Mary's Adventures in Wonderland

The importance of proper attire should never be underestimated.

Last night I was flipping through a travel magazine and found myself riveted by this quote: “Packing for a trip can be an experiment in sartorial role play.” Ah, I thought, someone who thinks like me. Unlike Henry David Thoreau, I am not put off by enterprises that require new clothes. In fact, as they say in the software biz, that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

See, I’m a bit of a chameleon, or an octopus (well, without most of the tentacle-y bits). Heading out on an adventure always involves adjusting my exterior enough that I will feel comfortable in the new environment. Changing my appearance is a way of play-acting a new identity, and that’s half the fun of it all.

Oddly enough I hate shopping, except when it involves outfitting myself for a new experience. Normally I am not high maintenance. Too much upkeep scares me. At home, I’m happy when I remember to brush my teeth, wash my face and use moisturizer. When Mike says “you smell good,” it’s not because I am wearing an exotic new perfume: it is because I have bathed. Probably with fancy soap I brought home from a hotel.

But when I’m heading into a new environment, all bets are off. We’re going to Paris? Well, you don’t expect me to wear sneakers and a hoodie on the streets of Gay Paree, do you? Never mind that I own a closet full of perfectly acceptable clothing. I must purchase a few things so I can fit in.

There’s the Hermès scarf that I think sends the message “I am a woman of taste and sophistication,” and which I will order from Paris so that I can carry it to Paris. I may never wear it during the trip, but just by having it in my suitcase, I feel more French. There’s the just-right haircut, the search for perfectly cut jeans, a good-looking raincoat – trust me, I am so busy transforming myself into a Parisian for months in advance, it’s a wonder I ever manage to get on the plane.

When we book a trip to Europe, Mike knows that the boxes from Zappos will begin arriving on a daily basis, as I begin yet another round in my endless, hopeless search for stylish shoes that are also super comfortable for miles of walking on cobblestones. They need to have high heels and look elegant, just in case I am unexpectedly presented to the Queen. Yet they should feel like New Balance cross-trainers. Is that so much to ask?

Occasionally my purchases are fairly rational. When visiting the poles or the equator, I think I’ve been justified in buying a few things. I did need long underwear for Lapland and Antarctica, though the jury is still out on whether a fur-lined evening coat was strictly necessary. When we went to the Galapagos Islands – where it is so hot the blue-footed boobies wish they had oven mitts to pick up bugs off the ground, and so humid the mosquitoes wish they had snorkels – I bought some lightweight expedition shirts and pants, and I probably would have expired of heat prostration otherwise.

The thing is, though, that I do the same thing regardless of where I’m going. I want to become a part of my new environment, and clearly I’m not alone in this. The fish-out-of-water makeover is a cliché of Hollywood films, with probably being the most famous being Julia Roberts’ Rodeo Drive shopping excursion in Pretty Woman, complete with its delicious dollop of revenge.

But I relate more to the character Joe in one of my favorite obscure flicks, Joe Versus the Volcano. It’s about a hypochondriac who thinks he’s dying, and agrees to throw himself into a volcano to save a tiny island in the South Pacific. But before he goes, obviously he needs to get outfitted.

MARSHALL (Joe’s chauffeur)

And what do you got in the way

of clothes now?


Well, I’ve got the kind of

clothes I’m wearin’.


So you’ve got no clothes.

Joe goes to Dunhill and buys himself some over-the top tropical explorer garb. (In a later scene he’s asked, “Why are you dressed like Jungle Jim?”) Then he gets a few other essentials, and finally he needs the proper luggage. That is pretty much my ideal pre-adventure shopping trip.

And what, you may be wondering, does any of this have to do with my upcoming “spa month” adventure? All I can say is, baby needs new exercise clothes.