I remember the moment I figured it out.
It was one of those typical “ah-ha” moments so beloved of Oprah, as if the skies had opened and Enlightenment (or at least Awareness) descended.
It was junior high, a time I do not recall very fondly. The person who delivered this epiphany to my listening ears was called Nancy (I cannot for the life of me remember her last name) and she was fabulous. She was tall, she was pretty, she had curly red hair and adorable freckles; she was popular; she had boyfriends; she made the sports teams I was regularly cut from; she was everything I was not.
So of course I studied her. How did she know these things? Where did she get this ease, this instinctive knowledge of style and fashion? How did she know the exact moment when stirrup pants went OUT and something else came IN? (It was the eighties, people, cut me some slack.) How did she gauge shoes and skirt lengths and colours and the way to do one’s hair and how to apply makeup? Why was it that when I tried these things they just looked weird?
And then one day I overheard her talking to one of her friends (ever-so-slightly LESS cool, according to the junior high measurement of these essential things) and Nancy said the words that rocked me, a lament about the vagaries of fashion and how quickly styles change:
“You used to walk by Le Chateau and see nothing but black. Now all you see is white, white, white!”
It came to me then. THAT’s how they know! That’s how these girls know what’s in fashion and what isn’t! They look in the stores! It’s not a secret code, it’s not some weird genetic twist that I lack, it’s just that they go over to Market Mall and window shop and try things on and…look, I guess.
Sadly, this epiphany did not help my social life or my fashion sense. I never did care for Le Chateau, I never did crack the accessories code, and will always prefer flat and comfortable shoes to any other kind. Also, shopping is boring.
But that memory came to me the other day (my friend C. is getting married and my closet mysteriously shrunk the dress I was going to wear) in Market Mall, of all places, right about where Le Chateau used to be.
You don’t have to worry about getting things wrong in a library. Even if you don’t have the information you need, it’s not hard to find a book that will help you. The books are right there, where they are supposed to be. They don’t move around, changing black into white without any warning. The Dewey Decimal System, even if it is a little too much like math for my liking, is a wonder of exactitude and organization. A few years ago my own book collection got to the point where I needed to implement what one of my old professors used to call “An Organizational Principle.” It’s a quirky system and depends on an in-depth knowledge of an author’s nationality and the year in which the book was acquired, as well as when it was last read and the genre into which it fits, but I can still find the books I need.
I learned from Nancy that if you want to know what’s in style you should look in the stores where the young people shop. I now know that styles change and that the people you idolize in grade 8 are long gone from your consciousness a few years later on. I also know that I will never care for fashion or uncomfortable shoes, and that I will never understand the Secret of Accessories, nor will I ever be in possession of Good Hair.
But I do know where the libraries are, and how to find what I need inside a book.