Dec 30, 2015

Epic. Iconic. Mine.

I find time and inspiration today, dear Friends, to finish the year with a scribble and a thought or two. Won’t trouble you with any ponderings on the import of the waning old year or the opportunities presented by the waxing new year. Today is all about fashion.

If there were a Maslow’s Hierarchy of feminine presentation, battling for the peak of the pyramid would be a handful of epic designs, pieces so desirable, timeless and celebratory of womanhood that generations of women lust for them. Me too.

The Chanel Clutch. The Louboutin Pump. The Cartier Watch. Things that effortlessly broadcast “because I’m worth it” in a way that L’Oreal needs to spell out. Pieces that, if one ever really found herself stranded in a war zone, you could pawn for an exit visa (but deep down you know you simply wouldn’t part with them). 
It is a select list, and I propose to add to it. 

The Diane von Furstenberg Wrap Dress.

The DVF Wrap was perhaps the most perfectly timed design since Noah’s Arc. Ms. Von Furstenberg had just recently pitched up on American shores from a design apprenticeship in Italy with a bag of her own early samples and an appetite for a new life.

“You know, I made easy little dresses. That's what I did. I didn't think I was actually designing them and I didn't think I was making a fashion statement.”

Over 40 years later, The Dress is still a valid fashion statement. It was in the early 1970’s a part of genuine revolution, a turbo-charger to the Feminist movement. The 20th Century woman had been chiseling away at the constrictions of fashion with tiny but important hammer thwocks for years … Greta Garbo in tuxedo. Kate Hepburn in slacks. Small platoons of bra-burners finally fed up with girdling, garters and exaggerated silhouettes largely dictated by men who displayed a nearly uniform lack of regard for comfort or appreciation of the natural and distinct beauty of women.

This turbulent era saw American women entering the workforce in greater numbers and with higher expectations than had been the case since WWII. “Libbers” carrying on the great work of the Suffragette movement confronted male power structures in the corporate world at distinct disadvantages, lacking role models, networks, legal protection from workplace harassment or broad access to child care facilities.

And on top of all that, just what the hell were we to wear to the office? The skirt/blouse combo just screamed secretarial pool, catalyzed countless coffee runs and reinforced glass ceilings. Initial fumbling fashion responses focused on aping masculine fashions. Big shoulders, straight lines, bland palettes, cuffed trouser cuts, boxy shoes and perhaps the tiniest concession to femininity, a bowed collar rather than a necktie. Nobody was having any kind of fun with this look.

Then came The Dress. I am wearing mine just now. Let me describe it. The Dress just flows. A stretchy silk / lycra blend, it goes on like a shirt and wraps up like a dream. It falls to the knee and cinches high on the waist. Gentle, gossamer fabric obscures imperfections of figure, a discrete flash of thigh delights when seated. Plunging ruching at neckline beg for jewelry and feature the natural blessings of bust without giving the store away for free. It just moves so freely, it feels like nothing and like nothing else at the same time. I could not walk like a man in this garment with a gun to my head. I, like Leisl, feel pretty. O so pretty.

They flew off the racks and invaded an unsuspecting world. A garment that celebrated female form and dressed it for comfort all at once. Suitable for the office and aching for the evening transition to dinner and dancefloor. I can’t say that Disco was ever my cup of tea (more of a Clash girl if you must know), but that thankfully fleeting cultural moment would have been entirely, unredeemably, god-awful-er without The Dress.

And talk about quick pee-breaks! Gather it up, drop the knickers, do the business and get right back to the revolution.

Patterns proliferated. Colors exploded. Lines and lengths, sleeve and collar treatments were tweaked and freshened up season to season, but the essence remains. I am Woman, hear me roar, in fashion too good to ignore.

Sparks flew and designers followed with a hall pass to create looks that vived La Difference, that did not simply ape male ape shapes, that celebrated all that you and I have within us and, on good days, on our surfaces too.

Found mine at Neiman Marcus Last Call yesterday. Had not visited the NM Value / Clearance venue before and honestly expected to kiss a few frogs and go home without anything slung shoulder-wise. Given the generally ritzy price-point zip code of good old Needless Markup, I was fortifying myself with reminders about just how expensive the holiday season has already been and how uncertain tomorrow can be.

Said defenses melted when I saw the DVF section and was reminded that somewhere deep in my subconscious I had for decades lusted after this dress (as both spectator and participant as it happens). There were a small handful left on the rack, mostly skinny 2’s or curvy12’s, but one perfectly sexy six, riotous in black, blue and white tropical garden motif.

Arms going like a veggie dicer peeling off my things and into the embrace of what I knew instantly started a journey decades ago with the sole mission of wrapping around me with the kindest, purest embrace I have ever felt from a supposedly inanimate object. Out to the three-way for a twirl and a look see. Chatted with a fellow shopper who practically teared up remembering her first DVF and said the universe would rightly be upset with me if I did not go home with The Dress.

I could not, did not argue. Aided by a substantial year end mark-down on a markdown my new beauty came home at about 35% of original retail too, score for Petra. Be assured that she looks better than the snap indicates, and even if not, the feeling compensates, insulates and celebrates everything I love about my own Voyages en Rose.

I do not suspect to ever be in the position to justify the purchase of Icons mentioned earlier in this post. Let me take that back. I have a perfectly functioning second kidney. With a tissue match I would probably sign up for the Clutch and the Cartier. And with a little frugality the Louboutins are actually in reach. I do after all have a birthday coming sometime in the new year, yes?

If I get them, you will be amongst the first to know.

Happy New Year.

xoxo - Petra

Dec 13, 2015

On recent encounters

Earlier this week, after Business Class filed in, the not-so-elite rest of us swarmed the gate. The line zippers neatly into single file, and toes do not get crushed for the most part. I said “after you” to a woman and took my place next in line to get my boarding pass scanned. As we idled in the jetway she threw a conversational volley over my shoulder to the woman behind me. I realized they were colleagues and that I had slud (that’s the Georgia past tense for slid y’all) betwixt them.

“ooops. You two are together, I’ll get out of your way”

I cleared a little space for 2nd woman, dressed smartly for business to occupy, and join her companion. We made a small triangle.

“No, it’s all right, we get about enough of each other”, smilingly she said.

Their conversation resumed. 1st woman to 2nd:

“See? Happy? Glad you took my advice?”

She gestured down, and I, being me, took note of the casual loafers quietly padding the carpet beneath tights and skirts. Clearly, the heeled pumps were in their upright and locked position in the carry on bags.

“Oh god yes, my feet were killing me…”

I smiled.

“Oh, but now I am being judged” says woman #2 looking my way.

“No, no, no, I am not the judging kind”

“Men judge, come on admit it”

“Sure, but I am not like most men”

3 quick swipes and a couple of clicks later, there in my palm, a smart picture of Petra perched atop her typical 4” closed toe stilettoes.

“I am good for 6 hours, tops, in these. And no way could I drag a bag through an airport in heels”

She gave me the quick head-to-toe, took my iPhone, panned and zoomed.

“Whoah! OK, I believe you, you are not judging. But you are kind of judging aren’t you?”

“Well, yeah. I still think you have nice legs, even without the heels”.

Smiles and second looks. She handed the phone to woman #1. Same routine, evaluating the delta between the pretty picture and the present evidently masculine me. She handed the phone back with a smile. The line resumed forward motion towards the door for the desperate dash for overhead bins and the dubious comforts of our various seat assignments. We 3 lost each other in the mosh pit. 

I hoped vainly that they might chat about the encounter during our flight home. Perhaps yes, perhaps no. We live in times where surely there are more pressing or confusing or interesting things to talk about than a chap who happily shares pictures of himself in a dress with complete strangers. So I also hoped they got back to whatever they were focused on and did not take much note of our encounter.

And that, dear Friends, is a little microcosm of my own quandary vis writing, blogging and etc. What, pray tell, does one have to say that hasn’t been said? What is remarkable enough to remark upon? Not sure of the answer, but vainly I suppose I might take a swipe and a click or two at chatting with you for a while. Quite certain you are not the judging kind either.

Firstly, I believe that I have never been more happily in the grip of my need to express femininity. My work situation is home officed. What I save in commute time gets spent, in part, on dressing. There is nothing in the work day that necessitates a male presentation layer. I have the voice I have. It sounds the same whether I am in PJ’s or LBD. I remember to not click-clack around in heels without the mute key during con calls.

Being winter time, my surfaces are sleek. I so love the feeling of smooth skin, I so love pampering my legs, and I still marvel at their appearance even though I have known them pretty well for close to 54 years.

The wardrobe continues to grow. The growth is more refined, more old-vine than it was in the mad compulsive early days. Good god but I went through the shops like a combine through a wheat field then. Kissed a lot of frogs figuring out size, silhouette, suitability, sexiness, the whole shebang. The apprenticeship worked.

I have everything (in terms of wardrobe) that I need. When I add a piece, it is correct. And if the piece is not drastically discounted, patience, that supremely womanly virtue is exercised.

So, opportunity to express is abundant. The wardrobe is correct. The season is welcoming. Life is good. But it is all a bit solitary. For reasons I will not go into in detail here, the girl doesn’t get out as often as one might hope. But I do get to rub elbows here and there, time to time, and that does the body and soul good, yes?

Let’s take yesterday as a fine and still well remembered example. My addled mind has at least that much recall. 


I had a rough outline of the day in place, and a part of it came into sharp focus on coffee #3. Redhead. Gorgeous. Red. Hair. My primary wig is getting a little tired and who am I fooling with bangs at this stage of my life? So, dressed (khaki mid-calf side-zip, knot-waist, cheetah-print top and a light cardi), made up and tottered off.

Tragedy and triumph all in the same motion. The tragedy is that my complexion just dies under red hair. Or auburn. Or strawberry blond. The whole damn spectrum fails me and I must tell you that realization stings more than just a little. Red hair has always snapped my head around for a second look. I want a little of that magic. Alas, thwarted.

That said, all the colors under the sun are on display. The store is a veritable arena, filled to capacity with unmoving alabaster faces beneath the blond, brown and black, the monochrome and highlighted, the kinky, the curly, the wavy and the straight. Take a Petra tip, when trying on more than one wig, take a selfie for reference purposes. It took about an hour to wade through the candidates and adopt my new hair. The picture will save me a thousand words and you a leap of imagination and a few minutes to boot.

I love the new me. Still can’t shoot a selfie for beans, but hopefully the shape of the smile confers my delight.

So, with new tresses in place and a dire need to show them off, uptown to Anna Bella we go. I found this gorgeous lingerie shop last year while I was looking for something else, and a parking spot opened up just as first I pulled by. I had a good chat with Proprietor Pam that day about likes and dislikes, but being in drab mode did not want to avail myself of a fitting. Have had quite a few fittings since then. Honestly, no need for more knickers in my life, but there is simply no place on the planet more completely, exclusively and exhilaratingly feminine than a fitting room with a brace of bras on the hook.

I am willing to indulge for that feeling. God help me I even pay full retail. Retail is to me as daylight is to a Vampire, but here I make an exception. The merchandise assortment is terrific. The lighting is great. The fitting rooms are spacious. And the staff, god love ‘em all, are just a delight to be with. Having a girl-friend help you on and off with pretty things, wrapping yourself up in a little kimono to pad around the shop, striding out into the day with a be-ribboned bag, festooned with tissue paper and stuffed with pretty things that are perfect, it just does not get any better.

The shop was just newly opened when I first stumbled in. I suspect I was Pam’s first openly special-needs shopper. I know I am not the last. But dammit Pam, if I am not your favorite, I just don’t know what to say. Love you! As for the rest of today’s readers, if you are in Atlanta, go visit.

With a new pair of pretty sets in hand, back home to feed the mutts and turn up the style dial a notch or 2 for a trip to Lips. Now I know that Drag Reviews are not everyone’s cup o’ tea, and when done poorly, a little offensive to me too. Staff and Performers at Lips however are first rate. The joint is sold right out, 3 shows a night Friday, Saturday and for Sunday brunch and for good reasons. The food is good, the show is wild, the audience participation is full throated.

It’s the Bachelorette and Birthday party set that really light up the place though. The guests are 90-95% female and sweet merciful do they Dress. Tall heels, short hems, smokey eyes, big hair and completely free (more or less) from judgy guys, they have a totally liberated blast. I love the place. Perhaps, as a result of my appearance, I am waved in minus the cover charge, and warmly welcomed. With a little luck there is a free stool at the corner of the bar while the early show buzzes out and the ecstatic hilarity of the 9:00 seating gather and glow.

I dress to compete, and if victory is measured in how many times one is asked “where did you get that dress?” or told “I hate you for your legs”, well then, I win

Complements are to me as plankton is to whale. I’ll drink anything to get my share. I am that shallow. So there. But truly, the half dozen chit-chats one engages in prior to the show starting are pure gold. I feel welcomed. Unjudged. Natural and normal.

Periodically, a meaningful discussion will erupt. Discussion about race, or economic fairness, about where we grew up and what we miss, the places we have been or can’t wait to see. Last night I chatted wine with a pretty Sommelier. We were both squealing about our mutual love of Gruner Veltliners and Dornfelders and had a little hug about the sorry state of Chards in this part of the world and why can’t we find a crisp Chablis anywhere?

On another recent visit, I volunteered to take a group snap for the 4 women who were only getting 3 in the frame at once. I wound up in a massively engaging and sincere private chat with the smart, confident and abundantly beautiful daughter of famed Olympic medalist John Carlos. Mr. Carlos was and remains a real hero to me on 2 axes. In youth, I ran track, competitively. Olympians were gods. Of greater consequence was Mr. Carlos’, (along with Tommie C. Smith) startling, epic and vital contribution to the American Civil Rights movement.

I can’t recall what trip-wire we hit to get to that point in the conversation. My right arm went up reflexively in closed fist salute to my new friends Father. The hair on my arms stood straight up too, tingling, electric. The presence of greatness. She was floored that I knew the lore, felt the meaning of what happened in Mexico City in 1968. We spoke for some time about how far, in some ways, things have come in this part of the world for people of color since. And how things, in many ways have stood still or bounced backwards. She is clearly successful, and outwardly undaunted by the barriers, prejudices and ignorant attitudes that make her success a tougher job than my success is.

I am conscious always of the unearned benefits and advantages in my life. I am healthy. I was born in a loving, literate and supportive home. I grew up in a rich country. My mother tongue is English. My complexion is pale.

I am playing with house money, having won a ridiculously longshot lottery. Anyone with the same lotto ticket and the feeling that they have an axe to grind is just missing something fundamental.

I have a bonus number on the lotto ticket, by the way. My evident gender is male. For all my delight with the deep personal pool of femininity I paddle about in here and there, my masculinity suits me well.


Mrs. Bellejambes asked just the other day. “Do you want to have a sex change?

The question was unexpected. I did not have a ready answer. With a couple of days to stew on the ask, I have an answer I did not have before.

I would prefer a world change to a sex change.

We get a little closer, by the day sometimes don’t we? Closer to a time when openness about our full spectrum is more possible.

I can scarce believe that is was over 8 years ago that I started ordering thoughts into words here on my Voyages en Rose. While much has changed for me, much has changed in the world too. 8 years ago I could not picture a world where the sort of gender fluidity that is characteristic of my privileged life could exist. I feel today as though it is possible, and perhaps inevitable. At least for people with a few other crap shoot advantages of time and circumstance.

I hope your time and circumstances are favorable, improving and enlivening every damn fiber of being that you possess.

xoxo - Petra
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