Crazed by Cruella-de-Virus, Doña Quixote shops her closet for “athleisure”; failing, she concocts “streetwear” she fancies Glenn Close might go for

Featured image: Janet Walker reviews Geraldine Solin’s Authorpreneur in Pajamas

Now that Cruella-de-Virus has brought us to a point where people work from home and we who are mature in years have to be particularly asocial because of the underlying condition of oldness, the issue of what to wear every day has been pleasantly solved for many of us: many of my still-working friends as well as fellow retirees have gleefully announced that being able to stay in their pajamas or tracksuits all day is an unexpected and pleasant bonus of these dark days. Upon hearing that dressing “properly” is no longer required or even practical in many of my friends’ lives, my heart dropped into my patent leather Oxfords: the “uniforms” that I’ve acquired and curated over many years are crucial to keeping together my oh-so-fragile self!

 

Outfits laid out together and kept in my closet side by side so I don’t have to spend hours figuring it out every time.

While most mature adults do not need verification from their clothing that they are real human beings, my need to validate myself as “real” through the material trappings of my closet increases as my grip on reason and rationality loosens: I need that image in the mirror of myself decked out in one of my familiar, eccentric outfits; when I go out, other people’s acknowledgement of my “artistic” style is an important indicator that others still think of me as a person with a recognizable identity. Given my own doubts about whether I am still “me,” their recognition boosts my hope that someone still thinks I’m Gerda.

Armored with my “style,” I feel like a familiar version of my self as I go about my daily life

The worst of envisioning myself in relax-at-home wear is that I have for a long time associated no-button easy-on/easy-off tops and leggings with the Doña Quixote version of me, that “Gerda” who will no longer be able to dress herself or otherwise see to her own personal needs or maintain a personal style which looks like an acceptable version of who I used to be. Put another way, I certainly don’t want to hasten the time in which I’ll go from…

 

this Gerda and Peter                                            to this Gerda and Peter

…no matter how much love the second photo personifies.

By this paragraph, I myself am abhorred by the shallowness of my writing self who is agonizing about sartorial issues when Covid19 is killing so many people, leaving hundreds of thousands of bereaved families in its wake, costing so many people their livelihoods, and causing food insecurity for millions. What kind of a self does that? I could blame it on Doña Quixote, but truth is that in recent days I can no longer distinguish between Doña Quixote and Gerda. I have turned into her: I am a selfish bundle of stress, too overwhelmed to absorb the daily deluge of bad news and too short on the bigness of heart to even consider if there might be a way in which I could help alleviate the suffering among the sick, the poor, the homeless, the hungry. Now that the familiar structures of our lives are crumbling, the strong among us go to work to perform the essential services of caring for the sick, keeping food provisions moving, starting food distribution organizations, working from home while homeschooling their children, or caring for someone they love who is sick in their own home. The weak among us grope for any and all coping skills just to get from one day to the next.

My former stress reliever was walking  in the mall: photo on right is by Shauna Grow of the fashion blog, ChicOver50. (The other photos in of me in this post are all by Peter, my Rock.) One of my most reliable coping skills after my diagnosis was walking in the mall a few times per week. What I did was not the brisk pace of “mall-walking” that I see so many of my peers doing for exercise in the climate-controlled environment, but rather a meditative stroll through stores while I touch fabrics and lose myself in the textures and colors. Even though I did not maintain an energetic pace, I kept at it long enough to ensure that my mall-steps plus my home steps clocked up 10,000 every day.

With Cruella-de-Virus abroad, my soothing routine at the mall is no longer available. Accordingly, I have have been doing my walking outside in the park or streets—I am so grateful that my head was still together enough to learn the environs of our apartment complex, so that I only get minimally lost in this environment. (So far, I’ve only had to call Peter once when I had wandered into unknown territory—he always tracks me on his GPS when I’m out, so he was able to talk me back to a familiar street…that day I got a lot more than 10,000 steps!)

The fact that I could no longer do my walking indoors is what pitched me feet-first into a fashion panic: the shoes I used to wear to the mall were comfortable even though they looked stylish: leather, patent leather, or colorful human-made materials in animal-skin or plaid print. I never wore sneakers with my regular clothes, but only when I went walking in the mountains or, before I retired, when I walked the track in the gym. Now, it seemed, my outside walking was happening in spurts outside throughout the day. Unless I wanted to change clothes and shoes all the time, I would have to find clothes in which I could actually sweat somewhat (I really don’t walk if it’s hot enough so I would be dripping); and I’d have to wear sneakers as all-day shoes. I owned no clothes like that, except for old tee-shirts, and those I mostly wore as pajamas. I did own some “fashionable” sneakers that I bought after my latest foot surgery in which both my feet were involved, when no other shoes would fit me. Alack, alas—Cruella was going to turn me into the Doña-Quixote-with-pajamas-and-ugly-comfortable-shoes that I’d hoped to avoid for a few more years!

Left: Editor of Vogue, Anna Wintour, “stuns fans by wearing tracksuit bottoms [for a video discussion on Vogue’s blog about Covid19] despite vowing never to wear them.” Sabrina Barr, The Independent, April 14, 2020. Right: Gerda stuns her friends by allowing Peter to take a photo of her in her “leisurewear,” aka pajamas, despite vowing never to be photographed unless she had her Spanx on! 

Although I have never presumed to take hyper-stylish Anna Wintour as my clothing guru, the contrast between the Vogue editor’s “athleisure” and my own washed-up pajamas was enough to set Doña Quixote off into a tizzy of anxiety: she just had to go to the mall to find a more suitable quarantine-at-home style! But oh…No mall allowed. So the Doña starts getting her 10,000 steps for that day by pacing to and fro in her very luxurious (but still only 8ft) closet to find “athleisure” she knows is not there.

Doña Quixote knows what “athleisure” is because her friend Shauna, who has a marvelous fashion blog, ChicOver50, said she mostly wears this style in her daily life, even though the only clothing genre in which I’ve seen her when we got together for lunch every now and then was fashion forward “real” clothes, in which she was dressed fit to pose for a fashion cover shot then and there.

 

Three of Shauna’s ChicOver50 posts on athleisure: “Forever a Fan of Athleisure,” “Athleisure from Lindsay and Me,”  and “Your Attitude is Everything.” I love one of Shauna’s definitions of athleisure: “It actually covers everything and still looks sporty!”

Clearly it would take me years to acquire a wardrobe that matched Shauna’s chic! (And just as long get into the kind of shape she’s in by practicing the “-ath” part of “athleisure” rather than the “-leisure” part alone—plus I was more than a decade older than Shauna.) Suspecting that it would require a different form of athleisure for me to feel good in it, I googled the term for my two favorite older celebrities, both of whose intelligence, decency,  and style I admire: Glenn Close and Helen Mirren.

After a thorough googling, I surmised that Glenn Close either does not wear athleisure or else she strictly polices the publication of photos of herself so clothed. The only image that I came upon that might fit some loose definition of “leisure wear” is clearly from a movie, one I don’t recognize; and I can’t imagine the outfit is good for much energetic movement, other than possibly dancing or being the boss lady about the castle. I take it as something of an object lesson for my non-sporty septuagenarian status that no athleisure images of Glenn Close exist. Maybe she takes to heart the title of the Vogue article from which my feature image derives: “No matter what they tell you, leggings are not pants.” I have always admired Ms Close’s wisdom!

So that left Helen MIrren. Tellingly, she, too, does not appear in anything resembling athleisure in published photos. She does, however, exhibit a “streetwear” style that seemed to be an adaptation that I could make: clothing I could walk in and with which I could wear sneakers, as she does in the last photo shown below. One would of course have to lose the handbag for vigorous outside walking…

Helen Mirren in several comfortable-looking “streetwear” ensembles

Now the only fashion item that stands between Doña Quixote and Helen Mirren is a haircut: Peter continues to cut my hair. I love it. However, we have both gotten to a point where some professional intervention would be great to trim the large mohawk that continues to sprout on my head as if it is daily fertilized. My hair wants to make a mohawk—it doesn’t matter what I do to “style” it, an hour or so later it has popped up again. I don’t mind how exuberant it gets when it is at the Tin-Tin end of the mohawk spectrum, but I’m now increasingly advancing toward the Big Boy endpoint, which is too much for even my eccentricity.

With the head considered and given up as hopeless until stylist Todd’s salon opens up again, Doña Quixote turns to the toes: here are the two pairs of post-surgery footwear that Gerda has vowed never to wear with “real” clothes, but which she now is wearing all day.

When I shudder to think of my sneakers’ clod-hoppish shapes, I repeat their lovely colors like a mantra: “Citrin,” “Obsidian.”

With hopes as high as her mohawk and a spring in her step because of how her toes can spread in her bouncy sneakers, Doña Quixote shopped her closet for “streetware athleisure” to go with the footwear: outfits that would work for inside the house, shopping, and outside walking, both uphill and downhill, as well as the rough paths by the river. A big compromise with virus times is that I consented to wear teeshirts out that I would normally only have worn at home.

Doña Quixote seems to have a preference for blue. For me, though, the blues in my closet’s version of streetware are happy ones!

While writing this self-indulgent post, my mood has changed from the briny blue of brackish water to the chirpy azure of a spring sky: it seems that a routine of walking on the one hand and working with my clothes (in what feels to me like a creative manner) on the other have combined to deliver the benefits of a walk in in the mall! I believe some other good, too, has come out of this shallow obsession with what to wear: by taking care of my anxiety, I am able to be a better person around Peter. While all my agonizing and thinking and throwing clothes on the bed was taking place over a period of several weeks, I have settled down into a more lasting calmness; in the space that opened up for Peter while I indulged my obsession, he was able to settle down too. Each of seem to have hit our stride a lot better than at the start of the Cruella-de-Virus lock-in.

Sometimes we make ourselves a cup of coffee in the Starbucks-look-alike cups Peter had ordered and go down to the river to listen to the water and watch the ducks

I know now that I still have a job in the world, albeit a very self-centered one: I have to look after myself, manage my dementia-related stress in the best way I know how, and be as little of a burden on Peter as I can possibly manage. If I take care of myself—even if that’s as trivial as putting on my Spanx, streetwear, sneakers, and smile every day—Peter has time for his own projects. Ever saintly, he also helps me with my non-fashion related pleasurable tasks: for example, he rigged a branch Marissa had pruned from their apple tree in a pot on our balcony so that I can stick on it all kinds of nature finds that I gather on my walks in our neighborhood. He also has time for his self-soothing equivalent of my walking in the mall: dancing. Twice a week he attends online dancing classes and practices the moves in between. In order to prepare for the live Zoom classes, he invented and built a tilt-away i-Pad-holder that he can mount on a camera tripod, the whole contraption designed to slope the screen to the requisite angle so that the dance teacher can see his body work AND Peter can see him or her during the lesson. In addition, he has been taking and processing a lot of photos of our surroundings, our doings at home, and the grandkids when we visit them on a drive-by.

Left: Peter using old-fashioned hand-tools to making a “plankie” (Afrikaans for a piece of wood) for holding the apple branch in a pot on our balcony. Middle: Peter setting the remote control on his camera on the balcony in order to take a photo of us in the living room—small apartments require great minds to fit it all in! Note the apple branch, now installed, over his head on the left. Right: The photo he took of us in the living room, ready to go for our walks. Yes, “walks” plural: he strides to the rhythm of his Latin music and I wander along to the cadences of my current audiobook. The beat of our different drums do not make for a side-by-side stroll!

Peter’s photos of our drive-by visits to our kids and grandkids:

MAD, i.e., Marissa, Adam, and Dante on their back stoep; Dante initiates us into the transformational properties of a Pokemon  ball. Ouma wishes she could stand on a step and squat down to pick up something on the step below!

CKANs, i.e., Cheryl, Kanye, Aliya, and Newton on their front stoep; Smudgie the dog does not like walks, so Aliya and Kanye take her out in the wagon, furnished with a pillow. Ouma wants to have “athleisure” wear like these two kids!

As for my larger adaptation to the quarantine, I have come to a somewhat sad conclusion: although I miss my socializing—diminished as it already was because of my dementia brain—I find that my head works better when it is mainly Peter and I alone during the days. As you can see from my relatively more frequent blog posting, I have more energy and focus for writing than in my usual life. I am grateful for it, but I would gladly give up a dozen blog posts for body-to-body closeness with my grandkids as in the good old days!

While I of course hope that “this, too, shall pass” and that we will soon be able to hug the people we love and sit down to a meal with them, these virus times are not without their own blessedness. In the mornings, I sometimes stay in bed for a while to read from—among other books that I find inspirational—The Daily Stoic, a gift from Marissa, a fellow aficionado of the Greek school of philosophy which holds that blessedness is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, that is, not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain. The meditation I read on the day Peter took the photo of me in my pajamas seems uncannily apt for our times: “How could exile be an obstacle to a person’s own cultivation, or to attaining virtue, when no one—even when banned from society—has ever been cut off from learning or practicing what is needed?” (Musonius Rufus).