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The Picket Party

The fashion semiotics of unionism.

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I’m 50 percent on strike. Meaning, half of my career, as a Vogue writer, I am merrily continuing with. The other half, as a screenwriter adapting my novel, The Debutante Divorcée, for HBO, is kaput, for now. Amy Harris, a television writer who lives on my block in Greenwich Village, reminds me that “We gotta go picket!” In a way, I am excited at the prospect—I’ve never protested before. What do you do? Blow whistles like the French? Throw eggs like the Welsh miners? And what on earth does a Voguette wear to a picket?

That night, I dress up in a (borrowed) red chiffon Valentino dress and attend a party at the Diane Von Furstenberg studio. “So right for right now,” someone says. It turns out this crowd shares my concern for appropriate picket style. Society hostess Allison Sarofim suggests I wear tweed pants, a white cashmere cape, and “huge sunglasses.” Billy Norwich, a Vogue colleague, tells me to picket in an Alexander McQueen Prince of Wales–check skirt-suit. “You should add gloves and some not-famous clutch and no sunglasses,” he says. “Squinting is so very literary looking.”

The next night, I run into Nora Ephron. I ask her what she’s been wearing to strike. “Everyone wears sneakers,” she says. “But I’m just not a sneaker kind of person. So I wore shoes. Oh my God, did I hurt!”

“Do you think I would be comfortable in a fur coat?” It’ll be cold, after all. “That will give the wrong impression, Plum,” she says. I’m about to tell Nora how I paid for that fur coat with book royalties. The coat is a sartorial expression of the writer’s cause. She’s not interested.

I wake on picket day to chilly gales and big, fat, icy raindrops. I glumly resign myself to wearing a Burberry trench and nasty J.Crew Wellingtons with dogs printed on them. I’m about to leave when Delia Ephron, Nora’s sister and a fellow writer, calls to wish me luck on the picket line. “I made six new friends,” she yelps. “It’s the best party in New York right now!” Newly insecure, I immediately change into a brand-new gray merino-wool Martin Margiela turtleneck sweater and chunky high leather boots from Veronique Branquinho. Some warmth is provided by my sharply tailored Alexander McQueen fur-lined suede jacket with enormous hoops of fox fur at each cuff. The look is fashion girl meets snowbunny.

We arrive to find about 50 writers (including Ron Howard) marching. Everyone holds a paper sign. We fall in line, and I chat with Amy Sherman-Palladino, who created Gilmore Girls. She’s wearing red Wellies, a black coat, and a cream bobble hat. When the rain starts, the others accept clear-plastic raincoats from a kindly strike captain. I refuse—I don’t want to kill my look with a $1 mac. I awkwardly hold an umbrella.

My spirit is undaunted, for a while. Then my soggy sign falls off its pole, and my mood falls, too. My toes are frozen. The fur on my cuffs is starting to stick together, like little points on a meringue pie. Defeated, I take a raincoat when it’s offered again. But then a strange thing happens. After wearing the raincoat for just a few minutes, I start to feel cozy and protected. Indeed, I like the mac—and what it represents—so much, I wear it to a late lunch at DB Bistro Moderne. Sure, the coat-check boy looks at me as if I’m a street person. But when I tell him I’ve come from the picket line, I am offered friendly smiles, hot tea, and an immediate seat. The dime-store mac is so right for right now.

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