So I was at the DI today looking for sweaters. DI stands for Deseret Industries, which is basically the Mormon version of Goodwill. I’ve done a serious DI shopping day in September every year since I moved here and if you wonder why I make this an annual event, consider my best finds over the years: a tailor-fit camel-hair blazer, a black DKNY 3/4-sleeve, boatneck, midi-length dress, a brown 70’s leather trench, a vintage 70’s orange and gray wool ski sweater, a handmade pleated wool skirt from a woolen mill in Scotland, a handful of awesome belts I’ve paid $.50 each for and, today, a red v-neck cashmere sweater and a classic white Polo crewneck sweater, plus three more vintage leather belts. All in brilliant condition. In four years I haven’t spent $100 there in total. I may be academically critical about the creepily easy relationship between Mormon culture and late capitalism, but you won’t find me complaining about it when it’s time to go back-to-school shopping.
It’s one thing to thrift when you’re 20 (for ponchos and old Levis, for instance) or when you live in a city where vintage boutiques sell adult clothes (at premium prices), but it gets harder as you age and professional dress becomes a necessity, while at the same time your earning potential stagnates because you do things for a living like read books and write stuff. But the DI is that special in-between place where I’m somehow able to find high-quality adult staples for the bargain price of practically free.
That said, when you walk into the ladies’ section of the store, the first thing you notice is the denim shirts. Racks and racks of denim shirts. Some appliqued, some with snaps. Short-sleeved, long-sleeved, collared and tunic. More denim shirts than anyone has ever dreamed. The second thing you notice is the button-front column skirts. They come in every flavor from khaki, to stonewashed denim, to black rayon and something I can only think to call “Christmas brocade.” These skirts: they’re so long and unflattering! It takes the breath away. Every unsorted thrift store has it’s fair share of hideous clothing, but only in Utah do you see the “modest” cast offs in such vast array.
I was thinking about this, flipping through the jeans, shuddering at the mail-order 80’s stuff which actually seems designed to cause camel toe, when it occurred to me that this season’s fall fashion is totally Mormon. Every September issue has at least two articles of clothing in common this year: the denim shirt and the maxi-skirt. Two indisputable Mormon staples. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to wear them together (I haven’t read my Vogue yet), but there they are. Is this after “Big Love”? I know the “prairie skirt” (the spring version of the maxi-skirt) was a thing somewhat recently and I seem to also remember a few photos of Chloe Sevigny in a braided bun floating around style blogs, but…is this still going on? It isn’t already so…last season? I mean, I thought it was cool when ballet style was a thing for five seconds after Black Swan but that came and went whiplash fast and that was a blockbuster movie. You’d figure a TV show would be even more flash, even less pan. Perhaps it has just sublimated then and dribbled out in this shape. Whatever the reason, I find it awesomely weird and weirdly awesome that Classic Mormon Housewife has quietly become an iconographic player in new millenium fashion. Yay for Classic Mormon Housewife! It must be really irritating for fashion-conscious Classic Mormon Housewives to know, year after year, that the fickle fairy of fashion has passed them by again. I mean the mini-skirt alone! That thing NEVER went out of fashion! Can you imagine?
So: Congratulations CMH, you are a fashion icon! I can only assume that if Romney and/or Huntsman have their way, the next first lady will also be the first fully embodied expression of CMH-as-fashion-moment! A Jackie-O for our increasingly conservative and paranoid times! And on election day, there I’ll be, the buttons on my skirt undone a little too high, my braid askew, my untucked denim shirt waving in the wind like another tired American flag. And I, I will salute you, CMH, you winged victor, you golden angel.