I Remember The Costume

February 16, 2013 § 1 Comment

La Commedia dell'Arte

It was, in retrospect, a magnificent costume.

I wore it only once. And yet I remember it vividly, not at all because of its unique quality –  an acquaintance of my mother’s from the Paris Opera costume department had agreed to loan it for a day – but rather because I was truly embarrassed to wear it.

I was about seven years old and it was Mi-Carême in Paris. My mother had received an invitation for me to attend a child’s costume party  from our upstairs neighbors in the building where we lived. I did not know them but I remember that I was fascinated by the mother’s extreme elegance when I would get a glimpse of her in the elevator. (I found out much later that she had been the publisher of the Number One fashion magazine in France.)

I realize now that  my mother must have given much thought to finding an appropriate costume for such an occasion! However, she certainly did not bother to consult me on the matter . . .

I went dressed . . . as a ZOUAVE!!!!

zouave-1888-1(1) vincent van gogh

Yes! A perfect replica of the 19th century soldier’s uniform, in my size, made of velvet, with gold trim and tassels, complete with white silk gaiters and shiny black slippers! Plus a red Fez that I had to keep on my head the whole darn embarrassing time.

I was mortified! I remember my almost paralyzing embarrassment while walking along the street in my neighborhood that afternoon. With my mother holding my hand and dragging me to the tea salon where the party was taking place, I desperately hoped none of my schoolmates would pass by and recognize me.
le petit zouave

It felt like a nightmare, with strangers looking at me, smiling and turning around to watch where we were going. I did not know what a Zouave was, and even less that I was wearing a boy’s costume (though I could pass for one as I was a skinny, lanky child with a bob haircut).

The gender confusion would have become a forgotten detail except that it was what brought on my first “romantic fiasco.” I have no recollection of the party.  Merriment, dazzling costumes, fancy petits fours, nothing comes back to mind except this: there was this dashing boy in a Robin Hood costume and I badly wanted him to notice me. But he was looking at girls only . . .

Pierrot by Jean-Antoine Watteau


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