Dress the Part is a monthly feature in which I use my past life as a costume designer and personal stylist to help the ladies of YA express themselves visually. This month we’re looking at Heather from Lauren Oliver’s Panic, a book about a young woman whose life falls apart the summer after she graduates from high school, leading her to behave recklessly and enter a weird contest that… I’m actually not sure how to finish that sentence, guys. It’s like this crazy daredevil game they play in her shitty little town. It totally sounds like something my friends and I would have participated in (the kids do some stupid, stupid, scary things), but the winner somehow wins tens of thousands of dollars, and I just can’t wrap my mind around where the money comes from. I kept flipping back through, trying to make sense of it, but I just couldn’t. If you have read this book and were able to figure out where they got so much money, please leave me a note about it in the comments.
(Everything past this point is based around a spoiler. It’s a thing that happens in Heather’s home halfway through the book. It doesn’t have anything to do with the main plot, but it is a spoiler, so. Consider yourself warned.)
All right. Halfway through the book, Heather’s home life gets bad in a way that is unsafe for her little sister, so the two of them move out and end up homeless for a couple of weeks. Heather’s too proud to tell anyone what’s going on, so the sisters live in Heather’s car until a very kind old person finds out what is going on and takes the girls in.
Here’s what’s awesome: I lived in my car for the last seven months of my senior year of high school. I was a seventeen-year-old girl living in a 1988 Chrystler New Yorker (if you ever need to use a car like a house, this is the one to go with; it has loooong velvet bench seats, and they are just insanely comfortable). Which makes me the perfect person to help Heather figure out how to dress well (and stay clean) while keeping her Jewel-esque housing situation a secret.
Here’s what I’ve put together for her:
I know it all looks pretty basic, but it’s all pretty specific because you want to look like a normal teenager, but you can’t easily wash your clothes or, like, shave your armpits or anything. So you need distressed shorts and lightweight button-ups over layered tank tops. You HAVE to layer your tanks. If you wear a clean white tank every day, you can wait longer to wash the rest of your clothes. White tanks, white underwear, and white socks. One load. You can absolutely sneak and get that done at a friend’s house every ten days or so.
You want tall boots in case you wake up and need to, like, pee in the woods or a field or something. Lyme disease is no joke, and if you are unlucky enough to be a homeless white girl, you WILL get bitten by an infected tick. These boots are Frye and not cheap, but you can get similar ones in most small town thrift stores.
The most important thing here is the bag. I chose a Morning After Bag (I’m really into fashion design inspired by slut culture) because it’s cute and sassy, and the first moderately fancy bag I ever bought myself was one of these. All you really need is a bag that looks like a normal purse but is actually big enough to carry:
- travel-sized toiletries
- a razor
- a hair brush
- clean underwear, socks, and under shirt
- a travel hairdryer
- your toothbrush
And you need to keep those things in it (and it on you) at all times. Girls can get by with dry shampoo and baby wipes for a few days in a row, but you need to be able to jump on any opportunity to take a shower that you happen across. You can make up a million excuses to get people to let you shower in their homes–you got something sticky all over you, you slept in that morning and now you feel gross, you’re sweating in the summer heat–and if it seems like you need to bathe, they will be more than happy to loan you the water. You live in a small town. People are kind and they are stupid. Use that to your advantage.
Here’s my concept painting of Heather (sporting my signature stubs in place of hands):
Panic is a really lovely book, but because so much of it matched up with things that happened in my life when I was around Heather’s age, I can’t talk about it even remotely objectively. I cried a lot at things that wouldn’t be sad to a normal person. I will say, though, that this book kind of brought Oliver’s YA books back on track for me–she lost me a bit during her Delirium period (and I really wish Panic didn’t sound like a fourth book in that series). I believe this is her first foray into straight contemporary, and she did it really, really well. No one writes teenage girls as beautifully as Lauren Oliver, and without all the supernatural stuff thrown in, her gift for dialogue really shines.
Panic was released on March 4, 2014. An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.