“Authorwear,” by Catherine Underhill Fitzpatrick

Nov 19th, 2014 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

The black, I think. The sleeveless Little Black Dress with the scoop neck and cut-in armholes. You’ll never be wrong in a simple LBD. This one has ruching, rows of shallow gathers across the front and back that camouflage a waistline gone to pot. Also, the hemline is a demure inch above the knee. Flirty, but age-appropriate.

So, the LBD with―what?

The black patent leather shoes, of course. The backless wedges. To be honest, they’re not leather and they’re certainly not patented. They’re plastic doing business as leather. And frankly, they’re more like a dolled-up flip flop than an author-talk pump. But they make every cent I spent on a salon pedicure worth the money. Not to mention (though I will), they’re blessedly comfortable.

Well, that’s settled. The not-so-little Little Black Dress and the non-leather patent leather pumps. I’ll be nothing if not authentic.

You know, selecting an appropriate outfit for an author talk is never…

Cripes! What was I thinking? Black? Now? In Naples? You can’t wear black for an author talk at this time of year in Southwest Florida, the land of Lily Pulitzer pastels. Well, you can but I certainly wouldn’t. I’d look like a pre-Vatican II nun, which is hardly the look a writer of literary fiction should be cultivating. A writer of literary fiction should appear, oh, let me see, sophisticated but not snobby, put-together but not matchy-matchy. In a word, polished.

Besides, what manner of fool would wear black in this heat? And believe you me, Southwest Florida knows how to be hot and stay hot. There are days when the simple act of taking a breath is like inhaling slow-cooked gumbo. I’ve seen scratch golfers on the Black Course at Tiburon shuffle off the fourteenth green and head for the clubhouse. Heck, I once saw mother/daughter shell-seekers up on Captiva straighten their spines, blade their hands against their brow, glare at a fireball sun, and trudge to the parking lot. It was 9:30 in the morning. Their plastic sacks were half empty. Now that’s compelling heat.

If I wear that Little Black Dress, I’ll leave my condo in Bonita Springs powder-dry and stagger in to the Barnes & Noble in Naples as clammy as a grifter’s handshake. I’ll be signing copies of my new book and the words will smear off the page. Dots of perspiration will festoon my upper lip. I’ll look like Nixon during the debates. Everybody in the audience will get out their camera phones and in minutes the photos will be all over YouTube. I can see it now:

Sweat Drowns Black-Clad Writer of Literary Fiction!

As if that weren’t bad enough, to shimmy into that little black dress, I’ll have to pour myself into the kind of undergarment my mother called a girdle, my grandmother referred to as a foundation, and my great-grandmother knew as ladies’ underpinnings. Put bluntly, I’ll have to encase myself in something sixteen sizes smaller than myself, something made of fabric that bears no resemblance to actual fabric because it’s not actual fabric. It’s a co-polymer-something-or-other invented in the 1950s by misanthropic chemists, bespectacled young men whose wardrobe consisted of dark trousers, white shirts, skinny neckties, skinny belts, and pocket protectors, pathetic young men plagued with adult acne and protruding Adam’s apples who, after suffering through insufferable teen years, majored in chemistry at obscure institutions of higher learning and went on to peer with abiding interest into bubbling beakers and to bend at attention over Bunsen Burners in a windowless laboratory on the loosely zoned outskirts of a town named either Waynesville or Waynesboro, it matters not. I’m making most of that up. Maybe they looked like early Brando, but really, what are the odds? Anyway, over time the foundational equipment that defined the shape of women during the 1950s, garments with triple-sewn seams, cross-hatched control panels, aerodynamic up-lifts shaped like nuclear warheads, metal clamps fore and aft, and truly evil boning morphed into Spanx, those now-ubiquitous wonders of modern engineering designed to keep a woman’s moveable parts in fetching alignment and suspended well above ground. In that respect, Spanx have much in common with cantilevered truss bridges.

Well, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I’m just not up for a Spanxing today. So. Not the black.

Do not fidget. I have options. The yellow and white, for instance.

The butter-colored blouse of diaphanous silk and the white eyelet pencil skirt. Perfect. I’ll just slip on the trendy new gladiator pumps, the white ones that buckle at the ankle. Voila! I’ll not only look chic, I’ll look poised and polished and, at the risk of being overly alliterative, cool as a cuke.

Hold the phone. Silk doesn’t breathe. It’s Southwest Florida. I’ll swelter to death in silk. And the darling white pencil skirt, the one meant to be worn by a pencil-woman? It’s kind of short, which isn’t even the main issue. The main issue is the three-inch difference between the circumference of the skirt and the circumference of the writer of literary fiction who owns it. Frankly, I knew that when I paid good money for the skirt at a boutique on Fifth Avenue South. It seemed so right, at the time.

And don’t even get me started about those gladiator pumps. A hundred dollars on sale at Dillard’s and there’s simply not enough moleskin in the world to make those dang shoes not pinch.


Hmmm, well, there’s the paisley dress. Five swirling shades of blue, my favorite color, the color of my eyes, in an unbroken vertical line that gives the illusion of height to a woman who, by all rights, should be gobbling Boniva for breakfast. A lovely, ladylike dress with a cowl neckline and a corded self-fabric belt, an almost invisible belt, which, at my age, is the best kind of belt, I’ll tell you that.

I’ll wear the paisley with my blue peep-toe high heels, the ones with that saucy bow on top. People will think they’re Kate Spades, which they decidedly are not.

Wait. Cripes. I can’t wear the paisley. It’s got a gaping four-inch rip in the side-seam.

Now what? I’m due at Barnes & Noble in thirty minutes. I should be in the car, zooming down the Tamiami Trail. But I’m not. I’m still in my skivvies in my condo, standing at the gaping maw of a walk-in closet filled with clothes that are all wrong for an author talk. The brown tweed slacks? I think not.

Twenty-six minutes.

The strapless pucker-top swimsuit coverup? Right, and I want people to leave in droves.

The yoga pants? Too sporty. The plaid golf culottes? See yoga pants.

Eighteen minutes.

Well, there’s always the Tommy Bahama maxi dress with multi-colored horizontal stripes. I bought it online last month. The day the box arrived I sliced it open, whisked aside wads of tissue, clipped the tags, and tossed the dress over my head. In front of a full-length mirror, I sucked in everything, stood taller, threw my shoulders back, sucked in more, went up on my toes, turned to the side and back again, and concluded I’d made an epic mistake.

Eleven minutes.

All right. It’s down to mint green, low-rise, boot-cut Polo jeans, a demure all-cotton Hanro nightgown from Switzerland, or a rhinestone cocktail dress that has survived myriad wardrobe purges despite its commander-general shoulder pads. Well wouldn’t that be hilarious?

Nine minutes.

How about the silk top with the yoga pants? The rhinestone number with the black wedge heels? The gladiators with the nightgown?

Eight minutes. I think I’m hyperventilating.

Stand back. Take a slow, deep breath. Feel the ocean breeze. Listen to the rustle of the palms. You are a writer of literary fiction, a published author two times over. Does it really matter what you wear? Breathe again. There.

So. The Little Black Dress.
Defenestration-Catherine Underhill FitzpatrickYears ago, little Cathy Underhill despised her surname, which was understandable, a name sounding so like Underpants. There were jokes. In time, Cathy married a guy whose name did not sound like Underpants. It sounded like Fitzpatrick, because it was. One fine day, Cathy realized her given name, fully realized, is Catherine, as in The Great, and simultaneously realized her maiden name is sorta like Churchill. Which is why today, in real time, the author of “Authorwear” and the delightful new novel Going on Nine is known worldwide as Catherine Underhill Fitzpatrick.

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