Monday, December 20, 2010

Devon: You can't party without a party dress

God (or my mother's uterus) never gifted me a sister.

I tried to whittle little brother Nathan into the shape of a female, duct-taping him to the kitchen chair and attacking him with a curling iron and Aqua Net. But eventually, puberty stole his smooth cheeks and blessed him with muscles with which to punch me. I had to find a new life-sized doll to play with.

This one didn't squirm.

Her name was Devon, and I found her in middle school. Devon was the King Midas of fashion. She could transform sweatpants into haute couture with the wave of her Coach bag. Ever since she was a pre-teen -- while the rest of us were wearing mismatched breasts, slightly-too-hairy-but-too-young-to-shave legs and blue eyeliner three awkward centimeters above our lash lines -- Devon was halting traffic and derailing trains with her glamour.

Barbie's hair looks like scraggly meth-fuzz next to Devon's locks: thick, always lustrous and never flat. Her hair actually grows out of her head in perfect curls, just like her nails sprout from her fingers in shiny red, never chipped. She was born with a strand of shiny pearls around her neck. Her legs wax themselves. Sephora designs its make-up collections around Devon's palette, and bottles her natural scent to sell as perfume.

Devon is legendary. She's Paul Bunyanette.

Especially with regards to her Party Dresses. (Yes, these warrant their own proper nounage.)

Devon has a Party Dress for every occasion, even the fake holidays like President's Day and National Cement Between The Bricks Awareness Day. She shows up to gatherings with extra accessories to disperse to the paltry style-peasants (like yours truly) who didn't have the fashion foresight to design a full seasonal line with three costume changes in honor of the occasion. In fact, my favorite green sunnies were a Devon-distributed party favor on St. Patty's Day (as well as the only reason I didn't get pinched, because God knows green isn't my power color).

Seeing that Devon has no fewer than three special Party Dresses designated for the day after the day after her second cousin's birthday, try to imagine, if your mind can even stretch this far without pulling a neurotransmitter, the kind of glory that adorns my friend's body on New Year's Eve.

Try. Now weep.

Norman Hartnell, eat your hart (sp.) out.
(He was the Queen's dressmaker of the '40s-50s. You would know that if you were Blue Blood or Devon.)

It's a (non-blood) family tradition that we dance in the New Year's together, and of course, Devon had her New Year's Party Dress six months ago. Equally of course, it wasn't until I could count the final hours of 2010 on two feet that I realized I had nothing to wear to the ball, Cinderella.

With no time for shenanigans, I hit up a store that looks strikingly similar to my sister's closet, quite possibly the world's best dress store: Violette Boutique, 1631 Pearl St. in Boulder,

A month ago, Violette expanded to open another store across the street, Lilli. The latter offers the "casual side of chic," with jeans, casual shirts, a wider range of sizes and a special section in the back of little girl's tutus. Each dressing room has its own theme (cowgirl, Eastwick, pink retro).

Part of the reason to open Lilli, according to the owners (a mother, daughter and grandmother team): to clear out more room to make Violette fluffier, floofier and dressier.


Lillie St. Germain, the grandmother, helped me sift through the tulle to find five fave last-minute New Year's little black dresses from which to choose, or line up for a five-point costume change.

1. Little black sexy. This dress, with thick straps crossing on the upper back, is form-fitting, hott (with two t's) and fun, $48.

2. Timeless and forgiving. This one is more demure, with pleats and a lace bottom that flatters any body shape, $115. Cinch with a sparkly belt.

3. Chanel who? This Chanel knockoff is black with white lace pocket detailing and scattered black sequins, $85. It's fashionable, hip and a little modest, too.

4. A comfortable corset. This dress is made out of soft cotton, with an off-white lace accent print, but it's super sexy with a black corset top and zipper, $84.

5. Don't buy this because I'm wearing it. This dress looks retro '50s with a fitting top and flowing A-line skirt, perfect for twirling, $88. Now add a little toughness with a thick gold zipper on the back, permanently unzipped to the waist, and a matching front zipper that you can zip as high as you want (or increasingly lower, corresponding to the amount of champagne you consume).

The instant I saw this dress, I knew it was me: a little old fashioned, a little over the line. Why did it have to be one of the most expensive dresses in a shop known for its low price points? In a tizzy, I text-attacked Devon.

Me: I found the perfect party dress, but it's too expensive. I need it.
Me: Please help me cope with this hardship.
Me: I am mourning it not being on my body at all times.
Me: Dear Devon, I want it. Love Sis.
Finally, the response floated in, as if on a Magic Eight Ball.
Devon: Dear Aims, the heart wants what the heart wants. Love Sissy.

Which is exactly why everyone needs a good sister: Unconditional condonation.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday, bloody Friday

The bodies, compressed shoulder-to-shoulder, gut-to-gut, pulsate as one unit. Expanding with the inhale, quivering in anticipation with the exhale. Pacing from foot to foot, cheeks red and anxious, hovering over the Saran-wrapped pallet.

The bodies wait, staring at the immobile plastic mountain, elbows pressed outward to mark their space, their ranking in line based on who got there first. Hierarchy rules.

The supply is limited, which heightens the stress and competition. In this tight bubble, there is no room for sharing, no consideration for need. The poor and the greedy perch on the same branch, rewarded solely by their aggression and steady commitment to piercing the plastic barrier.

The bodies have been waiting weeks for the looming moment when the plastic is removed and they can possess the object underneath. This is important. Pivotal.

I have been here before.

It is 2008. I stand in the center of a circle on a refugee camp in Uganda, my hand on a plastic-covered stack of pink mosquito nets that we are distributing. This part of the world has one of the highest death tolls by malaria -- one child dies every 30 seconds from this preventable, mosquito-borne illness.

Mothers wearing dirty babies press toward the thin rope that we strung between trees, hoping to create some semblance of order. At first, it works. But as time crawls on, the tension swells. I hear the crowd growing in my ears, like a rabid dog pushed into the corner. I try to stay calm, to somehow send peace across the crowd.

But the dirt-lined faces begin spitting at me, shouting and demanding. They are sick of waiting. I rationalize with myself, knowing that I am here out of love, knowing that fear is the opposite of love. I reject the fear. Breathing. Breathe. I summon compassion, for the refugees' suffering, for their desperation. They are fighting to survive. I stand still and accept their anger, words slapping my face like cold, open palms. Now fists.

A sharp hand claws a mosquito net out of my hands, and the man runs away like a frightened thief. He thinks there are not enough nets, and this is a matter of life or death. I feel a chill rise, and with the crescendo, the crowd bursts through the rope barrier, a sea of despondency. The levy breaks.

I frantically look for an exit out of the mob. Claws, ripping, my heart chokes in my throat. I have no saliva. In its place, the rusty taste of fear. The riot explodes at my feet. I scream and tear for any exit, through arms and faces and sweat. With the next pound of my heartbeat, I suddenly understand the fight for life or death.

Ah yes. I have seen this before.

I look across the crowd, anxious bodies, circling a mountain of plastic-wrapped goods. Only this time, I am staying on the outside of the throng.

And this time, the mob swarms around a stack of DVD players that are discounted 70 percent for Black Friday.

This time, the mob is fighting for -- what?

I laugh.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Window shopping

Indisputably, the creepiest thing about me is how much I love to people-watch.

When I lived in the city and not North-side-til-I-die Longmont, my favorite hobby was to walk through the neighborhoods around 6 p.m., right when everyone was shuffling around their homes after work. It was late enough that they turned the lights on, illuminating their windows like miniature stages, but early enough that they still left their curtains open.

My interest wasn't perverse. And it's not like I stalked a certain family, so put away that restraining order.

I just loved imagining things. I would turn to whatever poor friend I suckered to walk with me and exclaim, as if it were the most amazing news since Docs came back in style, "People live there. They relax on that couch. They've probably spilled on that couch, and only they know the memory associated with that stain. What do you think that stain is from?"

Needless to say, it was hard to keep a steady walking partner.

From the outside, I was a creeper and it was just another window to pass. But to someone inside, that window marked a meaningful refuge, his or her own little personal station. I saw a window into another life. Every home was another story. It was like walking through a virtual library, or window-shopping for imaginary characters based on actual home d├ęcor.

It's fantastic how much you can imagine about a person based on a glimpse into their living room. Like this guy: middle aged, long gray hair, spends 14 hours a day on a recliner watching TV. His walls are completely empty. His furniture is stacked magazines and plastic kitty litter outhouses.

You can't help it, your imagination is already piecing together this guy's life story, isn't it?

He's my neighbor. Yeah, I've been window-shopping again. I can't help it, though. I'm a gypsy with a mortgage.

My nature is that of Johnny Depp in the movie "Chocolat," yet

Amanda Shank, right, chooses hair feathers with the help of Laura Tietz at Umba on Pearl Street. ( MARTY CAIVANO )
I'm too something (or too little something) to actually follow through with city-hopping. So instead, I constantly rearrange my furniture and change my hair color, and I relocate every day (sometimes even 23 times in one day) in my imagination.

This is why I love working on the Pearl Street Mall, with the best people-watching in the western hemisphere. (I imagine the block outside a Japanese nightclub might be the lone rival.)

That's also why I have a crush on the shop Umba Imports ( This store is a gypsy, in and of itself.

To afford the pricey downtown leases, while keeping its retail prices low, Umba survives on a month-to-month contract and constantly relocates. The 1-year-old artisan co-op has been in the old Art Mart shell and in the basement below Lindsay's Deli on Pearl Street.

A few weeks ago, Umba moved again, into the store next to Lindsay's Deli on the 1100 block of Pearl. The large, bright windows and sleek hardwood floors have begun attracting more "mainstream" faces (yoga moms and hipsters), which has led some of the shop's biggest sales days ever.

The merchandise is the same: fair-trade imports and jewelry, clothes and accessories made by local artists.

Although Umba has hippie roots -- I mean, the owners call themselves "gypsy love pirates," -- the products are elite and cutting edge, but with a gypsy twist, says co-owner Leesah Noble. In fact, I credit Umba for igniting the local trend to weave feathers in your hair. Umba's been doing it for a year (and for a cheap $10 a locket), whereas a surge of hair salons has only recently picked it up.

The next trend, according to Noble? Happy Cow recycled-leather utility belts with pockets ($75) instead of the trusty handbag. No, not fanny packs. OK, they're totally fanny packs.

Since moving into its new location, I've never seen Umba's feather station without a long line, and the belts are already selling off the racks.

Which I'm taking as proof of power of a good window.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Growing-up pains: Velvet Elvis will live forever

No. Not the Velvet Elvis.

I could handle the butterfly onesie, and even the one that said "Daddy's little girl." But my nugget was never going to outgrow the white velour PJs that we called her Velvet Elvis costume.
She stared up at me in drooling bewilderment as I tried to cram her 2-month-old chunky leg logs into the footie pants. I secured the final snap.

See? She fit. Sure, she couldn't straighten her legs and her knees were pushed against her jelly belly. But that was irrelevant. She was not growing up, as long as she still could wear the Velvet Elvis.

Bettie Anne was born more than a month early Feb. 21 with a Guinness Book amount of spiky dark hair that wouldn't lie flat, not even when wet. The Elvis was her first preemie outfit, a hand-me-down, like 99 percent of her clothes. The first time she smiled, she was wearing this white wonder.

I remember going through a car-sized box with my sis-in-law: clothes her daughters had outgrown. I remember her lifting up a dress, about to hand it to me, and then snapping it back against her chest.

"No, not this one. This was the dress she wore to her first Christmas."

It happened again, and again. Soon, she had her own pile of clothes that she couldn't use but couldn't let go of.

I remember wondering what she was going to do with those outfits. Put them in a box somewhere? A professional organizer had once told me never to hold onto clothes that don't fit for "emotional reasons."

I never would, I vowed.

I looked down at Bettie, cramped into a velvety ball of mama's denial, and I slowly extracted her from the PJs. I started to toss them in the box to consign, but snapped them back to my face and breathed them in -- just one more moment. In one inhale, I felt Bettie's childhood rush through me, and suddenly she was wearing lipstick and driving a car and going to prom (but just with a group of girlfriends because she wasn't going to date until she was 30).

I could almost hear myself saying in a crickety voice, "My, my, how she's grown," and feeling so old, and then wanting to punch myself for being one of Those People Who Feel So Old. Whatever, I was being ridiculous; my baby was never going to grow up.

I tucked the Elvis into my purse.

I found it there today, on my first day back to work, the first time I've been willingly separate from Bettie's little spirit since the day she decided to come to Earth.

Turns out, the Velvet Elvis is also a great handkerchief.