Carte Blanche - Olivia Stren

Carte Blanche

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I’m getting ready to leave the house, and my son is looking at me the way Jackson Pollock might have beheld a blank canvas, pre-masterwork. I am, after all, wearing layer upon fresh layer of white—snowy jeans from Swedish brand Acne, a Filippa K button-down that feels as though it’s been loomed from a summer cloud, a creamy linen sweater edged with kid mohair and a pristine pair of Maison Kitsune sneaks. As I don an ivory trench from Italy’s Aspesi—as weightless as a Mediterranean breeze, and what one might don for a boat trip on the Sardinian coast—my 1-year-old looks at me with shining eyes, an artist with, well, carte blanche, as if to say: “God, what I could do with a prune purée...” 

This season, designers like Zac Posen, Phillip Lim and Wes Gordon sent all-white outfits sailing down runways, and Pink Tartan featured full skirts and drop-waist dresses in scuba-ready fabrics paired with trainers in shades brighter than a klieg light.
I, however, am rushing out to teach a writing work- shop at University of Toronto’s downtown campus, dropping photocopied handouts on the sidewalk en route. This seems entirely inappropriate given my ensemble—haste, clumsiness and poorly paid employment are the enemy of luxury, and this head-to-toe white outfit has a plane to Corsica to catch, not a paycheque to earn.
But as I approach my classroom, I realize I feel fresh and put together, like the kind of person who owns a catamaran; the kind who lets other people worry about the tedium of laundry. I feel great. I feel different. To be clear: I feel rich.

The decadence of white clothing lies in investing in that which will not last. Insofar as practicality and logic go, committing to a white pant is much like espousing marriage—that other pro-white-dress arena that prizes the lunacy of hope over reason; the fresh- ness may not endure, but we invest in the hope (or fantasy) that it will.

Historically the season in which it was appropriate to wear whites was finite, too. Alabaster goes well with suntans and vacations and good credit ratings; it’s the shade of sails and villas in Greece and wind-blown linens. But on the runway, white was popping up long before Victoria Day. “White isn’t strictly a seasonal colour anymore,” Sasha Weltman, manager at Toronto’s Want Apothecary, tells me, passing me a pile of crisp white poplins and linens. “Many brands are making transitional white pieces by playing with textures and different types of fabrics. Sweaters combine standard summer fabrics like linen with heavier ones like mohair to carry you through each season.” Weltman also advises that the all-white look relies on layering different shades of pale to “add depth” to the outfit. “And adding a white button-down shirt or boyfriend jean brings a touch of masculinity to what is considered a soft and feminine trend.”

It does feel feminine. But it also feels risky. “That looks dangerous,” my mom said when I slipped on my light ensemble. You know you’re bourgeois when sporting pale denim is what
passes for danger—but the world does feel threatening whilst one is in whites, what with its diabolical pasta sauces and its ruinous baby fruit purées.

“You look like you’re on your way to a yacht club,” a student remarks at the end of class. Instead, I head home. It’s late and I’m hungry, but I avoid consorting with any messy snacks until my clothes are restored to the safety of the closet. And for a last few moments, I revel in my luxurious look, in the fantasy and (white) lie that I have a wardrobe full of summer-weight whites—and a bank account deeply in the black.


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Olivia Stren

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