Nov 07, 2020
MEDITATIONS ON A BROWN DRESS
Some years ago, I read a passage that Helen Garner wrote, where she was describing her writing as a good, brown dress. I can’t find that passage, so will probably misquote her terribly, but how I interpreted it, was that she wanted her writing to meet certain standards: it should not be showy or glamorous, but well-made and designed. It should be comfortable and practical, with clean, neat angles and a timeless quality. From a distance, it was nothing special, but up close, it was the product of hard, honest work, using high quality materials.
I liked how she wasn’t after a notorious ‘LBD’ – an elegant, sultry, little black dress that turned heads. Just her old faithful friend that felt good to slip on and could take her anywhere.
Since then, whenever I sit down at my desk and write something, I narrow my eyes and curse it for being nothing like a Good Brown Dress. Some days, it is the antithesis of this: some sort of gaudy, overworked tulle number in some nasty fluorescent hue.
I have never owned such a dress, and for years have been looking for one. A few weeks ago, I found one in a local shop. As soon as I saw it, I called out “It’s a Good Brown Dress!” much to my mortification. A long, chocolatey, linen dress. With pockets! Swoon.
I bought it immediately (without trying it on) as I was sure that nothing could possibly go wrong with it, and my ride was waiting outside. But when I got home, it took me about 15 minutes to work out how to wear it! Turns out, it wasn’t the sort of simple brown dress that Helen would have approved of. Unbeknownst to me, it was a wrap dress, with four interior ties, a plunging neck-line, a waist that was both too big and too small, and sleeves that needed much fiddling with to get in the right place. I then had to go in search of a “Good Brown Ribbon” at the local fabric shop, just to belt it in.
But it’s kind of funny, because it’s JUST like my writing in its most unflattering light: too big and too small at the same time, fussy and fiddly, and in need of alteration. But hey, it’s My Brown Dress. And I love her. With all her imperfections.
Since we all have to work with what we’ve got.