Spies, Working Mothers, & the Art of the Quick Change
In their work as spies, my characters Malcolm and Suzanne often make quick changes to their appearance to suit a new role. I’m used to writing such scenes for them. I’m less used to thinking about it in terms of myself. Until last Thursday. Our modern life does not, of course, require as many wardrobe changes as that of Regency aristocrats changing two or three times a day for morning rides, afternoon calls, and balls or nights at the theatre. But modern life does entail changes as one moves from role to role. Thursday was the opening night of the Merola Opera Program’s wonderful production of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia. After spending the afternoon stuffing inserts into programs, I had a quick dinner with my daughter Mélanie and a couple of colleagues and then hurried back to the theatre to meet one of Mel’s wonderful babysitters. While quickly going over details with the babysitter, I pulled a hair of feels from the toy bag and exchanged them for the flats I was wearing, took off the cardigan I’d been wearing all day over my black cocktail dress (good color to withstand the dust of the theatre and sticky toddler hands), unwound the long linen scarf I had wrapped around my neck and thew it over my shoulders as a shawl.
It was only when I was hurrying up the street to a pre-performance reception (combing my hair as I walked) that I realized I had just made the sort of quick change Suzanne often makes (such as in Imperial Scandal when she transforms herself into a shopgirl to go into Le Paon d’Or). It was also just the sort of scene I might put in a book to dramatize a working mom balancing her multiple roles.
As a multi-tasker, I’ve always been grateful for multi-tasking clothes. As a working mom, I’m more grateful for them than ever. Day-into-evening dresses (nothing like black to stand up to the dust of a theatre and the smears left by toddler hands), earrings one can sleep in, a bag that works as purse, diaper bag, and computer bag, scarves that double as shawls, a light weight trenchcoat the works over everything, cardigans that can be easily stowed in a diaper bag (and can cover a multitude of wardrobe disasters, such as today when my industriously nursing daughter popped the top three buttons off my sundress half an hour into our Peet's writing time). I have a pair of black satin heels that basically live in the car or the toy bag.
Of course, as Lynne pointed out when I blogged about this topic on my own website Suzanne has "a multitude of petticoats, plenty of crumply silk, and a corset to deal with. No easy task to change her appearance." Which is quite true. Suzanne’s quick changes have a lot to do with outer layers. In the scene I referred to in Imperial Scandal, her companion Blanca brings her a bonnet and shawl and other times she puts on a mantilla or cloak. Similar in a way to what I did Thursday with the cardigan and scarf/shawl. Suzanne, as Karin pointed out, has Blanca to help with her elaborate wardrobe. Though clothes that need a maid's--or a husband's or lover's--assistance to get in and out of can be problematic for a spy. I had to consult with Isobel to work out that Suzanne could wear a front-lacing corset she can manage herself when necessary, and she has many of her gown specially made by her modiste to ease of dressing and movement. And helping each other dress and undress does provide her and Malcolm with some excellent opportunities to share their investigative discoveries.
Do clothes help you balance different parts of your life? Which pieces are particularly good multitaskers? Writers, do you think about clothes to define different roles your characters play?