05 April 2007

Thanks but no thanks.

As every girl who prides herself on her carefully-put-together outfits knows, there's nothing more gratifying, more uplifting than a sincere, "That's a great ________!" from someone she doesn't know and who isn't overtly trying to sleep with her.

Yes, I'm talking about the spontaneous, girl-to-girl, you-like-her-________-so-much-you-have-no-choice-but-to-say-something-about-it compliment.

In comparison to New York, Boston, Providence, Beijing, or any other place in which I've spent a good deal of time looking fashionable, this kind of exchange, I've come to notice in the past two and a half years, is far rarer in Washington. It doesn't happen on the street, on the Metro, in restaurants, stores, anywhere. I don't know if this is due to timidity, lack of fashion cognizance, or a general keep-your-views-to-yourself attitude, but whatever it is, I do my best to buck the trend by approaching and non-threateningly praising every man, woman, child and dog I see successfully rocking a fierce ensemble.

There is, however, one set of circumstances in which the girl-to-girl compliment actually has the power to irreparably ruin rather than improve your mood, and that of course is when someone dressed like this, this or good lord, this, is the one paying you the "positive" attention. If this doesn't sound familiar, think about that unsettling feeling every girl has gotten when a guy whose taste in women she's always respected - even if that respect is borne primarily out of his past confessions of how beautiful he thinks she is - says something like, "Didn't you think Juliette Lewis was hot in 'Old School?' " or "Come on, Sarah Jessica Parker isn't that ugly."

When someone's taste is that objectively off, is it still possible to salvage some bit of confidence-building from their well-intentioned words?

This topic was brought to the forefront of my mind (again) this morning, when a woman in a baby-pink leather trenchcoat, green beaded Moroccan flats, track pants and a horrific auburn weave tugged on my sleeve after I'd successfully ignored her "talk to me" eyes for a good half-minute on the corner of 17th and M. In her more than slightly aggressive manner - actual physical contact - she encouraged me with ear-muff hand gestures to remove my headphones and engage in conversation.

"Yes?" I half-asked, half-stated in a much cooler tone than I'd intended.

"I just wanted to tell you I liked your outfit. The whole look, it's very...very sophisticated."

"Oh...thanks. Thanks a lot. That made my day."

Fortuitously, because I wasn't sure how much longer I could hold onto my feigned gratitude, the light turned green, she went left down 17th and I crossed, heading farther down M.

"Made my day?" I thought to myself, "More like ruined my day. And this outfit. Forever." Look, I appreciate the gesture. I'm not that horrible of a person, but you have to understand the potential implications of woman who leaves the house looking like a cross between Carmella Soprano and New York (of VH1's "I love New York" fame) thinking she and I share some sort of style kinship.

Dramatic, I know, but like the situation where my now former friend wouldn't give up on trying to convince me I looked like that woman from 'Dancing with the Stars,' sometimes you have no choice but to cut the cancer completely out to convincingly maintain your guise of an ego impervious to deflation.

Though clearly worth it, vanity does have its costs.


bff in chicago said...

I'm impressed you didn't tell that woman to her face that her compliment ruined your outfit. And your mood.

My little girl's growing up!

p.s. ummm...what happened to that proposition from yesterday? I chose to take it as a good sign that you're posting (i.e. not chopped to bits in a park). Details, please!

Johanna said...

It was magnificent, and I can't wait until our lunch tomorrow at Levante's.

I also think after our lengthy 20 minutes rendezvous we're *thisclose* to picking out curtains and buying a kid from China together.

True love -- in DC, it hits you hard and fast.

Golden Silence said...

As annoying as it is to deal with random strangers on the street, I would've just accepted her compliment with sincerity. Look at it this way...maybe your good fashion sense will inspire her to do better with her own style, and it sounded like she needed a good makeover!

Anonymous said...

So what were you wearing that prompted this exchange? I'm dying of curiosity!

Johanna said...


I'm just wearing what my BFF refers to as "my Katie Holmes uniform": black skinny jeans, black t-strap flats, wide black leather headband and my white oxford shirt with short pouf-sleeves.

Oh, and my khaki trench with everyone's favorite gun pin...

Anonymous said...

You're a horrible person.

Anonymous said...

You know, the resemblance to that woman from Dancing with the Stars is uncanny.



Johanna said...


Yeah, I am a pretty terrible person. But since I'm aware of it, doesn't that make me a more tolerable terrible?


Anonymous said...

Wow, you can't even take a compliment? Maybe you'll grow up someday...

Johanna said...

I think I wasn't clear in this post. I truly appreciated this woman's compliment. I did. However, I couldn't help but realize that I take compliments (style-related ones) from people who are dressed in a way I admire differently than I take compliments from individuals dressed in a way I don't admire. That's all. This woman was nice, and aside from touching me, I had no problem with her at all.

If there's one thing I am pretty good at, it's taking a compliment -- mainly because I'm giving them to myself in my head (and aloud, on occasion) whenever I pass by a mirror or reflective surface.

Thanks for reading,