The J. Peterman Company catalog arrived in the mail today. Looking through it, I get the impression that I am both, at one and the same time, The Target Market and Not The Target Market. Quite a feat to pull this off, I think.
There is nothing at all of the real world in the way this catalog features the men’s and women’s clothing it sells. That
alone makes me super qualified to be on the mailing list. To begin with, there are no photos that might lend a dreary sense of practicality and 9-5-ness; just dreamy, watercolor illustrations – reminiscent either of a designer’s idea board or one of those charming travel journals / sketch books that look so easy and appealing when tossed off by intrepid Edwardian explorers.
For each item there is an equally delightful story, usually something to do with the Mediterranean (quaint farms or fishing boats or, alternatively, yachts); North Africa (souks and alleys with the merest soupçon of danger and intrigue); Europe (Paris, Barcelona, Rome- everything that is romantic and elegant) or, when all else fails, the U.S. (wide, open ranches or an owner’s box at the Kentucky Derby).
I completely understand all this wishful thinking. For years I’ve bought the utterly useless cocktail dress or picture hat or romantic peasant blouse, thinking that if I do my part by acquiring the exciting wardrobe, surely the exciting life won’t be far behind. Having the right clothes to reach for just makes it seem so much more probable.
It is when, with a great effort, I put all the adventures-to-come aside and study the illustrations, that it hits me: I am so Not The Target Market. For me to wear any of these clothes I would have to be considerably taller, younger and slinkier. And none of that, no matter how much effort I put into any of those goals, is likely to happen. In fact, I think I can say with 100% accuracy that no matter how hard I work at one or all of them, the opposite is going to occur – once again proving that reality is simply no fun at all.
Perhaps, however, by refusing to be intimidated by these apparent facts, and by returning to Oscar Wilde, who so graciously provided the title for this piece, I may also be able to return to the Peterman catalog with some pleasure, because “one’s real life is so often the life that one does not lead.”