The Carry-On Challenge: a new way to pack travel clothes

photo by Elliot Margolies

photo by Elliot Margolies

The last time I packed for a trip to Europe I was going to Italy to attend a writers conference in Positano. Traveling there from New Jersey would necessitate a flight to Rome and another to Naples, then a drive down the steep, winding, breathtaking roadways to Positano.

Before my trip, the very mention of the word Naples elicited quite a flurry of advice. “Oh dear, the crime,” “be careful of the pick pockets,” “say ciao to your luggage.” Under no circumstance should I check my luggage on a plane to Italy, I was told. They have the highest “lost” luggage rate in the world.

If I decided to heed this advice I’d have to pack a carry-on with two weeks’ worth of clothing, since after the weeklong conference, my family would meet me for a week of traveling.

I was up for the challenge. I laid my clothes on the bed to see how many outfits I could make with the least number of components. All my pieces worked beautifully together. Leggings worn on the plane could become pajamas if I was cold, or yoga wear or thrown under a tunic for dinner. A cosmetic bag could become a clutch purse. A mini dress could become a tunic to be paired with the pajamas−I mean, leggings!

I couldn’t believe I actually zipped that suitcase closed.

I sauntered up to the Alitalia counter to check in. A lovely Italian woman greeted me warmly and asked for my passport. She told me to place my suitcase on the scale.

“Oh, no,” I said, “I’m taking it on the plane. I’m not checking it–it’s a carry-on.”

Don’t they have the greatest accents?

“You stilla hava to weight it.”

Oh. Why would that be? Shouldn’t a carry-on be more about volume than weight?

Regardless, I did what she said and put it on the scale. I must admit it was difficult to heave up there. They really should build the scale into the floor so you don’t pull your back out.

The lovely lady with the accent said, “Signora, you have to check this suitcase. It is too-a heavy.” She reached for a luggage tag for me to fill out.

“No, no, I can’t.” My hand went up. “I have to take it with me.” Then I lowered my voice. “I’ve been advised not to check bags to Italy. No offense, but I can’t risk it getting ‘lost.’”

I shouldn’t have added the air quotes, in retrospect.

“Then-a you have to remove 4.5 kilos,” she said without her usual warmth.

4.5 kilos, well, that’s easy. I yanked at the suitcase and let it drop to the floor. I couldn’t believe we were quibbling about a mere 4.5 kilos. I pulled a few things out and put them in my tote bag (my one personal item). My dopp kit was first. That thing must’ve weighed at least 4.5 kilos, but just for good measure I grabbed my round brush too, with the solid wood handle, that had to amount to something. Then back on the scale.

I should point out that when I lifted it back onto the scale, I was not impressed by how light it had become. I smiled in spite of that.

She smiled back. Friends again! I understood her boundaries, she understood mine. Everything was buono!

“3.5 more kilos,” she said stone-faced.

What? How can that be? What’s that in pounds?”

“8 pounds.”

8 pounds! 8 pounds! I yanked the suitcase back and threw it on the floor. And by “threw” I mean “kicked.” For obvious reasons.

“You-a will have to move to the side now, senora.” She waved me off, so she could help the next passenger. She was moving on. Without me.

“Fine.” I went through the bag. I wish I could tell you it was the last time. But it wasn’t. She sent me back twice more. Okay! I don’t know how much the fat lady at the fair weighs either! The last time she sent me away with a big plastic bag, into which I could fit my tote bag and my dopp it, my round brush, my jewelry bag and two pairs of shoes. Ironic that this see-through bag was my new “personal” item.

When I finally worked it down to the acceptable weight I was wearing about 30% my clothes. I put a dress on over my “travel” outfit and over that, two sweaters. I cinched that gorgeous ensemble with two belts. I wore a scarf and a few necklaces, chunky bangles, and I switched into my boots. I took out my manuscript and carried it close to my chest−which wasn’t very close since my actual chest was four inches away.

I held my head high as I walked through security. I had to remember, at least all my pieces worked beautifully together.

Summer’s Hottest Trends: Fashion Deja Vu

photo by Dorret

photo by Dorret

Last weekend I got dressed for a party and selected a shirt at my daughter’s urging. This shirt was purchased at my daughter’s urging in a moment of merciless exhaustion. The kind of exhaustion one experiences after shopping with one’s teenage daughter for long hours with a no-end-in-sight spirit. Hours linked together by caffeine runs and bathroom breaks. It was the kind of purchase necessary so that mother and daughter could walk through the lovely vacation town with synchronized swinging bags their our grasp.

This shirt has proven my long-held belief that certain things which appear attractive on vacation, very well may let you down in the real world. (Of course the origin of that belief refers to vacation boyfriends, but clothes and accessories also apply.)

I had been fortunate enough to keep this garment under wraps in my closet for months.

Until the day of the party.

I was naively unaware that it would take thirty minutes, certain special undergarments, a roll of fashion tape and an owner’s manual to get into it. Certainly I would have chosen something else to wear. I also would not have chosen the shoes, worn at my daughter’s urging, which demanded I walk with both arms outstretched, as if I were an airplane, just to keep my balance and dignity. Nor would I have worn my hair in a style, at my daughter’s urging, which only looked good standing in front of a fan or if I were to sprint the perimeter of the backyard party in order to simulate the wind-swept carefree, effortless style. A forewarning: sprinting is not the preferred option here, as it will certainly cause you to “glisten” in all the wrong places. Forewarning #2: fashion tape does not hold up to a deluge of perspiration. Once the tape gives way you are limited to very few body positions and stances, and for God’s sake, do not sit down! Unless, of course, you have the posture of a brick wall. Also, needless-to-say, once the deluge has begun it’s best to put your arms down.

Forewarning #3: wind-swept hair only looks good while the wind is still sweeping. Once the wind dies down you will look something like Lindsay Lohan after a breaking-probation-all-nighter.

Did you know that it’s beyond chic to wear a different nail color on each of your ten fingernails? I was urged to do just that in order to complete my insanely current ensemble.

As I stood there at the party, wearing a shirt meant for someone else, heels that made my ankles wobble, a hair nest I was certain living things had found refuge in and a rainbow manicure, I had a strange deja-vu. It took a few minutes for me to crystalize the faint recollection that I had been in this position before. But when I did it brought a smile to my face.

It was kindergarten. With a jumble of five-year-olds at the dress-up box.

My Maiden Voyage in Girdle Top Pantyhose

photo by Rob Thurman

photo by Rob Thurman

Must they be called that? Geez. I plucked a package from the display rack and quickly slid my thumb over the words Girdle Top, while hunching my shoulders around the cardboard package. The g-word made me cringe. I couldn’t believe I’d gotten myself in this position. It brought back a vision of my grandmother, a hardy, thick-waisted woman who expended considerable effort donning a girdle – the kind with dangling metal clips that attached to thigh-high nylons.

The fact of the matter was I needed a word like girdle. It was unapologetic and assertive. I had no time to waste on sugar-coated euphemisms. They’d just create doubt. I needed a guarantee.

I had three hours to lose twenty pounds. These pantyhose were my last hope.

I guessed on the size, made the purchase and ran to my car to get home. I had to dress fast and be back out the door in a hurry.

When I removed the pantyhose from the package, they cascaded to the floor. Then down the hall. They were at least 8 feet long−no exaggeration. The girdle part alone was 4 feet. A quick inspection of the package confirmed I’d bought the correct size and there was no sign of the word “irregular” anywhere. If I wasn’t late, and panicked that my dress wouldn’t fit, I’d have a real belly laugh over these. Clearly, they were designed for a bloated Yao Ming. Let me clarify, while they were extra-long, they were not wide−by any stretch. Even a good yank at the waistline had me perspiring with fear that I’d never get one leg in, let alone 2 legs (with thighs) and a stomach.

I sat down on the closed toilet seat and took a deep breath. This had to be done right the first time. Once these bad boys were on, I was pretty sure a pair of scissors would be the only way out.

Perplexed by the four foot-long girdle, I examined the back of the package which demonstrated a silhouette wearing them. The waistline was not at her waist at all; it stopped right beneath her breasts. Hmmm? Could that mean that all the unwanted rolls of flesh below my waistline would be pushed and squeezed up to my breasts? That’s freaking brilliant! I started to feel tingly with anticipation.

Of course, if that held true, these supernatural-nylons would need a new name, like tummy flattening-bust enhancing  hosiery? No, not zippy enough. I’d work on that later. Right now it was time to concentrate.

I won’t bore you with the details. There was a good deal of swearing, hopping, sweating, teetering and yanking. It was a blessed miracle that the girdle stretched enough to engulf my entire mid-section.

I thought I might like the new svelte me, but pain obscured any joy. I began to feel tingly again, now, lack of circulation. Even my breathing was hindered. Short breaths only.

No time to pity myself, I was on a tight clock. I’d even have to surrender to the sagging crotch−two inches below its intended position. Short strides for rest of the day.

I grabbed my dress off the bed and wiggled in. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a spot on the back of my leg, in my knee pit. It was a small green splotch. Did I burst a blood vessel?!? No, it was a small boxwood leaf squashed against my leg. What the hell? No time for questions. I had to remove it. But not with a quick slip of the hand down the back, because there was no room! My hand, literally, could not weasel into the tight grip of the girdle! I had to lower the damn thing all the way to the knees to get that leaf out. This brought the crotch down even lower. Too bad. Had to go.

I arrived at the restaurant and eased my way out of the car.

Short steps, short breaths, flat stomach, full breasts.

I walked up the path to the door, and noticed the faint smell of newly cut grass. I pinched my nose to ward off what I feared was imminent. Too late. Robust sneezes came fast and furious. The waistband was no match for the third sneeze; it curled in submission. The laws of gravity and physics assisted the curling momentum until my ample tummy sprang from its constraints and rippled over the top. It was free.

I took my first deep breath in an hour. Nonplussed, I continued to inch my way to the door.

Short steps, deep breaths, fat stomach, flat breasts.

Fashion Designers Microbe-Manage NY Fashion Week

photo by Swamibu

photo by Swamibu

It’s hard to believe, but the same folks who’ve instigated fashion induced bunions, sciatica, sprained ankles, deep vein thrombosis, acid reflux, yeast infections and constipation, have concocted ways to avert colds and flu during NY Fashion Week crunch time.

The fashion industry might’ve been in typical panic mode, but this year the 2013 Fall Collections were smack in the not-so-flat belly of the most serious flu epidemic in history. While designers oversaw the final stitches and selections, models were dropping like busty mannequins due to influenza. This prompted a handful of clever designers to nix the bug with their own personal brand of achoo-voodoo.

Side note: to protect my sources, names will not be disclosed.

If you saw Designer #1’s show, you’d swear you had lied your way into the Cirque Du Soliel tent by mistake. Don’t let the nymphes vertes fool you; it was actually the debut NY show of one notable European designer, who winked to his newcomer status by dipping his models in green from head to toe. While some think he procured tubs of Smash Box Fern, I’m here to report otherwise. This clever designer discovered (by way of his Alsatian great-grandmother) that Absinthe’s stiletto-high alcohol content kills cold and flu germs on contact. Mix a little Absinthe with the adhesive used for fly strips, paint this concoction on the limbs of models and voila! You’ve got yourself a human germ trap. Bravo Designer #1!

What if models are already sniffly? Ask Designer #2 and she’d say: voluminous sleeves. Where else they gonna tuck those tissues? (#obvi.) While traveling for inspiration for her upcoming line, in the Uttar Pradesh region of India, this designer went mad over the abundance of peppermint and menthol, specifically for its varied medicinal benefits. She couldn’t get her hands on enough menthol crystals to bring home to NY. (Unfortunately, since the airline allowed only one carry-on, her supply didn’t last long once metro-side.) Sadly, the folks at Duane Reade are unfamiliar with menthol crystals, so Vicks Vapor Rub will have to do. A bit fortuitous, as she resourcefully discovered when creating the makeup look for her runway models. Unable to locate a tube of M.A.C. Lipglass, she insisted the makeup artist try Vicks Vapor Rub swiped across lips. Not only did it create ice-like shine, it doubled as a super intense nasal decongestant! No cold’s gonna stop her show. #boom. Hey, all you sneezy ladies, Gesundheit!

You may have read about the fashionistas’ current obsession with hand sanitizer (as pedestrian as that might sound). One accessories designer, #3, inspired by her #sociallyacceptableaddiction, commissioned a master Murano glassblower to create vibrant-chic amulets filled with this bacterium-buster, strung on satin cord making it exceedingly wearable. I’m told that when these mesmerizing trinkets caught the light of the cameras’ flash on the runway they became dangerously hypnotic. (#oops.)

To ward off flu juju, Designer #4, the Woody Allen of the fashion cosmos, doled out a daily dose of schmaltz to his staff and models. It’s not exactly clear who makes the huge vats of this thick gelatinous rendered poultry fat and bottles it for the office, but swirling rumors point to his mother. The secret to “her” schmaltz is the minced cloves of raw garlic that go into every shot glass (served with a spoon). The fact that so many models scramble to work for Designer #4, even in the midst of cold season, is a testament to their love and respect for this fashion genius (#mamasboy). Anyway, some of the girls say it’s not too bad after a couple Gailoises. (How ‘bout a shot of Schnapps? I’m just saying.)

Designer #5, of all things haute couture, has always preferred the bold, pull no punches approach and chose to send her models down the runway wearing white paper surgical masks. À la Michael Jackson. Her supporters say it was fashionably irreverent and shouted “I like me!” Others say it was infinitely more modern than last season when her models walked with their head’s stuck out of toilet seats.

There you have it! NY Fashion Week in all its chafed-nose gloriousness! If you found yourself getting caught up in the fever, shivering with excitement and aching for more, call your doctor, you sound terrible. (#purellanyone.)