I knew a girl in college who wore regularly ballet shoes, complete with ribbons going up her calves, to lectures (not dance class!) as a fashion statement.ReplyDelete
I do see young women wearing the most inappropriate clothing in miserably cold Chicago weather -- suffering stoically for fashion all to look good, I guess. But I swear that is a winter coat unfastened and billowing around her middle giving the illusion of being a short skirt. Am I being a killjoy? Or just a diehard relaist?
Oh yes I remember Less Than Zero, and those other books - Tama Janowitz, Michael Chabon jump to mind. They were at least colourful and interesting and different, I loved the move away from more traditional novels (Updike, Roth).Delete
I come from Liverpool, a place famous for the girls refusing to dress in the right clothes for the weather. Apparently there are always a few turning up with hypothermia after a night out. You have to have a tough genetic makeup to survive Liverpool!
Definitely your kind of book.ReplyDelete
Yes, and the implication for you also holds!Delete