Give Her the Slip
When moving from LA to Westchester, climate isn’t the only reason for a change in wardrobe, says DeLauné Michel, author and founder of Spoken Interludes, a literary salon.
Lingerie always has had a certain hold on me. By the time I was 12, I a had wardrobe of slips to rival Maggie the Cat’s. It was the South, after all, where the heat makes
desire run hotter than the air, and slips are propriety’s first line of defense. I was in love with their lace and shine, their elegance and ease, but most of all, I loved how grown-up I felt in them. And yet, as much as I adored them, I battled my mother because I didn’t want to wear them. Not under my clothes, at least.
I was finally able to wear slips the way I had longed to when I moved to LA in my early 20s. I arrived in 1990 when the Dynasty style was still dying its pro-
tracted death. Then suddenly, as if on an oddly benevolent Santa Ana wind, the slip dress floated in. Has there ever been an item of clothing more perfect for that locale? It is sexy like a swimsuit, glamorous like a movie star, and casual like the beach; it sums up LA perfectly.
I stocked up on long, sheer slips with dipping V’s down the back; bias-cut, red-carpet-worthy, satin nightgowns to wear instead of dresses; and little silk slips to pair with cashmere cardigans and flat leather flip-flops. I was in heaven. It got to the point where slips were practically all I wore. And I could. I was an actress, a burgeoning writer, and had recently started Spoken Interludes, a literary salon, partly to force myself to write and partly (my south Louisiana roots are showing) as an excuse to have a big party every month. A jewelry store on Sunset lent me pieces to wear to my salons, so I outfitted myself in pale satin slips with vintage Chanel necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. I went around in a constant state of lingerie, as if the entire city were my boudoir, like some halfway dressed woman from the ’30s. Maybe because I felt halfway done myself.
I was trying to transform the uncertain girl who had arrived in LA into the kind of woman I saw: present, in the world, and greeting life on her own terms. By wearing slips, I could connect to where I was from, while being stripped down enough to create this new woman.
In the late ’90s, amidst a string of TV roles, I did yet another tiny independent film. I had brought some of my clothes to the wardrobe fitting, and when I came out in a satin slip, the director looked at me and said, “Beautiful, but I don’t want you being that vulnerable. You need to be dressed.”
My semi-nakedness had always made me feel as if I were boldly letting the world see who I was. I’d never imagined it might be viewed another way. I realized then that after years of staking my own ground in LA that I finally felt solid and substantial, like the woman I had wanted to become. I decided to get dressed.
For a while, I lived in jeans, stocking up on every weight and hue. Then I went headlong into the bliss of high heels. I craved beautifully cut jackets, and wore them with small T-shirts underneath. It was like discovering a hidden door in my closet where an incredible cache of clothes had been waiting for me all along.
A few months later, one night at my salon, I met the man who would become my husband. I was wearing a simple skirt and blouse. My future walked in the door, and I was dressed to meet it.
And I stayed dressed. The slips and gowns had become irrelevant. My husband never knew me in them, and I didn’t need him to.
Just over four years later, in early 2004, I gave birth to our first son. I was ready and thrilled for my life to be transformed. And it was. In six months, I became a mother, gave up my acting career (modest, but still), sold my first two novels, and, wanting a less hectic pace, left LA for Irvington. I suddenly had no idea where I was. Or if the woman I was in LA could be here, too.
I had no clothes fit for motherhood, much less motherhood in a cold climate. I remember one day during our first fall in the East, walking out of Nordstrom overwhelmed and empty-handed, and seeing some mothers in their perfectly broken-in cords and V-neck sweaters. I longed for and despised everything they were wearing. I had started to get dressed in LA, but that dressed?
The author with her then 20-month-old son in Irvington.
Every time I met someone new here, an unbidden mantra would run through my head, “But they’ll never know me single.” What I realized I meant was that they’ll never know me in my slip dresses, running around town, dating the wrong men, living in a small but romantic apartment that I decorated with antiques picked up for nothing on curbsides and thrift stores, powered on a Hollywood dream that I thought I had to have to be happy, not knowing that the dream I should have had was happening to me anyway and would take me far away.
One day a few months ago, I was sitting at Matthiessen Park while my four-year-old climbed the slide, and my 18-month-old shoveled sand on my feet. We were on the Hudson River and the wind coming off it was playing with my hair, and the slanted afternoon light had found my bare arms, so I closed my eyes. And for a moment, like that instant after a dream and before waking up when you don’t know which reality is true, I could have been in LA in one of my slips, stripped down to my core, but this time fully formed.
And then I understood that I still am that woman. That it is almost as if I am wearing the slips now, but under my skin this time, like some perfect permanent lingerie that I never have to put on.
DeLauné Michel is an award-winning writer whose second novel, The Safety of Secrets, was recently published by HarperCollins. She also produces Spoken Interludes, a critically acclaimed reading series here in Westchester. For more information, visit: delaunemichel.com or spokeninterludes.com