Pretty in Plaid by Jen Lancaster
In the movie High Fidelity, Jon Cusack’s character Rob Gordon arranges his record albums in the order of his most devastating breakups and personal crises. His collection is a vinyl autobiography. Jen Lancaster’s 4th memoir Pretty in Plaid: A Life, a Witch, and a Wardrobe, or, the Wonder Years Before the Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smart Ass Phase released May 2009 is a sartorial autobiography, the hits and the misses. She starts with balking at wearing “a ridiculous pair of maroon tights” which would clash with her red sweater on as “auspicious occasion” as her 8th birthday and takes us through the quest for the perfect pair of jeans even if they were so tight that her legs became numb. She describes the usual generational sparring that went on between herself and her mother when it came to money, hemlines, trends and limits, but more interestingly, she had plenty of issues that she had to work out for herself. Every decade has its “It” styles: Jen had her Jordache jeans, pop collar pullovers, and Cover Girl blue eye-liner. I don’t even want to describe the outfits that my generation wore during the disco years but suffice it to say Polyester was king. Will the expensive designer handbag purchased with a new credit card win Jen’s acceptance into the “right” sorority of her dreams or put her into so much debt that she has to bail out of school all together? Lesson learned? Yes, mercifully. With her wise father’s tough love tactics, she paid down her debt and returned to school. Lancaster rushed a different sorority this time based on the true congeniality of the other members. She dressed within her means, acted like herself and gained life-long friendships. As in Lancaster’s previous 3 books, she admits to being a late learner of these life lessons. Her tumbles make us cringe, laugh out loud and identify.
Jen Lancaster’s fantasy of winning the affection of a “minor European prince” on her college trip to France and Germany put me in mind of Ralphie Parker’s daydream of Miss Shields reading his theme in A Christmas Story and clutching the essay to her chest “Oh! The theme I’ve been waiting for all my life. Listen to this sentence: ‘A Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.’ Poetry. Sheer poetry, Ralph! An A+!” That’s my grade for Jen Lancaster’s Pretty in Plaid.