Dispatches | November 05, 2009

Today in my Introduction to Creative Writing class I showed my students a catalog for women’s clothing called Poetry. Most of them are would-be poets so I wanted them to see how they were expected to dress.

Poetry’s merchandize is distinctly understated, classic and elegant. A lot of cashmere sweaters, velvet dresses and blazers, white blouses, a few swing coats that are worn with loafers or ballet flats. The women are pictured outside of country estates, stepping off the bow of small yachts, or ambling down the cobbled streets of quaint English-looking villages.

I had paged through the catalog a few days before and other than a pleated jersey dress didn’t see anything I wanted to buy. It was a little too holiday at Balmore for me. I only occasionally have fantasies of myself walking the Scottish hillside in wellies and a mac with a pair of welsh corgies trailing after me. The look is too Sloane Ranger to suit my taste. I didn’t start admiring the way their patron saint Princess Di dressed until after she bolted from Prince Charles and started lowering her necklines and raising her hems.

Surprisingly, several of my Ugg and sweat pant wearing students said, “I would totally wear that.” They loved the cardigans and sweater vests worn with springy cotton skirts.

“Really? The clothes aren’t too staid, too preppy?”

We had just been discussing Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, so the idea of east coast chic must have been on their minds.

“We’re bringing preppy back,” one of my more vocal students said.

I nodded, hiding my skepticism. Most of them were still regular wearers of tiny T-shirts and low-riding jeans.

I dislike the whole preppy scene and the sense of entitlement that went along with it. Cashmere and pearls were never my thing.

But the real point was the retailer’s view of poets: stately, elegant, classic. Where did this come from? Not the poets and writers that I know. As far as I can tell there are two schools of dress: Edna St. Vincent Millay flash and Dylan Thomas fizzle. They either care too much or distinctly too little.

All the clothes in Poetry start at $100, prices more in line with the corporate world than academia. Many times when I admire a fellow writer’s clothes, they confess, “thrift store” or “resale shop.”

Perhaps we can’t help but romanticized and re-dress writers a bit— Shelley in Marc Jacobs and Byron in Armani. When I imagine of Fitzgerald, he’s as coiffed as his literary creation Gatsby, and, when I first took a look at Poetry I couldn’t help but envision Sylvia Plath at Cambridge.