Monday, October 09, 2006

Adventures in the Banana Republic

I've been such a flake lately that I totally forgot to announce something else I'm involved in.

If you're in the North Texas area, the Richardson library is having a big author tea to raise money for the library and literacy efforts. It's a high tea, with each table hosted by an author. I heard a rumor that they'd have local firefighters serving, but I haven't seen that on any of the promo material, so I'm not holding my breath. There will be prize giveaways, raffles, books to buy, and that sort of thing. The event is the afternoon of October 22. For more info or to buy tickets, visit the tea web site. I think the only way to guarantee that you're sitting with the author you want is to buy the whole table, but somehow I doubt I'm going to be stampeded if you want to try to sit with me.

They're encouraging us to wear hats to make it a true high tea experience, so I spent part of Saturday morning trying on possible outfits to go with the hats I have. I love hats, but the seasonal hats I have aren't really tea party hats. I have my grandfather's tweed fedora (his Tom Landry hat) that goes with more sporty/casual clothes. I have a bigger black wool fedora that makes for a good 1940s femme fatale look. I could totally rock that with one of my 40s style suits and maybe seamed stockings and stiletto heels, but that's not really my author image. So it looks like I'll go with my very favorite hat, a sort of Victorian-looking floppy crushed velvet number with a big satin rose on it.

I bought it at Target years ago when I just fell in love with it. It was so impractical, but it was so me. I still haven't worn it very often around here, but it's traveled all over the place with me. It's a lot more stylish than a knit stocking cap when I'm in a cooler climate. I've worn it all over England, repeatedly in New York in wintertime, and it went on my last trip to Chicago. Even better, I get compliments everywhere, whenever I wear it. When people stop you in the street in London or New York to tell you how fabulous your hat is, that's really something.

But coordinating it with something other than a winter coat is more challenging. I don't want to go too Victorian and look costumey. It needs to be a little more funky, kind of vintage shop chic. As a result, I was digging through my vast collection of white shirts and blouses (two things I can never resist: black skirts and white shirts), and I found something that was a real blast from the past when I looked at the label. The label said "Banana Republic: Travel and Safari Clothing."

Yes, folks, once upon a time, Banana Republic was not known for being the home of moderately priced urban sophisticate clothing. Instead, it was where you outfitted yourself for adventures in exotic, out-of-the-way locales (thus, the store's name). Does anyone else remember that era? They usually had an old army jeep parked in the middle of the store, and the clothes tended toward stuff like photographers vests, safari jackets and the kinds of shirts you could rinse out in your hotel room sink and drip dry overnight. Back then, I was a journalism major dreaming of being a foreign correspondent, and whenever I was in the mall, I'd drop in on Banana Republic to pick out the outfits I'd be wearing when I looked intently at the camera and said, "This is Shanna Swendson, reporting live from (international trouble spot)." It made me think of all the war stories my journalism professors told about their adventures in far-off places (before they retired to teach).

I couldn't really afford to buy anything there, but by carefully watching for sales, I bought two things from that era that are still in my closet. One was the shirt I found Saturday, which is a sort of mix between a vest/waistcoat and a shirt -- it's got the body style of a vest, but with sleeves. I thought it looked very Out of Africa, like something you'd wear with jodhpurs or a long khaki skirt and riding boots. The other is a long, A-line black knit skirt that's still one of my favorite things to wear for long plane flights, like overnight to Europe. It's as comfortable as pajamas, I can fit my legs up inside it if I curl up, so it's like a built-in blanket, it doesn't wrinkle, and because it's a skirt, I feel a bit more stylish and sophisticated upon arrival than the stereotypical sweatsuited American tourist the Europeans love to mock. With that skirt and my hat, no one ever pegs me as a tourist (plus, there's something about looking kind of like you stepped out of the Victorian era that makes people feel compelled to carry your luggage for you, even if it has wheels).

I'm still a little sad that I never got my Banana Republic safari jacket before they changed their corporate identity. Never mind that I'm not all that interested in actually going on a safari or roughing it or going to any place that might be considered an international trouble spot and their current clothes probably fit my lifestyle better. I still liked having a store that made me dream of adventure.

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