Dressing up and down

—Kate Feiffer

Dear Nicole,

The Vineyard used to be known for how casually everyone dressed. It had a shoes-optional reputation. Hell, make that clothing-optional. Now it seems like people around here are dressing up more. Is it still OK to wear jeans to a dinner party, or shorts to a business meeting (in the winter)? Or is Vineyard Vines the new Chilmark casual?

Confidentially yours,

Sartorial Stitch

Dear Stitch:

OK, now, you’re generalizing just a little here. The Edgartown Yacht Club was never clothing-optional, while jeans (for men) are still de rigeur at any winter potluck west of Cronig’s (occasional exceptions will be made for chinos). I recently attended a meeting of the Edgartown Planning Board — Edgartown, mind you! — and the only person in a suit was an off-Island lawyer who looked like he’d been cut and pasted from another program. The common denominator in Vineyard haberdashery is plaid and denim, not sherbet-colored buttondowns.

That said, I agree that you are likely to see fewer people in their PJs at the grocery store, and somewhat more hair gel at the Artisans Festival. Suit coats might make an occasional appearance at annual town meetings. But I would not attribute this to “people” in the sense of “everyone.”

The year-round population is made up of an increasing number of wash-ashores (a loaded term, I know). Many of these fall into two categories: cosmopolitans and immigrants, many from Brazil, and both of those populations instinctually dress better than do most rural Yankees. Simply looking around the Times office and its environs, I can assure you that the average Vineyarder hasn’t upped his or her sartorial aesthetic much. It’s true that a rising tide raises all boats, so we might all be a bit more polished than we used to be, but not enough for you to feel any pressure to conform, if it’s more than you care to do. Your Carhartts are safe.

In fact, many of the immigrants — especially the refugees fleeing the rampant affluenza of the suburbs — take comfort in our 20-year-old flannel shirts and hand-me-down Levis. It gives them street cred to hang out with “real” Islanders — and it gives them permission to let their own hair down a little if they need to. See that woman in the tailored silk blouse with matching scarf? If she were off-Island, she’d have matching shoes as well. She is positively slumming it on Circuit Avenue, and she is grateful for the opportunity.

She will pay it forward, of course — eventually that blouse will find its way to Martha’s Closet or the Thrift Shop, or even (if you’re really lucky!) the Dumptique. By then it might be a little frayed around the edges, and it will fit right in with the rest of your wardrobe. Enjoy it! It will nicely complement the shorts you’re wearing to that business meeting!

That’s my take,


Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse, and is the author of “I, Iago.” Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.