Sometimes all I can think about is getting something beautiful to put on myself. Of course my idea of something beautiful might not be the same as everyone’s. I recently wore a new pair of shoes to work. They are laceups, kind of beige, and have a deliberately worn, darkened look around the toes, and a thick wooden sole. When I write that, I see how elderly they sound, but to me they are wicked and racy. Every woman at the office gushes over them. Not one man has said anything about them. They all stare at my new shoes with indirection, letting their faces go flat and wary, then ducking their heads down and watching my shoes out of the corners of their eyes. It is all wonderful.
This picture shows part of something I would love to be able to wear, just occasionally – okay, just one time. It is in the Field Museum, in Chicago, part of a gorgeous show juxtaposing the present-day work of the fashion designer Maria Pinto with pieces from the Field’s enormous collection (one million and counting) of anthropological garments. This headdress came into the museum’s collection from Peru – made by a Zaparo artist living in a remote part of Amazonia – after having been displayed at Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. It is made of human hair, freshwater mollusk shells, feathers from a toucan and other birds, beetles’ wings and monkeys’ teeth. Personally, if I could wear this just one time, whatever I put on afterwards, whether a $5 thrift shop cape or a t-shirt from toothpaste for dinner or a Lands End machine-washable down coat or a pair of black crepe pants made from a 1970s Nina Ricci pattern or a bandage dress or a navy-blue linen Ungaro pencil skirt or a scarf from Paris, made by the scarf’s designer in her own atelier in the Marais (and I do own, and wear, all these things, as well as a mass of interchangeable work drag), I would always know that, one time, I had worn this otherwordly headdress. This crown completely untethered from every thing I have ever worn or thought about wearing. I could repeat to myself the words monkeys’ teeth, toucan feathers, human hair, freshwater shells.