Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Shallow Travails of a Bourgie Debutante

I love fashion. I am an acolyte of the Houses that pique my interest—Dior, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Fendi, Hermès—and can often be found stepping through their gleaming glass doors to see in person what I first see between the covers of Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar—shoes, bags, jewelry, scarves.

There’s glamour to be found reflected back in the dressing room mirror (Dior); style that is unmistakable (Chanel); and an exclusivity that one might easily feel elevates his status (Hermès) I love it! I have arrived at a moment in my life where I am enjoying the exploration and expression of my style more than ever before. My confidence has grown, even if at times it is still lacking in fearless self-assurance. Of course, being harder on myself than anyone else could possibly be I like to berate and deride myself—not seeing the growth—only seeing how much progress I still need to make. It’s a glass half full, glass half empty kind of thing and I’ve never been an easy optimist.

I’m not afraid to walk through the door as a handsome man in a perfectly fitted black suit opens it for me. If fact, I believe in that moment that I belong there, deserve to be there. I carry myself with an air of confidence: my shoulders back, my chin up, my chest thrust forward, sun glasses firmly in place, resting bitch face perfectly expressionless. My God, I’m Emily Gilmore. But honestly, I feel more and more that my confidence is #FakeConfidence. For you see, the moment a sales person starts to be nice to me (e.g. offering me water or champagne or showing me what I’ve come into the boutique to see) I begin to feel my old familiar feelings of worthlessness and low-self esteem creep in.

I’ve lived, changed, developed, grown, and survived in New York City for 20 years yet the wispy remnants of my small town self continue to tug at me. My previously mentioned lack of self-assurance has me often asking myself the question, “Who do you think you are?” It's classic Imposter Syndrome.

On a recent shopping spree that took me from Fifth Avenue to Madison Avenue then back along the glittering designer boutique-dotted 57th Street, I experienced a wave of good ol’ Imposter Syndrome. 

The shopping experience started out perfectly. I stumbled upon a 60% off sale at Saks Fifth Avenue and met the fabulous Shaniece. Say what you will about sales people in high end stores trying to made a commission. I can tell when those sales people couldn’t care less about me. Shaniece was not one them. She was a riot: funny, catty, honest. Whether she had her eye on a possible commission or not, she made me feel like nothing less than a man who happened to be shopping on a Monday in Saks Fifth Avenue.

From there I made a beeline to Hermès on Madison Avenue. I’d recently become obsessed with owning an Hermès scarf. I needed one. I had a bag that was crying out for one. And it seemed that that Monday was the day. Through the doors with confidence I stepped and gayly forward I strode to the cases where the scarves were displayed in all their colorful silkiness under glass. I was quickly joined by the gracious and gallant Luke, who proceeded to pull out every scarf I had the desire to see even though the first one he showed me was The One. He treated me like I assume he treats any other person in the boutique. He was kind and attentive, knowledgable and generous. I knew that I wanted to spend money in Hermès that day so I didn’t feel as if I was wasting Luke’s time. My confidence was completely connected to the fact that I wasn’t planning to leave without a scarf.

To browse—perchance to buy…or not. There’s the rub. If I know I just want to browse in a luxury boutique I try and make myself invisible. I love attention and yet in a “just looking” situation I try not to attract attention. I hate this about myself. I am trying to cultivate the life that I want in New York City and that includes being able to buy designer pieces from time to time.

As I turned the corner onto 57th Street from Madison Avenue I saw the Fendi boutique. I remembered the fabulous boots from Spring/Summer 2017 that I’d seen Gigi Hadid wear in photographs in Harper’s Bazaar. I wanted to see those boots. I was flying high from my experience at both Saks and Hermès. It seemed like the perfect moment to take my first step inside Fendi and see the beauty in person.

I was shocked to see Maria, the former manager of Maison Margiela, standing in the store. Turns out she now works for Fendi. Having had several conversations with her at Margiela over the past 10 months I felt comfortable enough to proceed with the browsing. But as she took me under her wing, I could feel my “Who Do You Think You Are?”-ness kick in. It was a physical feeling: self-conscious, embarrassed. Maria, and her co-worker, Iris, were being so nice to me. I didn’t feel I deserved it. We were taking about the boots that I had come inside to see and before I knew it I had a glass of champagne and the boots were on my feet. Now let me be honest, that kind of customer service is something that I want even if at times it makes me uncomfortable. It is decadent and evocative of the life that I see in my fantasies. On the other hand, I knew I wasn’t going to buy those boots so I felt as if all the attention being bestowed upon me was actually taking away from the attention that could be paid to other customers. I felt as if I was wasting their time. This was my own doing. Neither Maria nor Iris ever made me feel that way. And Maria, knowing me from a previous boutique, was just being Maria. I spoke with her about how I was feeling. She told me that I should get over that, let it go. If the only way to get better at doing something is to continue to do it then I guess there will have to be more browsing in my future. 

I was walking around Fendi in a pair of boots that mere moments before I had no intention of trying on. And I loved having them on. I was enjoying a glass of champagne. I was living the life I wanted. But I was so concerned with being seen as a fake that I couldn’t fully enjoy my moment of playing dress up. My previous feeling of pure bliss got a mental take down by my feeling of inferiority. I let my low self-esteem and low self-worth sabotage my joy.

Ruts change from time to time. They can fluctuate from deep to shallow to somewhere in between, then back to deep again. That’s what happens to me. I must have been in a shallower portion of my Imposter Syndrome rut while in Hermès because I was happy and unconcerned about the amount of time Luke was spending with me. I didn’t feel as if I was wasting his time. However, I all but fell backwards into the deepest trench of my rut while I was inside Fendi. 

I am no longer living in Population 325 KY. I am no longer the child being chided by his father, “I hope you get a good job when you grow up because you have expensive taste.” I have a good job. I’m conservative with my money until I’m extravagant. But because of my monetarily conservative nature, I’ve figured out how to afford the extravagance. I am Michael Rohrer. I have lived in and created a life for myself in New York City for 20 years. I am not getting “above my raising.” I have bettered myself. Why then do I keep asking myself, “Who do you think you are?” I am aware of my Imposter Syndrome. But I seem to be unaware of how to get past it. I’m betting it will always be there, if maybe just a little less persuasive the more authentically confident I become.

If you noticed in an earlier paragraph I mentioned the word “status.” For me, my ability to afford luxury items denotes an arrival; a step up the rung on the social ladder. This is all preposterous, I know. I’m aware of my own bullshit. I’m kidding no one other than myself. There is no social ladder that I’m climbing. I may be climbing a ladder but it’s the ladder of Delusions of Grandeur. The ability to purchase luxury items—designer labels—doesn’t make me anything more than a man who owns that item. My struggle to belong has somehow led me to believe that my ability to purchase these things makes me a more prominent person. It doesn’t. They’re just things. 
In the April 1965 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, Tom Wolfe wrote a piece entitled “Pariah Styles: The New Chic.” In it he writes of the new aristocracy in New York Society after World War II. How aristocracy is no longer denoted by the owning of property or lineage. He writes of the new aristocracy that they use one trick attributed to the old aristocracy and that is confidence. This confidence is what sets them apart from the “bourgeois striver.”

I’m a bourgeois striver: firmly middle class striving for an upper class guise but often lacking the confidence to maintain the façade. I wasn’t born into the aristocracy of old New York. Hell, I wasn’t born a Blue Blood of old Kentucky. I will never debut. I will never be part of that world. I will never know what it feels like for an Hermès scarf to just be a scarf instead of the scarf. I feel as if I will always remain on the outside, a Bourgie Debutante with his nose pressed up against the glass even as he wears a white ball gown by Dior. I know that in reality buying luxury items means nothing more than I have spent my money on something that cost me a lot of it. The happiness of the purchase stays with me briefly before the little voice in my head starts whispering, “Who do you think you are?” Then the smile on my face fades and my joy dissipates like ash from burned paper floating off into nothingness.

I know I am impeding my confidence and happiness. I know I am preventing myself from achieving and retaining the joy in any given experience. I know I am stopping my excitement in its high heeled tracks. But that sense of “Who Do You Think You Are?” is deeply rooted in my psyche. I know it’s just a glass of champagne. I know it’s just a moment of human interaction where a sales person takes the time to try and build a relationship with a possible client. I know I am not a waste of time. I know I’m good enough to be inside the boutique. I know I am deserving enough to have the things I desire. I know that those things don’t make me who I am. I also know that no matter how many times I tell you what “I know” it doesn’t mean that I believe it. Some days I do. Most I don’t. 

So I’m a bourgeois striver. So what? My father was right, I do have expensive taste. So what? My life is mine. My desires are mine. My dreams are mine. My goals are mine. To have what I want, I know I have to get past my insecurities and live confidently. That’s easier said than done but being aware is the first step toward change, right.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotten my heel stuck in a rung on this ladder and I can’t reach that glass of champagne until I get it unstuck.