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Clothes don't make the woman, but they can be her undoing

Having been a fashion model back in the day, my ever-stylish mom gave me a subscription to Vogue, the magazine she calls "the bible of the fashion world."

Her gift is probably a subtle hint to dress up a little so we won't have to ask for a booth in the back when we go to lunch. But ever since I was knee-high to a clothing rack, I've been mostly jeans and sneakers, not dresses and pumps.

Vogue is like a train wreck: too terrifying to look at, yet I can't tear my eyes away. I try to imagine myself in thousand-dollar blouses that look like a shredded kite draped over a biology-class skeleton — oops, that's a fashion model — with a blank facial expression and pink hair. Not gonna happen.

Besides, why spend for couture clothing? If Jennifer Aniston can go to Starbucks without make-up, looking like a slob, then so can I.

Yet, somehow, Vogue and my mom make me feel like I should at least covet Donna Karan and Versace, or long to carry a Louis Vuitton handbag and limp around in Jimmy Choo shoes. (Have you seen those things? The toes are so sharp, you could use one to dig an escape tunnel out of a maximum security prison; and the 5-inch spike heels should be registered as deadly weapons.)

I know my mom loves me. At, least, I'm pretty sure she does. But somewhere deep inside, I get the feeling she'd love me a little more in Chanel or Dior. I truly believe if my poor mother were to go to her grave never having seen me in designer jeans, it would kill her (if she wasn't already dead, that is).

At this point, though, I think she'd settle for me wearing an Isaac Mizrahi tank top from Target. Anything but my usual aging-hippie attire — torn jeans (bought that way, which I think counts as "designer"); peasant blouses; Indian toe-loop sandals; and a Bolivian cloth bag slung over my shoulder. (The outfit wouldn't work without the bag!)

So, driven by a daughter's biological need to please a mother who puts on lipstick to take out the trash — as well as to entice Doug to take me somewhere besides the Taco Bell drive-through — I finally caved. I bought a department-store, off-the-rack animal-print dress from a subdivision of a subdivision of a design house, and a pair of sky-high platform sandal-booties with straps and buckles all the way up.

When I modeled the outfit for Doug, I didn't so much walk into the room as lurch in on those platform shoes, arms outstretched for balance. The air must be thin up that high up, or maybe the dress was too tight, because I was having trouble breathing.

It felt like I was walking on stilts. I can't walk on stilts.

Using the fashion-model tricks I learned at my mother's knee ("If the shoes hurt, suck it up."), I twirled around for Doug — slowly, so I wouldn't fall off my shoes.

Then I did the fashion model one-foot-directly-in-front-of-the-other walk, the No. 1 reason runway models fall over, and landed in Doug's lap. "Well?" I asked. "Be honest."

"Maybe it's the leopard print," Doug said, "but you look like Amy Winehouse."

"I thought so," I said sadly before wobbling back upstairs to find the receipt.

Apparently, mom and I were cut from different cloth: Hers was a designer print, and mine was denim — and it came off the remnant pile.

Email Cathy Drinkwater Better at

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