Chapter 89: Voluntary Fashion

on May 21, 2012 in Volume 2 Book 3: Figments & Fragments, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Accessorizes

Although she probably would have been the last person to suggest leaving the dining area, Hazel was the one who steered the conversation back around to the other major task of the afternoon.

“How I see it is like this: half the problem is that we’ve been treating you as a passive bystander to the process, as it were, instead of a participant,” she said to me.

“Yeah, I could see that being a problem,” I said. “And honestly, it’s not a lot of fun to be dragged from place to place like that, either.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not exactly a barrel of laughs to do the dragging, either,” Hazel said. “Like I said: that all is half the problem.”

“The other half is me?” I asked.

“To be specific, the other half is you being a passive bystander to the process,” Hazel said. “You saw how determined Two was getting to be about it, and how desperate she was for some sign of approval?”

Two nodded, being no more self-conscious about her desperation than she was anything else. Well, she was probably very conscious of it… she just didn’t care.

“I really do feel bad about that,” I said. “But… there’s only so much I could have done differently. This isn’t exactly my thing, you know.”

“We do know,” Two said. “That’s why we’re here.”

“Right,” Hazel said. “But it’s like the difference between someone asking your advice about a paper because they know you know about… papers… and them turning up at your dorm room and kicking back on the sofa while you write it for them.”

“I haven’t exactly been kicking back,” I said. “I mean, you do have a point, but this day hasn’t exactly been restful or relaxing for me.”

“You have to be careful using metaphors with Mack,” Two said. “She shows an unusual level of concern for their accuracy.”

“That just means she thinks she’s wrong about something,” Steff said. “She and Ian can both split a hair at a dozen paces when they’re in a mood with each other.”

Nicki snorted at this and covered her mouth in a too-late attempt to stifle her surprised amusement. As before, the fact that she found it amusing did something to tone down my irritation with Steff’s criticism. Having a third party who saw the humor in her barbs made it easier to appreciate that the humor was the intent and the barb was incidental, rather than the other way around.

“Well, at the risk of coming across all anti-semantic,” Hazel said, “let me just move on to the point. We’re here to help you find things to wear… not just things you can wear, but things you’d like to wear. This only works if you’re all present and accounted for, so to speak.”

“I can try to make a better effort…”

“Effort’s not what we’re going for,” Hazel said. “You should… I don’t know, get into the spirit of things? I mean, stop acting like you getting new clothes is some kind of… horrible onrushing inevitability, and the most that you can do is mitigate the damage while it rushes on.”

“That’s… okay, that’s actually a pretty good description of how I feel,” I said. “I mean, how I felt. I was excited about the idea in the abstract, but… old habits, I guess? My grandmother didn’t exactly make shopping fun, and I was happy enough when she stopped taking me along. It meant a few extra hours to myself, so it was kind of a net gain all around.”

“Isn’t the good thing about going away to school that you have a chance to ditch your old habits and pick up new ones, though?” Nicki said.

“Well, yeah,” I said. “And I’ve done a lot of that. But it’s never as easy as just up and deciding to be someone else, and I think there are limits to how much of it you can do.”

“Oh?” Nicki said.

“Maybe not hard limits,” I said. “But most things can only be stretched so far before they tear.”

“I think the key is to not change who you are,” Hazel said. “Just… find out more about you. I’ve an idea in my head that dressing another person should be more in the nature of an interview than a monologue.”

“That’s a good way of putting it,” Nick said. “I like to think of fashion as an exploration, but I’ve always thought about it in terms of exploring styles, not people… but there is no style without a person, right?”

“Sometimes there’s no style with a person,” Steff said.

“Two had the right idea with the jacket,” Hazel said. “She might have explained what she was after before heading off for it… or rather, another person might have… but she was thinking about you the whole way: what you need, what you like, what you could do that you might enjoy even if you’ve never thought of it before. That sort of thing. The only thing we might do differently in the afternoon is do that out loud.”

“Um… okay,” Nicki said. “I think I have a general kind of idea, if you want to hear it, Mack.”

“Of course,” I said.

“I think Two was onto something with the jacket, too,” Nicki said. “I don’t just mean all the stuff that Hazel said, but… well, like I said, I kind of find it easy to picture you wearing that kind of stuff. I mean, you’re not necessarily into pretty things, or things that pop out and I don’t think that’s something that should change. Your style is more laid-back, like you don’t even care how you look… and I don’t mean that in a bad way! But, anyway, it’s a short trip from casual to cool.”

“I don’t have anything against… looking cool,” I said. “The problem is that there seems to be kind of a fine line between cool and stupid, and I’m not sure exactly where that line is, though sometimes I kind of suspect it runs through me.”

“I think what you really need is the virtue of simplicity,” Nicki said, clearly growing in confidence as she built up speed. “I mean, take a hat. You can’t go wrong with a basic hat. But then you put a great big feather in it or something, and what’s that do?”

“I guess I don’t know,” I said, trying to sound

“Exactly!” Nicki said. “It’s something you try and see how it works, and maybe it works fine or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it’s dashing, maybe it’s silly. You don’t know if it’s ridiculous until you go out and… well… get ridiculed?”

“Are you saying I shouldn’t be trying anything, or are you saying I should be prepared to look stupid?”

“I’m saying we should be expanding your boundaries instead of trying to break them,” Nicki said.

“Yeah, keep it sensible,” Hazel said. “There’s always something to be said for that. Simple, practical, black or a good mix with black. So those are our watch-words… or watch-phrases, as the case may be.”

“And magical or magic-able isn’t a bad thing to look out for,” Steff said. “I mean, we want to get Little Miss Nerd to care about clothes… what better way than to combine with something she already likes?”

“She prefers Little Ms. Nerd,” Two said.

Nicki started to laugh, then stopped herself.

“Wait, was that a joke?”

“If it was funny, then yes, it was,” Two said.

“Seriously, though,” Steff said, “she’s probably already plotting out how to enchant the leather jacket.”

“Not exactly,” I said.

Its suitability for enchantment had crossed my mind, since leather riding gear was basically armor, and I had the knowledge and capability to lay some semi-permanent improvements on it now. But armor enchantment wasn’t exactly the field I wanted to get into… I could see the practical benefits of having socially acceptable armor and I’d probably get interested in it as a problem once I started working on it, but leather’s enchantment potential wasn’t the sort of thing that sparked my imagination.

That was what I thought.

“I’ll probably wait until I’m alone with it to really get into it,” was what I said out loud. Two came to my rescue, just as all the wrong ways that could be taken were flooding through my mind.

“If the leather jacket is your favorite thing so far,” she said, and then paused to look at me for confirmation, which I gave her with a nod, “then we should work around that.”

“I don’t think anything we got this morning wouldn’t go with it, luckily,” Nicki said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Not to get out of the spirit of getting into the spirit of things, but I really don’t think I could stand starting over from scratch at this point.”

“I think we’ve all done well, under the circumstances,” Hazel said.

“Do you want to keep the denim jacket?” Two asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t think I could wear leather everywhere, and I still like the inner pockets.”

“Again, practicality,” Hazel said. “So, yeah, let’s run with that… Nicki, you maybe want to tell us more about this vision you have of the way Mack could be dressed?”

There might have been something else that Hazel could have brought herself to say that would have made both of us blush harder, but if so, I wouldn’t want to think of it.

“Well… um… maybe a leather flat cap or beret?” Nicki managed to spit out. “I mean, I don’t know what you’re doing with your hair now, but you always seemed to keep it short before and not really take much notice of it…”

“I don’t know what I’m doing with my hair, either,” I said. “I mean, it’s been growing, but that’s not something I asked it to to… I can’t imagine letting it get really long, but I guess I realized that I can let it grow out a bit now and I wanted to see what it was like. I don’t know, though… I’m really not a hat person.”

“Hold on, let’s not dismiss anything out of hand,” Hazel said. “Are you not a hat person because you don’t like hats, or are you not a hat person because you’ve never worn hats?”

“I really can’t see myself in a hat,” I said. “Other than to keep warm in the winter. If we want to come up with something more stylish than a big wooly stocking cap, I’m fine with that, but otherwise it’s like Two said: I don’t accessorize. To me, accessories are things that toys come with.”

“Belts!” Nicki said.

“I think that falls under the heading of accessories,” Steff said.

“No, but… she does wear belts,” Nicki said. She turned to me. “You do wear belts, I mean.”

“I guess I do?” I said. “I mean, I wear a belt, but it’s kind of necessary… it isn’t something I think about in the morning. It’s just something to hold my staff and any other tools that won’t fit in my pockets… and since pockets are apparently out, I guess it’s just going to be more necessary.”

“Right, you have a belt because you have to,” Nicki said. “But you could have a particular belt because you liked it, right? I mean, right now you wear a kind of clunky, one-size-suits-none kind of thing. You could either find one belt that really suits you, or a few different ones so you can pick one based on how you’re feeling in the morning.”

I wasn’t sure that I wanted to have to think about what belt to wear when I got up in the morning, but I liked how excited Nicki was about the idea.

“I guess I could stand to get a better belt,” I said.

“Belts are right up there in those big lists of standard magic items, aren’t they?” Steff said.

“Yeah, I guess they are” I said. “They share a lot of the same properties as rings, but since you wear them… I mean, around the body, not like you wear jewelry… they edge into a lot of other territory, and since they’re right in the middle of the body, it’s kind of a ‘jack of all trades’ thing. Not as good as boots for walking or movement-related enchantments, not as good as upper-body stuff for upper-body stuff, but not really bad for anything.”

In the process of calling that to mind and explaining it, I was finding that the idea of having multiple belts was growing on me. If they were fairly interchangeable in terms of appearance… different enough that I could tell them apart at a glance, but compatible with the rest of my wardrobe… then I could see the point of picking a different one for different situations. There was a limit to how much magic I could pack into a single belt given my freshman-level enchantment skills plus what I’d picked up so far from Acantha.

“Well, we were going to do trousers this afternoon anyway,” Hazel said. “So this could work out perfectly.”

And though it didn’t quite work out perfectly, it did at least work out well. The second leg of the shopping trip passed more quickly than the initial portion had, in both the literal and figurative senses. The others were… that is, we were able to make progress towards final selections that would pass muster with me a lot more swiftly with my full and more enthusiastic participation, and the minutes that slipped away seemed a lot less tedious when I was engaged.

I ended up with a couple of pairs of pants that were baggier than I would have thought I would like, but which had the excess material to support more pouches and pockets than I knew what to do with… though that didn’t mean I wasn’t getting ideas. I got a few different belts, including one main black leather one to replace my weapon belt for everyday use.

It was less clunky, but still pretty substantial, with a snap pouch built into one side and hooks on the other. Best of all, there was a web-like weaving of thin silver wire embedded into the back of it, to give support and structure to enchantments.

It was the most expensive thing I bought, even more than the leather jacket would have been if I hadn’t got it on clearance, but I had a feeling it would be worth it.

I hadn’t planned on buying new footwear, specifically, but at some point during the proceedings Steff had slipped off and come back with a pair of what I guess would be called boots that were a perfect fit for me. They were shorter on top than what I thought of as boots, though undeniably boot-shaped, and more substantial than most shoes. They weren’t the sort of boots I’d picture Steff picking out for herself, or for other people to wear for her benefit. They weren’t clunky, but they kind of looked like if clunky and sleek got together and had a baby.

“You’ll get better traction in these than in your sneakers,” was her explanation.

All in all, I think we ended up somewhere very far afield of what Two had been envisioning for me, but she seemed pleased.

To be honest, I was, too.

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19 Responses to “Chapter 89: Voluntary Fashion”

  1. Hey, folks! We’re going to be traveling and conventioning all Memorial Day weekend. The next chapter should go up as expected on Friday, but even being a little ahead of the game I can’t see myself finding the time to bring in a chapter that’s up to spec while I’m at the con. So rather than missing sleep to bring in something short and sub-par, we’ll be skipping the regular chapter update that would otherwise come up on Tuesday the 29th of May.

    Thank you for reading!

    Current score: 0
    • Julian Morrison says:

      Thank you for writing 🙂

      Current score: 0
    • Ducky says:

      Enjoy the con, and I look forward to reading the next installment.

      Current score: 0
  2. Joseph says:

    “Wait, was that a joke?”

    “If it was funny, then yes, it was,” Two said.


    Must have been a joke.

    Current score: 1
  3. Burnsidhe says:

    I liked this one. Personally, I don’t go clothes shopping often, and when I do, I generally get things I’ve gotten before. It’s easier that way.

    Current score: 0
  4. jamie martin says:

    “something I asked it to to” -> to do
    ““I guess I don’t know,” I said, trying to sound” just ends abruptly, and seems to be missing a fair amount more.

    Current score: 0
  5. hueloovoo says:

    I know how Mackenzie feels, it’s HARD figuring out your style as an adult, without prior experience in the field. This reads like many many shopping experiences from my life. Well written! Gave me some ideas on stuff to try next time I go.

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  6. Miss Lynx says:

    “Well, at the risk of coming across all anti-semantic,” Hazel said

    Anti-semantic! Love it.

    Current score: 0
  7. Dave says:

    “You have to be careful using metaphors with Mack,” Two said. “She shows an unusual level of concern for their accuracy.”

    Now that I can relate to !

    “Sometimes there’s no style with a person,”
    Unkind, Steff. But probably true.

    And Mack finishes up happy, so that’s good too.

    Current score: 0
  8. Zathras IX says:

    Helping Mackenzie
    Find a hat could be quite a
    Feather in Nicki’s cap

    Current score: 1
    • DarkSage says:

      O.M.G. A PUN… A PUN :))

      Current score: 0
  9. pedestrian says:

    It was comfortably convenient to have my wife Alberta tell me which style I would prefer.

    Now days I can think of several times when women sort of wince and roll their eyes when they see my choices.

    Current score: 0
  10. Joshua says:

    Typo: “Nick said” should be “Nicki”.

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  11. fman0801 says:

    Through the first portion of this chapter I had “Dare To Be Stupid” from the “The Transformers: The Movie” (This would be the animated movie from the ’80s)running through my head.

    Current score: 0
  12. Miz*G says:


    “I guess I don’t know,” I said, trying to sound

    Sound what, exactly?

    Fantastic chapter, by the way. I’m beginning to really like Nicki

    Current score: 0
  13. Krey says:

    Whole thing started to feel awkward to me here, like… even these people that have their own lives, suddenly are solely focused on Mack. I know she wanted to get new clothes, but I assumed everyone going shopping meant EVERYONE would be shopping.

    …my 2 cents anyways.

    Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      It would take a number of people to drag Our Mack into shopping for herself. Especially to overcome her instinctive preference for trailer-trash grunge.

      I’m just surprised that TWO and Hazel didn’t have to use their maces as cattle-prods to get her to giddy-up and go!

      Current score: 0
  14. helen rees says:

    loving anti-semantic

    Current score: 0