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"One of the most hilarious voices in fashion..." --Lucky
"Medine has staked out a spot in the fashion world as head cheerleader..." --New York Observer
"A must-visit site that defined a trend before fashion heavyweights could pin it down." --The Huffington Post
"A household name among young fashion addicts." --AdWeek.com
"What differentiates The Man Repeller most is the way Medine marries impeccable high fashion aesthetics with a comedic approach that can literally make you laugh out loud." --The Business of Fashion
THE TENT DRESS
I was lying through my teeth when I told Marla that a girl's first kiss is like watching fireworks, only even more magical. I'm still not sure what compelled me to say that to my cousin's thirteen-year-old daughter when I had been so resentful of my mother's wrongly romantic assertions about "knowing when you know" and "feeling right at the very pit of your existence." What is the pit of your existence? I should have told Marla what it's really like: slimy, awkward, and never ever as climactic as the movies that impregnate and then abandon your heart want you to believe. But maybe, too, my opinion was biased.
I didn't know much about the male species as a kindergartener, but I did know that I had a crush on a boy named Kevin. His hair was a silky bowl that almost always looked like it had been freshly cut. He didn't speak very much and often came to school with red boils on his arms, which prompted our teacher, Ms. Sherri, to send him home. I always felt a sense of emptiness when he left early—as though my existence at school was pointless and as though I'd wasted my good plaid dress or clean white turtleneck for nothing. On a Tuesday morning that I was certain he would be in school (our mothers had been on the phone the night before and I overheard mine say she'd see his at pick-up the next day) I walked into Ms. Sherri's classroom feeling particularly good about myself. Just after the previous night's phone conversation I had successfully lured my mother into letting me wear my favorite dress to school.
It was reserved exclusively for special occasions such as Rosh Hashanah dinner at my decidedly highbrow grandmother's house. But standing in my closet, I nudged at my mother's knee explaining why she should let me wear the dress to school. Even at six years old I understood the fundamental importance of calculating cost per wear. In a final fit signaling the brink of exhausted defeat (losing to a child is hard, I will give her that), my mom tried to threaten me. "If you dirty it," she warned, "I'm not cleaning it." It was difficult to take her scare tactics seriously. She diligently tried to instill the do-what-you-incorrectly-want-and-you're-on-your-own ethos in all four of her children, but when push came to shove we were never on our own. At the slice of a paper cut, there she was, with Neosporin, Band-Aids, and a phone at arm's length, should the emergency room need advance warning that we were coming.
"Oh my gosh! What a lovely dress!" Ms. Sherri offered when I got to school that Tuesday. It was lovely indeed; in a distinct hue of burgundy that predated the oxblood craze of 2012, my knee-length, tent-shaped dress featured a Peter Pan collar adorned with embroidered grape leaves, and housed an entire layer of tulle in its underbelly.
"I know! Isn't it the best?" I gushed. Not very humble, no, but I was, after all, wearing the dress because I had won an argument about it—didn't that score me bragging rights? Hopefully, as Ms. Sherri did, Kevin would find it lovely and then subsequently find me lovely, too.
As I walked to my cubby to put my jacket and pink patent leather knapsack away and to fix my side-parted, side-clipped, shoulder-length hair, my two best friends Sarah and Rebecca walked over to me. I waited for them to compliment my fancy dress, but instead they just looked at me dumbfounded.
"You look like a baby," Sarah said. She was wearing a grey sweater tucked into a leather miniskirt, her hair in a half pony that looked like a chignon purchased in the sale aisle at Duane Reade. Rebecca, donning a similar hairstyle, concurred, and my ego fell to the ground. They were right. I did look a baby. I guess that's the thing about age-appropriate dressing—it's inappropriate. There was no way Kevin would care about my dress. How could I have been so silly?
A feeling foreign to me at the time, self-consciousness, reared its vicious head. For the rest of the day, I did everything I could to cover the dress. I took my jacket out of my cubby and put it back on. They made fun of me. I got hot, so I took it off and put it around my waist. They made fun of that, too. This was a no-win situation.
I looked at the clock around 11:50 a.m., fretfully dreading what would happen in ten minutes, when recess would start and I would have no choice but to face my friends again. Normally during recess, Rebecca, Sarah, and I would play house with Kevin. They had crushes on him too, but I was almost certain mine predated theirs and, as such, was much stronger. Kevin always played the dad, and the three of us, or rather the two of them, would fight almost every day over who got to play the mom. I wanted to be the mom, too; but I'm a lover, not a fighter, so I typically took the role of the child to avoid conflict. By then, I knew that on this day the girls would unquestionably liken my outfit to the role anyway. I already felt the lump in my throat signaling the imminent cry of defeat. I was trying to prepare myself when Sarah said it: "You have to play the baby because you're dressed up as one already."
I wasn't all that confrontational and thus allowed the following series of events to unfold as they would, with me sitting in a corner while they fought over who should be the mother and why.
"I'm the oldest," Sarah said.
"So? My mom said I'm going to be the best mom there is. I know how to cook vegetables," Rebecca retorted. The kitchen in our game was Fisher-Price, for heaven's sake.
I put my head down, though still paying distinct attention to their ridiculous squabble, when I saw a set of knees clad in khaki slacks bend and land directly adjacent to my own. I looked up and there he was: a rash-free Kevin. He moved from in front of me to directly next to me, and I felt his scaly hand clench mine.
The world stopped. I couldn't offer much attention to how coarse and unpleasant his grasp felt because my heart was beating so damn fast that I had to wonder if it might explode out of my chest. I was almost certain that I was seconds away from peeing in my pants. Sarah and Rebecca stopped arguing to acknowledge our budding romance, and as they looked over, unquestionable rage in their eyes, he kissed me on the cheek. Now I was certain I had peed in my pants, but I was too busy becoming a woman superior to both Sarah and Rebecca, in spite of my childish dress, to attend to that situation. We never ended up playing house that day, but it was clear that in matters of who got to play whom I was most definitely the mom.
"How did it feel?" Sarah asked amicably, as though she hadn't just hours before stabbed my pride in the heart.
"You're so lucky," Rebecca added.
"I know," I agreed. My aversion toward modesty struck again, if only for twenty minutes before both Sarah and Rebecca resumed their native positions as evil best friends and plagued me with cooties. For the rest of recess, my entire class, led by my two best friends, sang Leandra has cooties! Leandra has cooties! It was debilitating, really.
At afternoon snack time a few hours after Kevin had kissed me, Sarah asked him why he did it. (Who does that?) And Sarah had no problem sharing the details of a private conversation she'd held with Kevin and his friends. Apparently, his friends had dared him to kiss me when they saw me sitting in a corner, the tulle on the inside of my dress creating a thick, poufy puddle around me. "He wanted to give her cooties!" Kevin's idiotic friend Zachary had chimed in.
Sarah and Rebecca didn't talk to me for the rest of the day. And though my morale was now a bit lower and I was almost certain that the stress and abandonment had caused a rash to break out on my forearms, I didn't blame the yet-unfolding disaster on Kevin. Whether or not the kiss had been sincere, it was the most magical lip-to-cheek interaction I had ever encountered. And also the only, unless we're cataloging parental affection. I didn't blame it on my friends, either. No—if anyone was to blame, it was my dress.
When I got home that day, I ran to my bedroom, ripped the dress off my body, and proceeded to stomp all over it, wearing only my white wool tights and navy blue patent leather Mary Jane flats. Hysterical, I explained to my mother that I never wanted to dress like a baby again. That puddle of tulle that elicited the kiss offered up a generous serving of fresh squeezed humiliation. Why hadn't I just worn a white turtleneck and riding pants? My mom looked confused, and even hurt—it had been not even twenty-four hours since I'd begged her to let me wear that dress—but before we could resolve my despair, she noticed the unusual red blotches on my limbs.
"What's on your hands?" she interrupted my fit to ask, as the rash had quite visibly spread from my forearms to my hands.
"They're itchy," I told her, as she pulled my arms forward, examining the boils erupting on my skin.
She smelled them, though I'm still not sure why, and then affirmatively shrieked, "Oh my God! Leandra! You have chicken pox!"
She quickly removed what clothing I still had on and grabbed latex gloves from her intimates drawer, pulling them onto her hands. "Don't touch anything, especially your face," she cautioned. But why did she have my pediatrician's gloves in her underwear drawer? She drew me a bath, filled it with baking soda, and while supervising my bath time, asked me to tell her what I'd done that day "detail by detail."
By the time I was through, my mom assured me that Sarah and Rebecca were obviously just jealous and that I shouldn't fault my most favorite dress for their actions. At last my symphony began playing in harmony again. Of course they were jealous! Who wouldn't be jealous of a burgundy dress that lends no favors to the female figure and yet still incites a most romantic first kiss? I guess that's the thing about a first kiss: it doesn't really matter why you get it—what's important is that you have it.
And as for Kevin, "What an irresponsible mother he has," I later heard my mom tell my dad. "She sends her son to school in the final stages of the chicken pox and doesn't think to tell the teacher? Then my daughter has to catch it? I'm calling the principal."
Indeed, it seemed Kevin most certainly had given me cooties. I told my mom I hated him for it, that I couldn't believe he'd made such a fool of me, but the truth is I was pretty thankful. Chicken pox certainly meant I had to spend at least the rest of the week at home, which thereby meant a lot of daytime television. My first encounter with Jerry Springer manifested that week, in fact. Maybe in concurrence with my absence, my friends would feel bad for me and call to apologize, even.
As suspected, I stayed home the six subsequent school days. And also as expected, by the time I went back, though I was still thinking about the kiss, everyone had forgotten about my cooties. The case had been put to rest and I never looked back. But it wouldn't be for seven more years, as a freshman in high school, that I'd feel a boy's lips so close to my face once again.
By then, I'd learned that my mom had falsely advised me. My peers had not been jealous of my dress. For years I didn't know it, though, and every time I dressed like an asshole (my hair was very frizzy in middle school and I wore many a gold hoop earring) and someone called me out for it—male or female—I was certain they were either in love with me or simply wanted to be me. Neither scenario was accurate. Especially the one in which they were in love with me. No one was in love with me. In fact, I was getting rather antsy about it. All my friends had experienced their first kisses and I'd assumed that I'd probably been stricken by Judy Blume syndrome: after having waited so damn long to finally get my period, would I have to wait forever for my first kiss, too? I was the female equivalent of Peter Pan—only I really, really, wanted to grow up. Surely, this spoke volumes to my empathy for his eponymous collars, but ultimately had little to do with my baby doll tent dress.
One of my newer best friends (I'd long disposed of the malicious kindergarten duo), Rose, had her first kiss a year earlier while she was on a trip to London with her family. The boy was a friend of the family with whom she'd engaged in a minor flirtation for years. I thought he was imaginary, if only because I had conjured a pretend romance over the previous winter's vacation. (My "boyfriend" was called Kurt, and his skin was so tan, teeth so white, that he needed nothing but me to make him a better person.) Evidently, her dalliance was vastly different from mine in that her guy actually existed—she showed us pictures and everything. He clocked in at an impressive six foot four over her five foot six, and we wondered how thrilling it must have felt to fling her long arms across his high neck and embrace in that magical kiss.
Another close friend, Alison, had had her first kiss at camp during the Fourth of July fireworks with a boy who was three years older than we were. They'd been flirting for weeks, and the kiss was kind of inevitable. When we asked her about it, she just said it felt "right." Instantly it seemed that my friends who'd been kissed were notably wiser than I was.
Still another, Jessica, my third best friend, had had her first kiss at my house. With my brother. Once her parents found out about it they never let her sleep over again. We don't talk very much anymore.
I expressed concerns about my virginal lips to my mother shortly after the somewhat incestuous fiasco with Jessica. (A word to the wise: even if it is your best friend's first kiss and you are naturally inclined to beg for all the details—refrain if the other end of said first kiss is your brother.) My mother told me that when I met the perfect guy I would also meet the perfect kiss. But how would I know when he was perfect?
"You'll just know," my mom assured me, "at the very pit of your existence."
I imagined what "just knowing" might be like. "Hello, Leandra, I am the one," my suitor would say, standing six feet tall in a navy blue Brooks Brothers suit, wearing Alden loafers—the kind with tassels—and a patch inside his suit jacket that read Values: Leandra, Fun. "I just know you're right, at the very pit of my existence," I would rejoin, and we would kiss. My left leg would kick up, and fireworks would erupt. We would stop to look up at them and then look back at each other and smile, wholly aware that our minds were thinking precisely the same thing: Gosh, I'm lucky. We would spend the rest of our lives together, far too consumed by one another's ardent intellect even to bear the thought of another relationship, and just like that my mother would have been right.
Amid this daydream my mom also suggested that my braces might have been slowing down the process. This had never occurred to me, but it was then and there that I vowed to wear my rubber bands religiously. Two months later, the braces were removed. My mother was a wonderful catalyst.
One Saturday night, just three weeks after my braces came off, promised hope for the amendment of my social deficiency at a teen night in a grim, wooly New York City nightclub in Midtown called Cream. The event was sponsored by a charitable organization that tried to raise money for third-world orphanages, but really it was just an excuse for middle schoolers from all the city's private schools to get together. There would be no alcohol, of course. In spite of the burgundy tent dress disaster of my kindergarten days, I opted to wear a strangely similar short-sleeved brown tent dress that I had purchased from a boutique on 76th Street called Big Drop to wear for my upcoming birthday party—a monumental event, as it would take place for the first time without the supervision of my parents at a restaurant on Madison Avenue called Geisha. Naturally, I needed to look special. This one replaced that one as the best dress of all time, and I was so eager to wear it. It even had a Peter Pan collar, though this time without sketched grape leaves. It did not nest a layer of tulle, but that was a concession I was willing to make. The dress maintained the spirit of its notorious precursor, and I simply couldn't wait until my birthday (which was, by the way, nine months later) to wear it. It fell two inches above my knee. I would wear thick black tights under it and a black cashmere boat neck cardigan over it. "If Prada does it, we can do it," Rose's mother said about the blending of black and brown—though my own mother insisted the colors did not match. I would wear crystal-adorned black Marc by Marc Jacobs flats on my feet.
Excerpted from Man Repeller by Leandra Medine. Copyright © 2013 Leandra Medine. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Man Repeller is a great book. It is a collection of stories from the life of famed blogger Leander Medine. She writes with sass and humor and it is a very enjoyable book.
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 7, 2014
The Man Repeller was probably the first hugely popular fashion blog. I was an intermittent reader at best because, even though her aesthetic didn't appeal to me, the concept of embracing your personal style even if it repels men was kind of funny. This is not a style guide, but rather a fashion biography of sorts where Medine uses articles of clothing as chapter titles and jumping off points to tell the high points (mainly surrounding love) of her life thus far.
Her sometimes wacky "I Love Lucy" style anecdotes that take her from her first crush in elementary school to joining the adult job market are at once endearing and annoying in a Carrie Bradshaw kind of way. Medine's clear devotion to fashion are what kept me reading long after I decided that I couldn't relate to her at all.
Posted March 11, 2014
Great, funny read!
Perfect book to take on a beach vacation (and she'll make you feel better about your shopping habits!).
Posted March 1, 2014
I gotta say that I first heard about ManRepeller on Instagram and the impression that I got of Leandra was nothing I thought she would be after reading this book. Man Repeller but definitely a girly girl and super funny! Awesome book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 17, 2013