I don’t know about you but I consider the Urban Dictionary a very satisfactory arbiter of all kinds of cultural phenomena, usages and miscellanea. Here are the first two sentences you will find if you go there and look up the word “frump”:
“A woman who is generally not concerned with her appearance and doesn’t make any attempt to look womanly or sexy. Frumps are very common in the Seattle area.”
The second sentence and, bam, there it is: Seattle. The Urban Dictionary, I will remind you, appears on the world wide web, which is to say that it draws from and covers a global community. And the city that it considers the frumpiest in all the land is Seattle.
So who the hell were the hordes of people getting between me and my fashion prey at 7 a.m. on Thursday morning at the corner of 6th and Pike?
For a city that’s the poster child for stylelessness, Seattle sure showed up in force for the launch of the Isabel Marant capsule collection at H&M. Marant is the Parisian designer of slouchy, bohemian, “I don’t give a shit” clothes coveted by cool girls the world over but worn in reality only by cool girls who also happen to be, you know, rich. Her affordable collection for H&M has been the subject of wild anticipation in the fashion press. Starting last week, when images of the line were released, there’s been much salivating in various chic corners of the internet over the best pieces — which were already being bid up on eBay before they even launched this morning.
In New York they’d been lining up since the previous night, but I thought things would be quieter in mellow, frumpy Seattle. I parked my car and strolled up to the shop at 7 a.m., coffee in hand, thinking I was in plenty of time for the 8 a.m. launch. What an innocent. Well over a hundred people waited in front of me; it would be 8:40, I was told, before I would even be allowed into the women’s collection. They would let me to peruse the men’s and children’s stuff as a sop. I was given a chic little woven bracelet and told to wait.
“What do you want?” asked the girl in front of me in line. “Like, what item?”
She was pretty, late twenties, dressed in a fitted army-green military jacket that had certainly never seen the inside of a surplus store. Full face of makeup. Stocking cap. I looked around. Everyone in line fit this description, even the men. I was approximately, oh, two decades older than the next oldest person there. It was possible I was also the only person there reading Don DeLillo’s White Noise on my phone, but you never know.
“Um, I want the red and white jacket.” I had my eye on this elaborately beaded embroidered jacket, as did, it seemed, every fashion blogger on earth. It was so embellished that it verged on bad taste, a gesture of design derring-do that thrilled me.
“Yeah, me too.”
Voices chimed in up and down the line. Beaded jacket for sure. Leather leggings good, a scarf would be nice, maybe the chiffon dress, but definitely the beaded jacket. We all nodded sleepily. The scent of vanilla wafted through the rainy morning air. These shoppers smelled delicious, en masse. It transpired that everyone else in line, almost, worked in downtown retail. This enchanted me somehow, this closed loop of people buying clothes to wear while selling other clothes to other people.
“That jacket would look great on you,” said the girl in front of me in line to me, pityingly, not adding “grandma.”
They were nice kids; that is, until we were waved in the front door and they began to body check me as we made our way down the escalator to menswear and children’s stuff. I found a couple of adorable things for my daughter, and then got in line for the women’s collection, and it’s a good thing I had DeLillo on hand because what followed was a solid hour of standing behind a barrier watching people purchase piles and piles and piles of stuff. The people who’d gotten in ahead of us looked like walking laundry baskets, they were so burdened with items as they staggered to the checkout lines. A deejay tucked away in a corner of the store spun Lana Del Rey at top volume.
I finally made it to the Marant boutique. The bouncer checked my bracelet as I penetrated the interior. It looked like the final scene from a very fashionable zombie apocalypse movie. All that was left by that time were a few hangers dangling forlornly from the empty racks. I would never count on Seattle to be frumpy again.