People come to Florida with visions of gauzy linen pants, halter tops and toes thonged by a thin strip of leather. The sound track is steel drums, and the scent is coconut and beer.
But in the deep end of the dream pool are rude, chlorine truths. Palm trees turn brown. The beach smells like fish. And for a few weeks each year, our tropical existence turns cold. This week, Tampa Bay temperatures plunged into the 30s, some 20 degrees colder than normal.
That set in motion a ritual in which our closets toss cookies all over our bodies.
Dressing for warmth.
The New York types have this down. They have expensive wool coats, tweed pants and boots proofed for inclement weather. They have pretty scarves and gloves and waffley long underwear and a general air of "Pfft, I got this."
In Florida, we don't waste money on L.L. Bean puffer jackets that we might possibly wear maybe someday but probably not. The last time we wore a hat, it was because we had accidentally dyed our hair orange in the bathroom sink. We remove our flip-flops only at gunpoint.
It's up to what we own. To be precise, that's one teal Cosby sweater from 1996, a flimsy windbreaker we bought for the pirate cruise out of Clearwater Beach and three pairs of threadbare socks.
Augie Mauser, for instance, spends his mornings selling cigars across from the Tampa Police Department on Franklin Street. When temperatures hovered around 50 degrees at noon Tuesday, Mauser wore a T-shirt, a turtleneck, a sweatshirt and a jacket. He topped his "rich chestnut hair," as he calls it, with a fedora. And he donned the most uncharacteristic thing in his wardrobe.
"I usually wear shorts because I have such beautiful legs," said Mauser, 73.
People confronted St. Petersburg's whipping bayfront winds this week in various states of strange dress. Valet parking attendants shivered in shorts. Mail carriers in official gray Daisy Dukes whisked by on bicycles, faces flexed with loathing.
Glass blower Christian Zvonik, 40, wore shorts and a hoodie. He left his winter clothes behind when he moved from Seattle.
Pinup model Judy Frasciello, 28, doctored a minidress with leggings and a furry coat that cost $10 at Goodwill.
University of South Florida St. Petersburg student Ashlee Rosen, 19, paired capri pants and knee boots, leaving a slice of skin gleaming around the upper shin.
Was her 2 inches freezing its 2 inches off?
"Uh, yeah." The other choice, she explained, was pajamas.
The fashion experts talk about layering, which is well-meant advice that can lead to disaster. UGG boots, miniskirt, fingerless gloves, 12 tank tops.
If you have money or bargain shopping skills, it's possible to look nice in the Florida winter. Several women trotting through WestShore Plaza in Tampa on Tuesday were glamorous in peacoats, boots and soft sweaters.
The other option is to give up entirely. To accept that the laundry monster ate our dignity. To band together in weirdness.
Julie Meyer has lived in warm climates all of her 49 years. She is not cool with this weather.
She walked out of her St. Petersburg clothing shop, In Search of Balance, and plopped a woven bear hat on a mannequin. It topped an ensemble of fleece jacket and white Bermuda shorts.
She shuddered in the cold, spun on her flip-flops and shuffled back inside.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8857.