If, like me, you’ve chosen to settle down over 500 miles from where you grew up, you simply have to believe that your adopted home is somehow “better” than the one you left behind. The sun shines a little more brightly. The culture sparkles with more refinement and sophistication. And the people — of course — must be more stylish.
This is the self-serving mythology that I’ve chosen to believe ever since moving from Ohio to New England over 20 years ago. Only in very recent years have I experienced moments of clarity, beginning to question the validity of my own assumptions.
One of these moments occurred two days ago during the after-Christmas sales at Elder-Beerman, a department store in the Ohio hometown where my parents still live. While my memories of the day are murky, I believe I spent most of it running around in a reckless, irrational frenzy, ricocheting from display to display like a deranged pinball.
Mr. Frump waited patiently as I whirled around in disbelief at the incredible clothes and bargains surrounding me. “But wait, what’s this over here? Fifteen dollars? How did I miss this the first time around? Oh my God, there’s more over here!!!”
This is not the first time this has happened. While I don’t return to Ohio every year any more, my hometown has been the site of several post-Christmas shopping extravaganzas over the years. One year, my sister-in-law and I practically filled our entire suitcases with clothes from the (sadly defunct) Lazarus store (now Macy’s, and no, it’s not quite the same).
What I can’t quite explain is why, here in the hometown I so ruthlessly abandoned, it is so much easier to find high-quality, higher-end merchandise on the shelves — and on sale — than in what I’ve believed to be the more “fashionable” Northeast. Maybe it’s because I feel more relaxed when I’m here, sleeping under my parents’ roof, free from all work-related responsibilities for a week. Or maybe it’s just a form of cruel irony: I find lots of clothes to buy only when I’m traveling by plane and therefore have no room for new purchases.
For awhile, I thought it was because I didn’t shop the after Christmas sales at home. But then one year I made a point of doing so, only to find picked over stores with too many shoppers and (still!) too-high prices. Back home, my own neighborhood Macy’s — admittedly a smaller store — was picked over a few days before Christmas.
Maybe it’s the simple fact that, here in the heartland, the economy is a little bit slower and the cost of living much, much, much lower. Maybe the prices were lower to begin with, or maybe I find great sales simply because, in this economy, the higher-priced stuff just doesn’t move off the shelves.
I’m reminded of the premise of “Hot in Cleveland,” a silly sitcom about three West Coast women who become stranded in Cleveland and decide to stay because, while they were invisible in Los Angeles, they turn heads in the heartland. If they can be hot in Cleveland, maybe I can be well-dressed in Ohio. I do know people who’ve re-settled here after living in the Northeast, and who’ve been thrilled at the lifestyle bump permitted by their vastly lower rents and mortgages.
Then again, on deeper reflection, I come to realize that maybe my perceptions have just been flawed all along. Maybe my adopted New England home isn’t better, more sophisticated, or more stylish. Maybe, truth be told, I’m just compensating for my extremely unfashionable adolescence by convincing myself that, now, somehow, I have a better sense of style than everybody I grew up with. Maybe my life isn’t any better than the life I would have had if I’d stayed in Ohio. It’s just different.
True, I love New England, and it seems a perfect fit for my own personality, lifestyle, and (especially) political beliefs. But when I visit Ohio now, I notice its charms more than its faults. There is a peaceful, soothing openness to the landscape, with big sky and gorgeous sunsets. The people display an open approachability, chatting freely with strangers, forcing me to acknowledge that my bad memories of adolescence have less to do with Ohio’s people and more to do with adolescence.
Even though I feel like I “belong” in New England, I can settle in very comfortably, almost without missing a beat, when I come back to Ohio. And meanwhile, the vain idea that I’ve carried for years — that I’ve somehow become a “better,” more sophisticated person because I’ve lived elsewhere — doesn’t really hold up to careful scrutiny.
When I come back to Ohio, do heads turn because I am suddenly “hot?” Um, no. Am I suddenly the best-dressed person in the room? Not exactly. Sure, I might feel fashionable if I’m hanging out at the local Perkins Pancake House in my hometown — a modest, mid-sized city that is no longer the industrial power it once was. But I only need to travel 50 minutes to the trendier capital to find many, many women who dress a hell of a lot better than I ever will. Come to think of it, this is not unlike what happens at home. At my local diner, I’m sometimes relatively well-dressed because everybody else is in head-to-toe fleece. But when I go into Boston…well, forget about it.
The bottom line is this: I grew up in a modest, low-key community where people live their lives fairly casually. I’ve now settled in a modest, low-key, small town in which people live their lives casually. I’m comfortable with modest and low-key, and probably always will be.
True, there are still some differences. I have long maintained that, if you teleported me into a shopping mall in Ohio, I’d know it was Ohio and not New England, simply by how people are dressed. The styles here skew just a bit more conservative. Women of money and influence don’t display those things via trendy clothes that push the boundaries of fashion. Rather, they tend to show their position in society with a certain firmly pressed, unrumpled, perfectly ordered and contained look that is above reproach and somehow untouchable.
I wonder if that’s why the clothes I love are still on the shelves here. Maybe I’m just choosing different stuff than everybody else.
Whatever it is, though, I wish I could shop here all the time. Seriously. Back home in New England, I know there is nothing good left on the shelves at my local Macy’s, which I don’t quite understand, since the economy is not exactly thriving there, either. Meanwhile, just across town from where I am now, Elder-Beerman and formerly-Lazarus are still out there, calling to me — indeed, mocking me — because I have vowed not to go back there.
But not before snagging a very cute, very warm, down coat by Anne Klein. Formerly $220, marked down by over 60 percent, further reduced by a coupon, finally ringing in at just about $80. Hot in Ohio, indeed!
So, I went back to Ohio….. but my attitude was gone.
How about you? What does your style say about where you grew up? Are you rejecting or embracing your hometown, in what you wear? And can you tell me where else the really good sales are?