Question: What are the rules for wearing white and black patent leather shoes? What about linen? It’s 2012! Does anybody care about that stuff anymore?
I was gratified to learn this week that a reader in one of my favorite cities on earth, New Orleans, LA, was pondering these weighty topics while mowing her lawn. Even more satisfying was the fact that she decided to solicit my advice on these snobbish, superficial, culturally iconic Southern nods toward tradition. I am, as usual, just dying to tell her what I think.
Here’s how I see it: In the South where this NOLA reader and I live, it gets hot. Really, really hot. Temperatures soar early—March, sometimes—and it often remains hot until Halloween. Linen, traditionally a summer-only fabric, is appropriate whenever it’s hot enough to make it an appealing choice when you open your closet door and peek in hopefully for something cool to wear. And, for the record, linen is supposed to look slightly wrinkled. That’s how you know it’s the good stuff. Linen isn’t just for women, by the way. My favorite: a man in linen pants and a white button-down shirt, untucked, with the sleeves rolled up, and faded Levis, loafers, and no socks. That vision makes my knees weak. Still. Yum.
White shoes are another matter entirely. BO-RING. Unless you’re a nurse, or a child under the age of five, you don’t need to wear white shoes. If you accidently fall in love with a pair of white shoes, you need to call me. I will help you spend your money more creatively. My infamous thriftiness does not extend to shoe shopping. Black patent leather shoes used to be reserved for summer—daytime in the summer, of course. Black patent is not for evening wear. You need satin for that. Nowadays, I say if you find good-looking black patent leather shoes, wear them whenever you like. It’s like hem lines. Wear what looks good on you. You have my permission. Refer any mother/mother-in-law complaints to me. I’ll handle ’em. I’m in a mood.
Bottom line: Real women wear whatever the heck they want, whatever makes them look and feel good. That’s one of the perks of being a grown-up. One caveat: You have to KNOW the rules to BREAK them with style. That’s the secret. My son once showed me a William Faulkner short story to point out a single sentence that went on for a page and a half in an effort to justify his own issue with run-on sentences.
“Baby, you ain’t Faulkner,” I told him, “when you write like William Faulkner, you can break all the rules, too.”
Next week: Ask Mel will not be taking questions on Friday. Save ’em up for the next week! Happy Spring Break!