The Great "Elaine from Seinfeld" Dress Experiment
So, cool girls are dressing like Elaine from Seinfeld.
Seriously. Forever 21 is selling floor-length florals and menswear vests. Rodarte trotted out puritanical lace for fall. Stars like Chloe Sevigny and Britain’s Fearne Cotton are strolling with iced coffee, exposed ankles capped in hideous pilgrim shoes.
Last week, the New York Times deconstructed the Elaine look: Elaine has stood out as a beacon of a faded era, in long floral skirts, blazers with padded shoulders and granny shoes with socks. Just about every inch of her skin was covered as if she were photosensitive … Seinfeld was decidedly anti-fashion. But now, if you happen upon an old episode, Elaine just looks cool — and of the moment.
Maybe it’s a protest from young women tired of being naked. A ploy for power through desexualization. A demand for both femininity and respect.
But, um … it’s weird, right? What’s fashionable in New York City art galleries usually looks bananas everywhere else.
Could Elaine fly here?
It took about two seconds to find an Elaine dress at the Salvation Army in St. Petersburg. $6.99. Navy polyester with a ruffled neck and long sleeves. Like a couch cover, it smudged each line of my body unrecognizably into the next. It was in a John Steinbeck novel once.
I added a blazer, white socks and chunky loafers. I pulled my hair into a poof and walked through the newsroom at a busy hour. No one could tell if I was serious. They walked by slowly, eyes to the hair, to the dress, to the socks.
"Are you … is … uh … are … "
One colleague studied me, eyebrows sloped like a waterslide, then looked sharply to someone else. "Great sweater!" Then she walked away.
Work alone was not enough for this social experiment. After all, New York girls are going out like this. I grabbed my friend Emily and went to the Independent in St. Petersburg. I didn’t feel ironic or powerful at the bar, just awkward, like I should be home changing the cat litter and steeping Earl Grey.
"I feel embarrassed to be with you," Emily said.
Some pretty people in skinny jeans invited us to play a risque board game. Well, correction — they invited the whole bar and looked horrified when I accepted. "This game can get offensive," they warned twice. "NO ONE CAN GET OFFENDED, OKAY?"
We moved to the Pelican Pub, where we were the only women in a sea of dudes. I walked to the bathroom and told Emily to study the crowd. I got admired — score! — sort of.
"It’s like he looked out of habit,” Emily said. “But he looked away so fast I thought he was going to get whiplash."
Meanwhile, a fashionable Emily clad in a bold sundress collected compliments left and right. "I’ve never felt better!" she said. "You should always dress like this."
Just as I was about to write off Elaine Benes forever, to do her stupid freaking dance, make a Soup Nazi joke and go home, something weird happened. People started to appreciate my look. One guy called me "adorable." Another suggested I add a streak to my hair and try pink socks next time.
Then this terrifying exchange:
Drunk dude: "WHERE’S THE PARTY AT? YOU GUYS DOING SHOTS?"
Me: "Really? Are you serious?"
Emily: "What do you think of her outfit?"
DD: "It’s Dutch, baby! WOO!"
Maybe Elaine was onto something. Maybe beauty and style really radiate from within, not from a bandage dress and stilettos. Maybe we needn’t be judged on the length of our skirt. Maybe …
A homeless guy pedaled up to us on his bike.
"Are you missionaries?"
Deal Diva Stephanie
Photos: Times files, snapshots by the inimitable photgraphic genius Emily Nipps