Goodbye, Mr. Smiley, and thank you.

by Erin on September 22, 2006


green satin dinner suit

Julia N. sent me a link to this, which is part of an auction being held in late October. An auction which includes, among other things, Jim Smiley's collection.

I guess I thought Mr. Smiley would always be there, and one day when I had some mad money, or achieved that twenty-six-inch waist, or otherwise reached some never-never moment of unattainable perfection, I would venture back to his shop and choose one perfect, lovely dress. Not that he only had one, mind you — he had plenty. But I suppose I delayed making my choice too long, and now it's too late, as he's retiring, closing his store, and auctioning his collection. (Yes, I know I could do phone or online bidding, but it's not the same as being in his shop.)

I never made it to his New York shop, although it seemed to me that I was always walking past his windows late at night, standing in the street making tissue-paper resolutions to visit on my next trip. I did manage to visit the store he had in New Orleans, back in 1999. I was just an (embargoed, need-to-know-only) eleven weeks pregnant at the time; it was hot and humid and August and I had run out of excuses (other than "generalized bitchiness") as to why I was sleeping so much and why I needed cold drinks every seven minutes, on average. Considering my crankiness was at Defcon Three, possibly Two, my traveling companions considered a quick trip to a vintage store a minor and easily-made appeasement.

Given that I could have spent several hours there, standing with my eyes closed just BREATHING DEEPLY in that atmosphere of dress heaven, the forty-five minutes or so I managed to grab was on the "quick" side. I didn't buy a Dior, or a Ceil Chapman, or a Claire McCardell, or anything like that — I bought two 1950s maternity smocks, from the decidedly un-couture house of Sears, in red bandanna and blue plaid. But I loved them and I wore them constantly, and they were some of the only maternity clothes I could look upon without revulsion after my forty-TWO weeks of pregancy were over.

Who knows — maybe someday the planets could have aligned and I would have gone in and bought something very like this, or maybe I would have the same paralysis I have had on every trip to (Smiley's polar opposite) Topshop, where I always end up wandering around aimlessly trying to find the One Perfect Thing and walk out empty-handed, or (worse) with a white plastic headband, or a yellow patent belt, or something similarly totemic and unwearable. Now we'll never know. But the next time I think "someday …" I'll stop and ask myself, "why not today?"

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