Notes from Candice Ransom

Protective Camouflage

Ruth Sanderson, Elizabeth Dulemba, Lauren Mills, me, Dennis Nolan, Ashley Wolff, Eric Rohmann
Ruth Sanderson, Elizabeth Dulemba, Lauren Mills, me, Dennis Nolan, Ashley Wolff, Eric Rohmann

This summer in Roanoke, I dropped money at a boutique called La De Da, so unlikely a place I’d ever shop that my husband called to see if someone was charging on our credit card. I bought unlikely clothes, too, an olive-green knit slip with tulle ruffles I wore as a dress. An ivory eyelet jacket with a net peplum I wore over a lacy half slip.

Yes, this was the summer I broke bad, clothes-wise.


As a tomboy kid, I didn’t give a flit what I wore. Here I am at ten in plain pants and a top that “didn’t hang right in the neck,” as my mother said. I was comfortable and since nobody ever noticed me anyway, I could eavesdrop and pilfer through dresser drawers.


But girls grow up and become interested in clothes. The thick August issue of Seventeen was my bible (“nothing but advertisements,” my mother scoffed). I pored over those ads, longing for the just-right loafer with the just-right dress. When I fretted over my looks, my mother said, “You can’t make a peach out of a pear.”


Despite my Seventeen dreams, most of my clothes were handmade or hand-me-downs and I stood out in the wrong way. Mean girls poked fun at my outfits (I got back at them in my books). When I began publishing, I had to face the public. I didn’t want people to know I was uneducated and provincial so I created a persona with clothes.


In the 80s and 90s I ripped through a Gunne Sax phase and a Laura Ashley phase and a prissy Miss Talbots phase. Those clothes allowed me to walk into luncheons and conferences and convention halls and talk to people. But inside those expensive costumes, I was still a pear, shy, nervous, inadequate.

And then a wonderful thing happened. I went from middle-aged to—well, something just past middle-age. I became invisible. I could stop trying to be a peach.


I quit worrying about how I looked. That didn’t mean I attended conferences in a bathrobe with one sleeve ripped off and a pair of hip-waders.  But I didn’t care if I wasn’t on the best-dressed list any more, either. I let my real self loose—irreverent, a little on the redneck side, and mighty comfy.

Most important, I discovered that being invisible gained me entrance into places where I didn’t want to call attention to myself. I heard things, saw things that I wouldn’t have if I was trussed up like a Christmas turkey. It’s the same reason I carry an ordinary notebook to those places. We see people tapping away on laptops everywhere.  But not where I go.


When Julie Otsuka was working on her book, The Buddha in the Attic, she stayed “invisible and unwatched” in her day to day life. “I feel invisible and unwatched anyway. It’s my preferred stance in the world: I can see you, but you can’t see me.”

So when I came home from Hollins, I hung up the tulled-edged spaghetti-strap slip dress, folded the silky eyelet lace half-slip skirt. (I’ll wear them again next summer.)

truck window me web

I put on my protective camouflage, a brown jersey skirt or denim shorts with a tee-shirt, pick up my notebook and pen, and slip into my regular pear self where I blend in perfectly with my surroundings.


20 thoughts on “Protective Camouflage”

  1. I see the same girl in the top two photos. I wouldn’t be surprised if a cat or two popped out of that cute purse. I’m happy to spot you in any form. Invisible is usually my right outfit, too. Never was too beguiled by 17, and it shows.

    • You are too sweet . . . the purse is vintage and fun, but not very practical.

      As for not falling under the spell of Seventeen, that tells me you were (and are) made of sturdier stuff than me. You didn’t give in to peer pressure. I didn’t want to, but did.

  2. The title of this post resonates with me. I think we all tend to put on some variation of a suit of armor as we head out into the big wide world. We try to hide our insecurities and hurts, sometimes by becoming invisible and sometimes by drawing attention to ourselves. But,if we are lucky, time and good sense win out, and we become comfortable in our own skin. And this is when that big wide world opens up and we grow in amazing ways – because we become vulnerable and approachable and humble. We are seen and not seen – at the same time. I love all of your “looks,” but the last picture is my favorite. La de da!

    • My goodness–I should have asked you to write this post! You said it better than I did! It is fun to “put on the dog” once in a while, but I don’t need it the way I used to. Somewhere along the way I traded rust and junk for shiny new things. Maybe we both have . . .

      I like the last picture too. I’m standing on one foot on the rusted-through running board of a MACK truck, praying it doesn’t cave under my weight, busted window by my elbow, yellow jackets buzzing around. The things we do for pictures!

  3. I found you via Pic Me Up blog. I felt as I was reading your post that I was reading about myself. Forever looking through the magazines, wanting to try the trends but never feeling like myself in them. Now, at 53, I’m finally feeling like myself in my dress and new found love of art. I will be returning to your blog. So glad I found you today!

    • Sara! So glad you stopped by! I’m actually looking for the new fashion Seventeen on the stands. I’m not sure they do that big back-to-school issue any more. If not, what a shame…

      • I hope they do! Fall fashions are fun to peruse for teens and “no-longer-teens” alike–and there’s freedom in looking at them when you’ve decided to wear what you like regardless of what the magazines say. Happy Fall to you, Candice!

  4. Alas, I succumbed to 17 in a big way too. But all the looks I coveted didn’t really wash in Hawai’i, where it was too hot to wear knit skirts, pullovers and knee socks.

    Invisible is my MO too — it’s become more apparent in that “Just beyond” stage of middle age.

    I like seeing that “same face” in the first two photos, and the comfortable in her skin person in the last photo. 🙂

    • We had to go back to school in our new fall outfits, even if it was 100 outside and, of course, no a/c. So off we went in corduroy and knee socks and heavy plaids, burning up. You never saw such a bunch of sweatin’ going on on the first day of school!

      I watch girls on the first day of school. They all wear the same thing but it’s very carefully put together. Not much changes.

      Invisible is great! The opposite of the Red Hat Society!

  5. Hand made and hand-me-down…sounds all too familiar to me. It is better to be comfortable in my way of thinking. I loved shoes but had a back that needed comfortable shoes so I just got into that habit early in life. Now I hope to be presentable but comfortable in my clothes…just always pray to be as comfortable in my own skin!
    Glad to see that you are ever more comfortable in your own “skin” and can enjoy the extra trappings as fun and exhilarating (sp?) but not for “everyday.”
    Enjoy the coming fall and the comfort of wrapping up in sweaters and pulling up those knee socks.

    • Shoes! I had the weirdest feet and could *never* find shoes to fit! So for a different reason, I too gave up shoe love early on.

      I love fall clothes but hate winter clothes. In fact, on Valentine’s Day I declare winter to be over and wear heavy-weight spring things, if that makes sense. No more black or brown or gray. In fact, I hate everything about winter clothes–the coats, scarves, gloves, boots we have to bundle up in. I do like walking out the door with just a purse!

  6. Lovely post with lovely pictures of lovely you. I never succumbed to SEVENTEEN but I sure succumbed to La De Da this summer. Ghen again a certain Svengali friend was largely responsible. But it was fun to have one decadent splurge after decades of shopping only at Goodwill. And fun to have the Hollins memories that go along with the.

  7. You FOUND that place at last. (No surprise to you), I visited that shop after I completed the course requirements in 2007 and treated myself to a few treasures. I should have dragged you with me back then … but I guess you found it at the right time. One of these days, we will have to shop together. What a hoot! We’d be giggling throughout the whole experience. And is there nothing better than a tulle skirt???!!! I have a mid-calf black one I love to team with a snug black turtleneck and some kick ass boots for those occasions when everyone else is in traditional cocktail attire. Never forget you can be a brainy fashionista!

    • I was going to go back a third time, but realized I’d spend all the money I’d earned at Hollins if I did! And what suckered me in? Tulle! It’s that frustrated ballerina/prom queen/bride in me. I never got to wear tulle. And now I can.

      At Goodwill I bought a ball skirt–olive green sheeny material, no crinoline. And paired it with a royal blue sleeveless fitted top, like you’d wear to the office. That’s what I wore to the faculty reading. I felt wonderful swishing through the library with handfuls of that long shiny skirt. I like the idea of a sweater with a tulle skirt and boots, not that I ever go to cocktail parties. You’re right–we can’t ever have enough tulle!

  8. I know what you mean by the “sheeny” material. I bought a floor length metallic colored one at Goodwill a couple years back, again paired it with — you guessed it — black boots and a black turtleneck, and even added a black leather belt with western buckle. The swish factor was great. Oh, and I wore it to Mary Queen of Peace’s major hoopla, Fleur de Fall, where between the food from some 50 restaurant booths and all the dancing, my skirt got “trashed.” No matter, it was $12 well spent for one night.

  9. Gads, I hope you’ll wear them again next summer! Definitely NOT invisible in your “la de dahs”! But I can relate. I’m back in my holy jeans and t-shirts. Sometimes several days in a row, because I’m at home and who cares? It’s just less laundry to do. But while at Hollins, or anywhere I have to “get dressed” to go out in public each day – I’m not ready to be invisible yet. I know I will be someday soon. And I have been at times in the past (try walking with a cane for two years – seriously invisible). I do admire your powers of observation in such a state. As long as your writing remains it’s always vibrantly VISIBLE self, you’re good. Hugs, e


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