24 February 2007

Poise first, Prada second, then everything else.

Though I really didn't have much of an opportunity to take in the Anne-Hathaway-lookalikes with perfectly coiffed bangs and short nails polished with whatever color is most in vogue I normally see in droves on the Upper West Side, I did see one woman who, had I not been wearing patterned tights, would have literally knocked my socks off.

She was a bit homelier and a bit older than the women who typically stop me in my tracks. She was perhaps mid-40s, maybe even early-50s given her enormous shopping bag from La Prairie, but in her case, it wasn't about her beauty, her age, her statuesque figure, her Diddy-sized diamond studs, or even her charcoal double-breasted boatneck waist-cinched Prada coat -- a coat I've wished for on four separate 11:11 occasions since I saw Kelly Ripa wear it to her interview with Dave Letterman last month.

Her upmarket trappings were hard not to be impressed by, but it was much more her dignified walk, her air of contentedness and the calm ease with which she navigated through the throngs of cold, cranky New Yorkers - in tall, skinny heels, no less - that made her stand out from among the other well-dressed women fortunate enough to be shopping at 3:15 on a weekday afternoon.

I'd heard over and again melodramatic fashion experts chide women for letting their clothes wear them, not them wearing their clothes, but it wasn't until yesterday, until I actually saw firsthand what it looked like when a woman owned a busy sidewalk with her air of confidence alone, that I finally understood what they meant by this.

DC is filled with accomplished female lawyers, lobbyists, politicos and academics, but very few - none, in fact, I've encountered - could've held a Vie Luxe City 3-wick to this woman who probably spent the better part of her life "lunching," spa-ing, and helping Barneys salespeople exceed their monthly commission goals.

"How is this possible?" I thought to myself as I watched her pause in front of and then enter the Stuart Weitzman boutique in the Time Warner building.

On my return home, between reading my Betty and Veronica Double Digest and shooting are-you-'effing-serious? looks at the man whose left hip was unapologetically 2/3 into my seat, I thought about this question. Flush up against the cold metal siding with no sign of relief in sight, I turned to the soothing sound of Mandy Patinkin for temper deescalation. Serendipitously, it was in his glorious remake of the Les Miserables classic, "I Dreamed a Dream," that I had a revelation.

"There are dreams that cannot be, and there are storms we cannot weather. I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I'm living, so different now from what it seemed, now life has killed the dream I dreamed."

Most women in DC whom I've met place primacy on their careers and eventually, split themselves - not just their time but themselves - between their jobs and their families. Gone are the personal dreams of self-improvement through "me" friendships (i.e. not just those borne out of your carpool group and neighborly get-togethers), "me" reflection, and yes, even "me" physical maintenance. I'm not talking about the occasionally penciled-in massage or a once-every-two-months girls' lunch, I'm talking about the daily "me" time that used to occur out of instinct, not when-I-can-find-the-time convenience.

From what people who have families and/or highly demanding jobs tell me, the personal sacrifice is worth it. At this point, on the cusp of entering into virgin late-twenties territory, I'm not sure I think it is.

If it's at the cost of being as slim as I hope to always be, fine.

If it's at the cost of having less time to discover new vintage stores, fine.

If it's at the cost of a full-makeup routine in the mornings, fine. Really.

But if it's at the cost of losing the way I carry myself, losing touch with what made me me five years ago, ten years ago, I'm not sure I'm willing to sacrifice that.

Granted, I don't know the life journey of this striking New York City woman. For all I know, she too might be a career woman, one so successful she's allowed to leave her office early on a Friday to do some "light shopping"; she might be that lucky brand of woman who belted out six kids without affecting her boyishly thin hips; she might even be one of the DC women I described above who just decided to take a daytrip on the Acela to pick up some items she couldn't find in our fair city.

Either way, seeing her on the street yesterday brought on this realization for me: there will always only be 24 hours in every day and 48 hours in every weekend. It's going to be impossible to achieve everything and be everything we want and to keep dreaming of new goals and thinking of new roles to pursue without losing something on the other end. At some point, if we choose the big things - the big career, wealth, a family - we risk becoming different people.

For those of us who love ourselves the way we currently are, that sounds more like a threat than a tempting adventure.

All I know is that no matter what age I am, no matter what city I'm in, no matter if I'm a stay-at-home Mom, a China analyst or writing for Marie Claire, no matter if I'm wearing an Ann Taylor coat or a Prada coat, I want to own a sidewalk just like she did.

You can call me superficial, you can call me selfish - both are often true - but that's a dream I'm not willing to let go of. Not for anything.


nyc admirer said...

There definitely is something about New York women like the one you described...it's like they're their own species or something.

Come and join them...

west coast devotee said...

Babe, that's a dream you've already achieved. You own every sidewalk you saunter down and every room you enter. Clicking in heels, all the while, of course.

That'll be you when you hit her age -- Prada coat, diamond studs, La Prairie eye cream and all. I can SO see it.

Anonymous said...

That coat is unbelieveable. Can you find out how much it costs? I just like to torture myself.

a fan said...

You're too young to think about anything but building your career and your wardrobe right now.

You've got the poise, now you've got to work on that Prada!

Johanna said...

To anonymous: I tried my darndest to find that coat, its price, etc., but I just couldn't.

I'll keep looking and let you know if I find it, though!

another new yorker said...

6 months from now, a woman like that won't stand out to you. You'll be walking to work and they'll just blend in with the rest of Manhattan's cityscape.

It's sad but true.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say that. When you've been in Manhattan a while your standards do get upgraded, but when someone has it working it still stands out. They have to work harder, but it gets done.

I lived there 10 years and rarely did a day go by that I didn't see someone worth an admiring glance.

God, I miss NY.