The one thing there is to really love for me, regarding the Big City, is the notion of change and progress and fast-paced everything. I love this, but mostly for the fact that in acknowledging the place of progress you remember the past. You can really slow it all down and appreciate this true beauty that coincides with the future. Yes, in the wake of this change there is always a sense of sentimentalism for me with how all once was and can never be again. Nostalgia, as much as you try to erase it from a landscape as New York or San Francisco– it runs deep, something no bulldozer or wrecking ball can erase.
I grew up on these tales of dog days past. Period dramas and stories like Anne of Green Gables or playing with American Girl dolls whose stories were set against the perils of World Wars had me curious about the past from the start. When infomercials were still a big thing, my dad was convinced to by a compilation set of 1950s/1960s Rock and Roll hits. Oh boy, those CDs were nonstop on repeat. And the album covers depicted various scenes of teenage life in the 50s: burgers at a drive-in parking lot, Dean-esque greasers on a rod, girls in capris and bows in their hair stringing up crepe paper for the school dance as a band practiced in the background of the gymnasium. Simple, carefree. The ideal Eisenhower-esque of these covers were nowhere near the bitter realities of the decade but I was sold all the same. Things in the past were fascinating, if not magical. Everything seemed better– they were smiling.
Again, the past found me. My style took a more decidedly retro turn at the discovery of a new beauty staple encountered at the follow of a single Instagram account. I discovered Besame Cosmetics by chance through an Instagram follow regarding a really clever cosplayer whose resemblance to Audrey Hepburn is uncanny and needs no makeup to transform herself, in my opinion. The tag of her lipstick shade led to an unforgettable trip to the stars on the wings of true romanticism. If there were any truly perfect love affair, it was in this week that I discovered it exists between a woman and her makeup. The way she feels so fulfilled and confident with her lipstick by her side and pressed against her fragile lips, how the eyes glow when she sees the magic hath done to them by the enchantment of a little shimmery shadow or deep black kohl. There’s the look all girls want to see: the way that someone they desire has when all they want is them; then there’s the unfathomable allure of her gaze into a mirror and seeing the face of someone so beautiful and true and positively radiant and happy as they look back to them– their own reflection in a mirror, showing the girl how marvelous she really looks and feels, too. There I go romanticizing a silly routine, but really, makeup was nothing silly in the days of the flappers or Golden Age of Hollywood. It wasn’t a solution to making one’s self feel better, but an art in itself. And that’s what Besame sought to prove with their line of cosmetics replicated from actual shades of rouge and lipstick in various decades. I myself own a 1970s-colored Chocolate Kiss lipstick, and in the week that I awaited its arrival, deeper and deeper I fell back down into the past with music, looks, and even activities. Glenn Miller and Billie Holiday turned up to nearly full blast on my headphones in all hours of the work day, hair curled as often as needed and even once attempted with pin curls– the devotion went all the way and for nothing really, other than a sentimental sense of adding something new into my daily routines, even if they weren’t new in the theoretical sense. But with new routines like this somehow the day never felt more complicated. It was magically more simplified, worked out, romantic. You only echo the past, I find, as a strange but innocent way to move forward. It’s what I continue to do now as I write, hair still curled and lipstick full and bright and electro swing streaming from my phone. Retreating into the past is the closest thing to mirroring a fairy tale– something really once upon a time.
The most exciting part of this rediscovery of decades was the dancing. I have many dreams, and a one of them has always been to attend a real dance reminiscent of the 1940s when Big Band reigned supreme. I can now say that this dream has come true, and, as mirroring a fairy tale should go, none was more truer to feeling like Cinderella as I did that night. It started out with a few drinks across the street on Divisadero, then down to the main hall of the Russian Center once the drinks kicked in to assure immunity against bad dancing (or being conscious of it). Come 9 O’Clock fellow friends from work were divided into two groups as we learned the basic steps to Lindy Hopping and the roles between lead and follower. In the course of learning we followers rotated with various leads, new dancers, 4-year novices from Sacramento, Brazilian transplants, 60-year olds. And even as the actual dancing commenced the awkwardness I had been trying to shed in a drink and too much laughter made way for the brass band and encouragement of nearly 10 different dance partners in the rest of the evening. Songs I’d listen to alone in a bedroom at age 10 were something that really got the blood stirring of 100+ San Franciscans dancing into the night for something of the past. Who needs a prince when those beautiful things are still around?
I wasn’t any good, and it felt amazing. I was still elated, breathless. Lost in a fantasy that wasn’t a fantasy really, because it had been real once in time, another decade, another couple, another young woman. But the same spirit carried on because well, spirits never die. They just pass on through the years, through dance, through music, through that same joy it all brings. Through the enthusiasm from the new that know the value in the old. Even better than a fantasy– midnight struck, and I retreated only into the future once again but with the memories and feeling that the next morning it was all real. I came back feeling better, not defeated. Both shoes stayed right on my feet and the flowy dress, though shrunken from washing, still in tact.
Grace Coddington captured the value of sentimentalism when she said,
“I think I got left behind somewhere, because I’m still a romantic.”
Romantics get left behind but they refuse to catch up. Time is slower, we slow things down to make enough room for what could be in the gap between where we are and the present. It couldn’t have been a more perfect moment to get left behind, having been left by someone just the week before. I’d been sad, surprised, nearly heartbroken about this latest affair that seemed all wonderful by Nora Ephron standards. But in this loss, there was no loss of hope for romance. The past helps me heal for the future, and feel alive in the present that could be a living hell were I felt completely shattered. But time heals all– and these timeless things I’ve embraced have me ready for the strange future ahead that yes, uncertain as always, still has hope.
A single lipstick can make a girl feel herself again. In the discovery of a new shade fresh from the past, I see that no matter what happens to me I’m never completely gone. Nostalgia is more than a feeling. It’s a reminder that souls never go anywhere really, just that the time does.