Fashion, I’m told, is a very intimate thing. Or, more specifically, the items of clothing we choose (or, perhaps, don’t choose, as the case may be) can lead to a unique and highly emotional connection. In other words: what we wear on the outside speaks volumes of who we are in the inside. This unexpected relationship is explored in Love, Loss, and What I Wore, the hit play written by Nora and Delia Ephron based on the 1995 book of the same name by Ilene Beckerman, which is making its Chicago debut at the Broadway Playhouse.
Let me get this out of the way: I have very little connection to the clothes I wear. I mean, while I care about how I look and try to find things that fit and look decent, my attachment to my garments is purely superficial. Yes, I did get a little pouty-faced when my favorite jeans began to wear in an unfortunate place, but that’s the extent of it. So the concept of having strong memory ties to a sweater eludes me.
However, aside from my own issues, this simple monologue-driven play is touching and entertaining. And the women in the audience, including my mother who was my date, seemed to love it. It speaks to them on many levels — for example, my mom grew up in a working class household, and her mother bought hand-me-down clothes for my mom to wear to school. Problem is, the hand-me-down clothes were her classmate’s (let’s call her Suzie Smith). And Suzie was not just any classmate — she was the popular girl. And it was clear to my mother’s classmates that mom was wearing Suzie Smith’s clothes. “While it was mortifying,” my mother said after the show, “I knew my mother was just doing the best she could.” And, I get the sense this experience helped build my mother’s trademark resiliency.
Such stories make up the heart of this show. Delivered while seated behind podiums, the talented Chicago-centric cast (including SNL-alum Nora Dunn and respected stage actresses Barbara Robertson and Felicia Fields) delivers these funny, poignant, sassy, and simple stories in a conversational, chatty tone. The audience responded most enthusiastically to a rant about the ridiculousness of purses, delivered with perfect deadpan timing by Dunn (though she could have pulled her eyes away from the script in front of her). Another story about a young stepmother coming downstairs to prepare breakfast wearing the same style of robe as the family’s recently deceased mother hits an emotional chord. A few other monologues felt more developed than others, but with nearly two dozen stories covered in the 95-minute show, things clip along swiftly and the next story captures your attention.
Take you mother, sisters, and female friends to this show — they’ll most certainly connect to it. And you may never think about clothes the same way again (or, in my case, you might actually start thinking about clothes beyond mere body cover).
“Love, Loss, and What I Wore,” presented by Broadway in Chicago, plays through December 4 at the Broadway Playhouse, located next to Water Tower Place in Chicago’s loop. Dates are subject to change. Tickets and additional info here >