Whether we admit it or not, whether we like it or not, we all wake up in the morning and want to look better. (Even your friends who claim to be above “trends” and “popular culture,” even they harbor some possibly secret desire tied to one basic truth: everyone gets dressed, and there is a method behind what we see.) Now, “better” doesn’t have to mean the same thing to all of us, but it means something, and more often than not, it means confident, appealing, attractive; the idea that we are wearing our clothes, our clothes are not wearing us. This is the power of style.
For Joan Didion, a style icon (both literary and sartorial, though the latter was never her aim) whose packing list was immortalized in the title essay of her beloved 1979 collection of essays, The White Album, it meant a sort of feminine armor, donned for the act of reporting in any variety of 1970’s Californian scenes. This was not a woman who wore a flak jacket (at least not in San Francisco), this was a woman who drove a Corvette Stingray, who hid her delicate bone-structure behind oversize sunglasses and who had early childhood dreams of wrapping herself in swathes of sable, who understood the telegraphed distinctions between different hem lengths and the mood-altering powers of several yards of theatrical yellow silk. This was a woman who was at one time a Vogue editor, for Pete’s sake. And this was the list that, for years, she kept taped inside her closet door, for when she had to leave town at a moment’s notice. So in the spirit of summer travels (whether for travels spent working or more pleasurably inclined), we’ve decided to take the iconic packing list for a spin—nothing too drastic, just a little update, and one we like to think that Didion would appreciate, if only for making some other young female professional’s life a little easier. (Not that she’s likely to ever admit it.)
TO PACK AND WEAR: 2 skirts 2 jerseys or leotards 1 pullover sweater 2 pair shoes stockings bra nightgown, robe, slippers cigarettes bourbon bag with: shampoo toothbrush and paste Basis soap, razor deodorant aspirin prescriptions Tampax face cream powder baby oil
TO CARRY: mohair throw typewriter 2 legal pads and pens files house key
“This is a list which was taped inside my closet door in Hollywood during those years when I was reporting more or less steadily. The list enabled me to pack, without thinking, for any piece I was likely to do. Notice the deliberate anonymity of costume: in a skirt, a leotard, and stockings, I could pass on either side of the culture. Notice the mohair throw for trunk-line flights (i.e. no blankets) and for the motel room in which the air conditioning could not be turned off. Notice the bourbon for the same motel room. Notice the typewriter for the airport, coming home: the idea was to turn in the Hertz car, check in, find an empty bench, and start typing the day’s notes.”