My second week in New York, a woman in a straw hat sat down next to me on the bus. Her black suit was neatly tailored and a string of pearls hung delicately around her neck. Blonde hair the color of popcorn swirled around her ears and loosely wrinkled face. She sat with her hands in her lap, on top of a black leather handbag. She chatted with me in an accent that at one time must have been distinctly Southern but had faded to a mere wisp on every other breath. She talked moving to the big city, like I told her I had just done, and I hoped on some level that I would be like her when I was her age. Elegant and poised, a well-mannered, well-dressed lady to the core.
These women are on the bus all the time. Southern women, New York women, but always ladies. These are the ladies who don their finest whenever they leave the house, whether they go to Bergdorf Goodman, one of the finest department stores in the world, or to get flowers from the local market. They wear hats, suits and pearls, or elegant little dresses or cigarette pants with delicate colorful wraps and scarves. They know what it means to go out, to leave one’s place of residence, be it mansion or studio apartment, and look like you own the world.
The ladies in New York are not like the women in South Florida. The women in South Florida get their hair backlit and updone into oblivion, with hair combed in globes so thin you can see through them to the other side. They wear polyester pantsuits with and smear their lips with hot pink lipstick, begging to pinch your cheeks with their long red fake nails.
But in New York, the ladies are so much more youthful. Secretly gray or white hair is dyed chocolate brown into smart, blunt bobs or blasted red into shoulder length curls. The ladies in New York make no case about pretending they don’t dye their hair—rather, they own it, as if to say yes, it’s dyed. And your point? Ladies in New York have hair of all different colors, not just the same thin blondish-white of the women in South Florida. Well, all the women except my grandmother Amy, may she rest in peace, whose hair was Black Cherry until the day she died. But she was from New York, too.
What’s nice, though, is that these ladies are not aging relics from a generation gone by. Yes, maybe women don’t wear suits every day anymore, but here in New York, ladies of any age get dressed when they leave their homes. None of this sweatpants business. In fact, they wouldn’t be caught dead leaving their homes in such attire. They go out every day with their list of things to do, be it the post office or the matinee of some show or lunch at Bloomingdale’s, and simply live in their world and look fabulous doing it.
One day I too will bury a husband, dye my hair and wear pearls on the bus. Later than sooner, if all goes as planned. Thank you to the ladies of New York for showing me how to do it in style.