At the airport I waited by a small group of teenagers who were sharp and beauteous, slouched on their seats, glued to their smartphones. I blinked a few times because my focus seemed unreliable, as though the proportions had gone haywire in some way, or I was drunk. These girls were wearing clothes many sizes too big for them, their angular forms shifting oddly beneath great swaths of fabric. This was not just the roomy sportswear beloved of teenagers, with sleeves that might conceal a litre of vodka on a Friday night, these clothes were wildly exaggerated, almost clown-like. In these outfits you could have pretty much flown a couple on one ticket.
I tried to work out what it meant. These one-size-fits-two hoodies and monumental trousers seemed to convey both low self-esteem and self- esteem of the highest order. Bulky beyond belief, they were outfits refusing to pander to society’s evil preoccupation with the whittling away of women’s flesh — yet they were also proud and deliberate and extreme and they had tons of style. They were travelling clothes to disappear in, and were attracting a great deal of attention. Super-comfortable, playful clothes that had a bold defiant edge. One of the girls had a bone–coloured mac over her shoulders, which flapped loudly, as though hinting at her sideline as a detective. Teenagers are obsessed, after all, with clues, almost as much as their parents are.
To my eyes these teen angels seemed to cry, “You cannot fathom me or my look, so maybe, like, stop trying? I am off duty, just now. In fact, I am so off that I am wearing my off sign as though it’s made of neon. Look at me! Don’t look at me! Cut me some slack… Celebrate me… Leave me alone… ”
As I peered, it struck me how I have always liked words and expressions that mean what they mean and its near-opposite at the same time. It pleases me that clams, figuratively, indicate both happiness and discomfort, and that the word discriminating means taking distinctions and fine details very seriously indeed, or failing to see things clearly. Once I heard a friend describe another woman as “angry” and it turned out she meant of beautiful skin tone and bright apparel, as in a portrait by Ingres. You get the picture. These travelling outfits, in a similar vein, said everything and took it all back as quick as a flash: “With great effort and style we refuse to try. You will never figure us out. Ha!”
My own clothing, and even Marlene’s, which conveyed only two or three things — I prosper, I’ve self-discipline, I am doing my best — seemed suddenly to hold no mystery at all.