Essays and Musings, Personal Style

Making It After All

MTM4In my late twenties, newly diagnosed with cancer, I lived in Brooklyn, and under the care of a kind and gifted oncologist did treatment at NYU Medical Center. That year of treatment happened to coincide with the terrorist attacks of 9/11; in fact, my very first chemotherapy round of six monthly doses, occurred two weeks before the unforgettable morning of September 11th. The timing meant that my hair had begun to fall out in chunks on that day. I found it on the pillow when I opened my eyes and later, on the shower floor. If you’ve ever experienced this kind of catastrophic hair loss, you’ll know how unnerving it is. At the age of twenty-nine, I wasn’t prepared for going bald, let alone for having cancer. I didn’t own any clippers and was at a loss as to removing the remaining scattered patches of hair; in the chaos and fear immediately following the attacks, the bridges and subways were closed, making it impossible to get to my hairdresser in Manhattan.

So I called a friend who lived in Park Slope, and asked him if he could shave my head. Accompanied by my husband and by my friend’s partner, we all four went up to the  rooftop that looked out towards Manhattan. In the empty horizon you could see two rising columns of black smoke where a day earlier the World Trade Center Towers had stood. I still have the before and after photos. From time to time I look at my husband posed with his arms encircling my waist, the sky falling behind us as a backdrop, bluer that I remember it being that day. In one photograph I have hair and in the other I don’t.

You might think that I got used to the idea of having cancer and of being bald, but I struggled against the image of outsider, the image of someone to be feared because of her condition. And so I immersed myself in the bright and deceptive world of TV and cinema. Submerged in this fantasy realm, I was free to identify with iconic women who had the wherewithal to make it through. One woman stood out in particular: Mary Richards. Mary was a great favorite from numerous childhood years of watching TV. Mary Tyler Moore’s iconic character was my heroine: a stylish woman who used humor along with courage to move gracefully through the day-to-day. She fearlessly bucked the trend of wife and homemaker, seeking independence instead. Today, with so much uneasiness about the future, alongside the hopefulness of the recent Women’s March on Washington, Mary Richards’ ability to make it after all remains profoundly relevant.

I’ve written before about Mary’s influence, and on this day of Mary Tyler Moore’s passing, I am sharing here  as a tribute, the article published in Elle magazine.

Mary Tyler Moore, 1970s

Mary Tyler Moore, 1970s

Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards

As Mary Richards

 

 

 

Standard
The Four Seasons of Vintage

A Report in March

Valerie Harper as Rhoda

Valerie Harper as Rhoda

Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards

Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards

A few years ago, for the October 2012 issue of Elle Magazine, I wrote a short piece about personal style in which I referenced “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and the great influence Mary Richards, a single career woman living in Minneapolis, had exerted over my ideas of style. What I neglected to mention here in the Elle article is that in addition to watching reruns of Mary on TV, in my pre-teen years I also obsessively watched her friend, Rhoda Morgenstern. Hailing from a New York Jewish family, Rhoda was the more “ethnic” of the two women. Viewers saw in her and her occupation as a window dresser, the bold creative type alongside Mary’s midwestern professionalism.

The thing that made both these women special in my eyes was their independence and unique sense of style. While Mary, a television producer, favored neutral tones and sophisticated pants ensembles that erred on the side of minimalism, Rhoda consistently chose bright colors, prints and headscarves. She exuded a bohemian glamour that went against the grain of her traditional upbringing and overbearing mother. But both Rhoda and Mary displayed an admirable confidence in whatever they happened to have on for the day. In those years, my mind was captivated by the idea of stylish living, a lifestyle I knew nothing at all about but by which I was fascinated. And so, I gleaned from intensely studying these fashionable and funny women that great style is a reflection of one’s personality. Because of the ease with which they wore clothes, I came to believe that style had little to do with price or designer labels, and everything to do with attitude. In each episode it was comforting to know you could depend on Rhoda and Mary to put the best of 70s fashion on display for the cameras.

At this writing, it appears fashion is having a Rhoda and Mary moment. Judging from the myriad street style photos of the Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear shows, regardless of what’s being shown on the catwalks, people in the street have returned to seventies fashion: brightly colored prints, flared pants, light blue denim, suede, and colors like cream and camel. As for myself, this spring, I will not be getting dressed each day without first taking stock of what it is Rhoda and Mary would wear.

Rhoda and Mary

Rhoda and Mary

via The New York Post

via The New York Post

mary-tyler-moore-show-season-4-18-the-co-producers-richards-rhoda-morgenstern-valerie-harper-episode-guide-list-review

mary-tyler-moore-show-season-4-19-best-of-enemies-mary-rhoda-fight-in-wjm-newsroom-valerie-harper-review-episode-guide-list

 

Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Street Style; Tommy Ton

Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Street Style; Tommy Ton

Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Street Style; Tommy Ton

Tommy Ton

Susie Lau and Julia Sarr-Jamois; Harper's Bazaar Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Street Style

Susie Lau and Julia Sarr-Jamois; Harper’s Bazaar Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Street Style

Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Street Style; Tommy Ton

Tommy Ton

Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Street Style; The Sartorialist

Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Street Style; The Sartorialist

Leigh Lezark; via Harper's Bazaar

Leigh Lezark; Harper’s Bazaar

Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear 2015 Street Style; Tommy Ton

Tommy Ton

Ella Catliff; via Harper's Bazaar

Ella Catliff; Harper’s Bazaar

Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Street Style; Tommy Ton

Tommy Ton

 

 

Standard