When I saw a woman walking on the street in just a bathing suit I did not say anything. I told myself there could be any number of reasons for such a thing. “Out patient” came to mind, as did “house fire” or “luggage lost.” My therapeutic self wondered if she’d yet to find closure for an unfortunate childhood experience. I decided that a woman walking down the street (of a major metropolis) in only a bathing suit was if not entirely a one-off well then certainly an anomaly. And then I saw another one. However this one was not alone. She was walking with a male companion and talking on the phone (indications of someone sane enough to be socializing.) She was walking right up the avenue, if you will, on the Upper East Side. (For those unfamiliar with this territory think: uber-conventional, traditional, society, kind of reputation. There was a time you would find actual blue haired ladies in the area. Today those ladies are tightly pulled and puffed.) There she was, strolling along in her two scraps of fabric, dyed jet black and white hair, and ink intensive tattoo spanning shoulder to shoulder. No doubt coming from a fitting, choosing a hat or on her way to plan a brunch.
I’ll admit a heat wave is a natural enemy of style. When the temperature slips north of 90 nobody wants anything touching them. A waistband, a sleeve or even a proper shoe could send chills up the spine (which probably would feel refreshing!) A straw hat is practically a must, which causes a muss of the hair. Which is actually fine because who in the world is going to take a blow dryer to their head in this heat? It’s certainly tempting to forgo proper foundation garments because lifting and separating can also be sweaty and suffocating. So style slippage is understandable. Walking around town in a bathing suit is not.
If we were to ask the young lady what exactly she was thinking when she put together her little ensemble; no doubt she would cite “comfort” as her biggest inspiration. Comfort’s great. Ya know what’s comfortable? Bed, bed is very comfortable. But you see being in public is not the same as being in private. Making the choice to leave your house (when it’s not on fire) involves some cerebral cortex functions. Keys? Check. Phone? Check. Lights off, stove off? Check and check. Wearing clothes? Not really. If a bathing suit was clothing a) it wouldn’t have a special name b) it wouldn’t have a special section in the department store c) it wouldn’t only be sold in the summer. No doubt there are times when wearing only a bathing suit while walking is perfectly acceptable; at a marina perhaps or on the boardwalk. But context is king is it not?
We all live in the world. The world is not exactly the same as our living room. Clipping nails on the subway, playing with or styling one’s hair in public (over my lunch) are hostile acts. Choosing to ignore context is tantamount to giving the world the finger. You needn’t dye your hair blue or don a sweater set and pearls to walk the street, but you need to put on some clothes. Without them we will assume that walking the streets is what you “do.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
*Pretty Woman (1964) Roy Orbison & Bill Dees