We spent Easter weekend in Charleston, attending a second-generation Old Neighborhood Gang wedding.
That gang, the distaff portion of which likes to refer to themselves as the Ya-Yas, has been together for something on the order of thirty years despite occasional geographic dislocations. We’ve buried two of our number... but we’ve also had the joy of watching the young ’uns grow up. Now they’re off building lives of their own, with our group’s Friendship of Long Standing to serve as a model.
The whole point of this post, however, is not to grow maudlin over life cycle events and the passage of time. The point is to talk about Charleston, South Carolina, a uniquely Southeastern city that manages, in its own way, to out-Savannah Savannah.
The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.
We spent a goodly chunk of that Saturday in the heart of the city, having driven in from Mount Pleasant over the impressive Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, the longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere. By “heart,” I of course mean “where the shoe stores are,” as defined in the Ya-Ya Handbook. That’d be King Street east of Calhoun, where the architecture of Old Charleston has been beautifully preserved.
If you follow King Street all the way to the end, you end up at the Battery and Rainbow Row, so named for the bright Caribbean-style pastel colored houses along the waterfront. But to do that, you have to run a gauntlet of eighty four hundred shoe and clothing shops, each one serving as a sort of Shoppy-Flypaper to the ladies. We could have made it, I suppose, but that would have required our forgoing the wedding. Instead, we stopped for a pleasant lunch at the Charleston Place Hotel, after which the gents and ladies went their separate ways for a half-hour or so.
Art Deco Kress building, now a Williams-Sonoma store. S. H. Kress & Company, a venerable five-and-dime store chain defunct since 1981, was legendary for their exceptional architecture.
As we boys wandered farther down King Street, we stopped in at Ben Silver, a high-end haberdashery of the first water. This is where to go if you want, say, a British regimental tie - no matter how obscure the regiment or rare the stripe, Ben Silver carries it. You say you want blazer buttons and cufflinks? Ben has ’em, with the insignia of pretty much any college, university, service academy, prep school, or secret society. And Ben’s the guy to see if you’re looking for a hand-made pair of English white bucks to go with that seersucker suit.
Seersucker! Nothing says “Charleston” quite like a seersucker suit, unless it’s a pair of cream-white trousers and a blue blazer... the sort of clothing that one can wear in the sweaty months. For Charleston does get sweaty, despite the moderating effects of the nearby ocean waters. And, inexplicably, it is one of the few places where a bow-tie, normally a daffy sort of fashion statement, seems almost reasonable. Not that you’d ever catch me wearing one.
None of this stuff comes cheap, of course. I had been wandering around the store, developing a pantload of Clothing-Boner as I admired the peak-lapel white dinner jackets, the Borsalino Panama hats, the formal accessories, et alia. But I resisted the impulse to buy, for which my personal banker thanks me. Too bad: those gold-filled Princeton cufflinks looked pretty snazzy.
Fact is, I did need a new fedora - my head is a tad smaller these days. And I found one down at a hat shop adjacent to the old City Market, for way less coin than old Ben was asking. Right about then, the ladies rejoined us, having exhausted their desire to buy yet more shoes for the time being, and so we found our way back to our hotel to prepare for the wedding.
Ah, the wedding. It was held behind The Citadel’s beach house, where the gentle soughing of the Atlantic’s waves provided an aural backdrop for the ceremony. Afterwards, everyone repaired to the upper level, where we proceeded to drink and dance ourselves silly, Charleston style.
David and Ariane cut the cake.
It was a beautiful occasion. Bittersweet, as the groom’s father no longer walked among us - but beautiful in the way young love is always beautiful; an affirmation of life. And we were there, we Friends of Long Standing, with the ocean behind us on a glorious spring evening.
The Ya-Yas, 2011 edition. From left: Catherine, Laura Belle, Carol, SWMBO, Patricia (mother of the groom!), Mary, and Margaret. Click here for the 2007 version.