I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
“We can’t afford to shop at a store that has a philosophy,” Marge Simpson tells her family as they drive to a discount store to replace a broken TV. It’s there that Lisa finds a vintage suit on the rack for her mother, a Pepto-pink Chanel set with shiny black trim for just 90 dollars. Though still expensive to the frugal Simpsons, Marge tries it on immediately. This gelled her infatuation with the garment, and mine too upon first watch back in 1996.
With nowhere to wear such a gem, Marge vacuums the house and runs errands. The glowing pink clashed with her iconic blue hair like the plumage of a bird of paradise, its hue prophetic of trends 20 years to come. Soon, Marge is spotted by some wealthy old schoolmates as she pumps gas in the upscale look.
Right away the suit changes her, giving Marge the luxurious veneer she thought essential for impressing the chichi women at the country club, which she painfully succeeds at. In a powerfully frenetic scene, Marge is bent over her sewing machine, remaking the outfit for a re-invitation to the club, striving for the appearance of a brand new look.
Somehow the two-inch tag reading “Chanel” gives her outfit more power than any other pink suit, and Marge comes to see her own family and the people at the discount shop where she made the find beneath her. Typically salt-of-the-earth, The Simpsons’ matriarch is hypnotized by the humblebrags of the rich ladies, ignoring the slights against her — a time-honored tradition of trying to fit in somewhere you’re not welcome.
She’s eventually invited to a gala, which is a threat to the feasibility of reworking the suit yet again, and Marge sweats about somehow transforming the pink tweed into a black-tie appropriate outfit. This is as stressful to the viewer as it is to Marge, and she cracks under the pressure, accidentally shredding the fragile suiting just when it was fashioned into a collared halter dress, her best creation yet.
Marge speeds back to the shop where she previously scored, and when she finds no designer goods on this hunt, she goes in for the real deal, splurging on a purple-and-black gown from the actual Chanel store. After snapping at her family all night due to her anxiety about their unpolished lives, a stunningly dressed Marge finally has a moment of clarity. She decides to skip the event altogether, saying, “I wouldn’t want to join any club that would have this me as a member.” It’s a brilliant self-drag.
When it was aired, that episode punched me in the gut. I was 9 years old, and our Homer-at-home — my father — was able to watch The Simpsons depict his inner jerk nightly and never read the likeness. This Archie Bunker effect let my recently departed dad chortle at Homer Simpson regularly, never lining up the asshole on the screen and the asshole reflected in the TV’s glare.
My father was a lot of things, but primarily he was a guido, a former drug dealer, and an alcoholic trying to pass as a soccer dad — and he was able to hide this everywhere but the suburbs themselves, unable to fully blend in with its rhythms of life. I thought of the suit when when we were around our Waspy neighbors, like Bart and Lisa watching their mom pretend to be rich for those ladies that were savagely mean to her, even when she looked the part.
My dad only “acted Italian” in the pork store, always performing for a different audience. He even tried to seem more bougie than the other members of our own family for being among the first to leave Brooklyn; like Marge, he was wielding his shoddily constructed middle-class status against others to try and get a leg up. As a second-generation American, he looked down on his in-laws who were foreign-born. It’s but one reason us kids were forbidden from learning Italian, especially being that it was thick with Sicilian dialect.
Marge’s Chanel suit and all its fakery meant so many things to that 9-year-old girl watching and to this 31-year-old woman. When I think of Marge’s eventual moment of self-awareness, I feel the strength that I needed for every self-reinvention, a concept that helped me come out, quit jobs where I was mistreated, and leave behind soul-sucking friends or lovers, no matter the cost. Like Marge sitting at her machine with the destroyed blazer, I take one look at the tattered pieces of the self I created and say, “At times like this, all you can do is laugh.”
The blinding pink specter of Marge’s Chanel pops up time and time again when I find myself in that exact scenario, frantically sewing something for an event or party where I sometimes seek acceptance that I don’t even realize I don’t want, half-heartedly attempting to keep up with the trusties and influencers in my industry and locale.
I’ve long ago left The Simpsons behind, but revisiting Marge’s suit always illuminates lessons about class friction that manifested then in my childhood and now in a big city full of both the ultra-wealthy and those far less privileged than myself. I know no matter what suit I’m wearing, to always punch up, never down — and that the real queen of vintage pink is Elsa Schiaparelli, not “that milliner” (and alleged Nazi collaborator) Coco Chanel.