British girls’ comics used to offer paper dress-up dolls. They may still, for all I know. You were supposed to paste Bunty, in her modest underwear, to ‘a piece of thin card’, then cut carefully around the outline and stand her up. Her outfits were printed on the same page, with tabs to be folded around the cardboard figure. A couple of scissors strokes and some careful folds, and Bunty was ready for the office, or the disco (this was the Seventies). I have little manual dexterity and no patience with fiddly tasks, so I usually lopped off the tabs accidentally. But I loved the idea that Bunty could transform her career, her whole persona, simply by wearing a new paper costume.
This is why, when I get lonely on the road, I think about my wardrobe in storage in New York. It’s not that I miss the garments themselves; there were plenty of mornings when not a single one begged to be worn. But they’re the costumes I wore for roles played in another life, and as such they’re shorthand for the people and places I miss.
There’s Iceskating Dervala, in a black turtleneck, woolly hat, and gloves (I hate iceskating, but that’s not the point.) There’s SoHo Dervala, in Miu Miu boots and a pink fake fur collar. There’s Brooklyn Dervala, in yoga pants and tank top. There’s November-in-the-office Dervala: red Chaiken pants and a long-sleeved tee, on which I’d compare notes with Tricia and Carrie in the kitchen. And there’s Lounge Party Dervala, precariously unused to high heels and a sleek black dress.
This clothing obsession explains why it still bothers me that I didn’t quite get the travel wardrobe right.
‘I’m thinking sexy, I’m thinking intrepid, I’m thinking tough babe, Lara-Croft-meets-Martha-Gellhorn,’ said the camp fashion stylist who controls a good chunk of my brain.
‘I’m thinking beige, I’m thinking soccer-mom-on-vacation, I’m thinking fat-assed-tourist-who-won’t-eat-spicy-food,’ said the camping equipment web site where I bought my pants.
No wonder I’m homesick for New York. I’ve been wearing bad pants for 100 days straight.