Jolie Laide Brooklyn
I’ve been thinking a lot about local fashion, mostly because the winter of 2014 hasn’t provided an opportunity for much of it. Normally I love wearing cold weather clothes. I like layers and dark colors and pea coats. As fall approaches every year, I’m overwhelmed with the urge to buy stacks of sweaters and admire them in my closet like Gatsby’s candy colored shirts. And tights! Beholding bountiful swirls of American Apparel tights, three layers deep in the dresser, is amniotically comforting to me. Sundresses all summer is lovely, but slipping into black tights is like coming home.
Columnist Renee Dale
But at this point in February, I have no memory of the Fall, and feel as though I’ve been wrapped in downy layers for so long that everyone must assume I’m 20 pounds wider in every direction. Maybe I am. And I don’t recognize friends on the street. Everyone is disguised in specialty socks for their galoshes and parkas and furry snoods. I’ve been recognizing people based on voice analysis. Oh Hi, it’s you! I keep exclaiming when an annoyed Hello? seeps from a friend’s Nanookish hood. Men in earmuffs and women in ten-pound boots — everything is backwards. Just when I think I might be able to dress like an adult female again, there’s fresh snow on the ground. Or there’s thawed out garbage sprinkled everywhere, newly exposed alongside dog droppings someone left behind under cover of night. I know who you are. Please pick up your discarded rubber glove too.
We try. Our foul weather gear in New York is often cool; our efforts to locate rare pieces are real. But there is only so much beauty to be found in the tough choices we must make right now. Best case scenario, I’d call this an extreme jolie laide fashion situation.
Brooklyn, and in particular Brooklyn mothers, have a terrific knack for choosing the occasional but noteworthy jolie laide wardrobe piece. The phrase translates basically as “pretty-ugly,” and connotes the idea of those traits existing simultaneously. I’d argue that Brooklyn itself is having a jolie laide moment—grime mingled with stately beauty is everywhere you look. It’s used to describe particular women who are indeed very beautiful, but in an unconventional, non-traditional way. Think: Angelica Huston. Another oft-cited example in the jolie laide files is Sarah Jessica Parker. I don’t believe all of our quintessential Brooklyn jolie laide fashion items are actually beautiful, as the term signals in women, but they are certainly items of fascination due principally to their ugliness.
As I leave the house dressed like an Arctic Circle researcher—a robust male one, I should stress—I’m nostalgic for women’s fashion. I’ve been pondering our iconic, Brooklyn Woman, jolie laide pieces, with a glance back at the polar snippet and a hopeful look to warmer seasons ahead.
I present these with affection, as a tribute to myself and others who, for better or worse, wear the hell out of the following things as they go about living their lives. (By “wear the hell out of” I should specify that I mean wear these things every day and so repetitively and in every situation that parts of one’s body are remade to fit the item rather than the other way around. I think I have a new bone in my foot from repetitive clog booting, for example, that an anthropologist should take a look at.)
Some of these selections are very cool and deserve a much wider participation level than just Brooklyn women, and some are, let’s just say, better kept as a dirty secret between us here, where they can’t spread and infect others. The choice is yours. Here are a handful you might recognize, or even wear yourself, or love, or hate, or admire, or mock, or revolt against in our small, incestuous fashion ecosystem.
Is wearing a sleeping bag truly our only option?
Full-length puffers. That’s right. Head-to-toe puff. Don’t resist it. I don’t mind telling you, mine is bright red. We need protection here. We walk everywhere. We take the subway to work. We don’t pick up our kids from school in cars! That’s nuts! We refuse to freeze our breasts off. So these full-length down coats find their way onto our bodies from December to March. You actually have to bend over to hook the zipper and close yourself up. The “slim-fit” version of these coats, as opposed to the I’m going over the Falls in a barrel cut are a nice answer if you want to maintain the appearance of a designated gender—not required when it’s frigid and you’d wear a dead dog around your neck if it kept you warm—but still a good option. Brooklyn Industries sells them to every woman you know, and they last many winters longer than whatever Uniqlo is using to create their flurry weight, disposable clothing (is it Kleenex in there? Whipped cream? I can’t tell), which is generally in tatters before you’ve left the store.
Clogs. Clog Boots. Clog sandals. Shearling clogs. Clog loafers. Clog laceups. Clogs. Clogs. Lemme hear you say it: Clogs. I don’t think we need to go into this too deeply. They’re jolie from the front, laide from the side, medicinally therapeutic from the back. You hate yourself every time you slide back into the wooden weirdness, but you’re not going to stop. You’re not. I just bought a pair of clog boots that cost the better part of a recent paycheck. They’re ghastly. I love them like my children.
Not to get too mired in Brooklyn Mother footwear, but Jesus: Birkenstocks. No, I mean literally: Jesus. Thong style. Step and repeat. You better have a fierce pedicure if your feet are floating in these. It’s the law.
Yes you’ve seen these ’round here, toes and all
Topknots: These are kind of jolie laide to me. Nobody looks exactly purdy with one of these, but that’s not the point of a topknot. Do people still do these? I don’t know. These are for people who haven’t given birth yet and I rarely encounter those folks around here.
Some women can pull these off. But most of them do not live around here.
Fashion fanny packs. I have a super fashionable friend who is a Size Goose-egg and she has worn one of these. It looks darling on her slice of a girlish frame. She could tie a shoelace around her hips. But she’s the only one who can do a fanny pack. If you’re reading this and you’re not her, unhook the pack and put it away until you’re making change at a tag sale. Where you should be selling those orthotic mules and buying some actual women’s shoes.
Large, tablecloth-sized vintage dresses. I keep buying these. I have a dozen beautiful Mexican wedding dresses that could fit a Cape Buffalo, which creates a whole this is way too big but still irresistible jolie laide vibe that I can’t keep away from. I could safely hang glide in these frocks from the side of a building.
Post babies, we could all get allergic to carbs, and maaaybe make these happen in Cobble Carroll but the fallout could be serious
Fashion sweat pants. These drawstring harems are frequently paired with cloggings. Tough to pull off. I think you have to be Gluten Free for five years before you can wear these sweats. Even if you think maybe you’re pulling it off, have it fact checked. Twice.
Worishofer Sandals. How these aren’t somehow illegal due to extreme, discomfiting jolie laidism is shocking. They’re nearly hilarious in appearance. I’ve been known to wear the cheetah pattern wedges from April to September without interruption, requiring a replacement pair mid-summer as the cork always disintegrates from pavement pounding. Paired with an inky black pedicure they somehow do not induce shudders at their hideousness. Also, the nude ones are somehow pretty—they’re almost, I’m not kidding, French looking. Nude orthopedic sandals—pretty. Who knew? Brooklyn knew.
Things really are quite fashionable in Carroll Gardens-Cobble Hill. People know what they’re doing. They take pride. This isn’t a place, even in early motherhood, where women put on hospital scrubs and Crocs and retire their lady parts.
An irregular, skewed attractiveness is the captivating thing about all this stuff. Everyone has different tastes, weird predilections. I’m not attracted to faces with small, unmemorable, rounded noses for example. Small noses with small nostrils remind me of death—like a Memento Mori skull missing the actual nose part of the nose. And I think there are some things that should never be allowed to Go Jolie Laide—in Brooklyn or anywhere. Stuff like…Lingerie. Haircuts. Feet. Lipstick. Pizza. Body hair.
I also think you should be able to tell the difference between one’s sneakers and a surgical boot. We all want to be comfy but let’s agree to draw the line at shoe pillows. That’s just laide.
Renee Dale is a writer living in (where else?) Brooklyn. She and her fiancé and their four kids live in a narrow, tilting “house” in Cobble Hill. Or is it Carroll Gardens? When Renee isn’t writing, she’s engaged in various museum and natural history pursuits and can often be found lurking the Hall of African Mammals. In this column, she will bring her anthropological talents to bear, covering everything from parenting to local news to whatever else bursts forth in our Brooklyn life and times.
Read Renee’s other columns:
Brady Bunch Brooklyn: Renee’s Very Modern Family
The Awkward Stew: You and Your Sitter at 1 a.m.
This Problem is Not Sexy: Too Early Sexualization of Girls
Rated P for Permanent: Dale advocates for adding some R-rated classics to your child’s repertoire
A Little S&M With Your Crispy Kale: Dining in Brooklyn
Home, Sick: Face It. Nothing Is Getting Done Today
Aerobeds: The Reason for the Season
All Good Things: The Best Things to Do Right Here, Right Now
I Love Her: Film Review & Essay
Nets! Nets! Nets! Brooklyn, It Seems, Is Currently In the House
Short People Got No Reason To Still Be Awake
Some Things You Know You Know
Renee tweets @ReneeMDale
Visit Renee’s website: reneedale.com