Essays and Musings, Personal Style

Severe Deluxe

Greta Garbo, 1941; photo Clarence Sinclair Bull

Greta Garbo, 1955; photo George Hoyningen Huene

Greta Garbo, 1941; photo Clarence Sinclair Bull

Greta Garbo, 1941; photo Clarence Sinclair Bull

For some years now I have kept on my desk a postcard of the actress Greta Garbo. She rests her chin in one hand and her head in the other, as she gazes melancholically into the distance. On one wrist she wears a Verdura curb link bracelet watch, and on the other, the matching bracelet. After becoming well known among the Hollywood set, Verdura, a fine jewelry company, opened its doors in New York City in 1939. Although I appreciate the minimalism and elegance of Garbo’s jewelry, it is not the reason I have been attached to the photograph. One thing in particular attracts me to this image of the star: the impossibility of separating the Verdura bracelets from the woman. I’ve long held the illusion that the bracelets symbolize the wearer. The other afternoon, while doing some research, I discovered that the curb link bracelet watch had been an especial Garbo favorite. When it comes to style, I like constancy. And so it pleases me to know that Garbo wore the same watch during her lifetime, to the exclusion of other designer options.

Fashion today demands a compulsive turnover and an endless quantity. When the urge to go shopping gets the better of me, my favorite thing to search for is vintage fashion jewelry. But I’ve noticed that my appreciation for steadiness places me in an awkward position with the selling community. It brands me as both a good and a bad shopper. Good, in that I’m inclined to spend a bit more money for a piece of jewelry that is of high quality. Bad, because I don’t buy in volume. And although I frequent consignment stores and vintage expos, and look regularly on e-bay for necklaces and bracelets, I come up short with purchases each year. I marvel at this desire to experience the new while sticking with the familiar, and recognize there is an aspect of severity in my enjoyment of repetition, for I’m told it’s necessary to have variety in order to stave off a fashion rut. But I prefer to reach for the same dependable items: that favorite bracelet and necklace and watch.

When does a person consider selling or giving away certain pieces of jewelry? This past summer I spent weeks contemplating the question. Finally I determined, if it is the right piece, there is no expiration date. In recent months, I’ve wondered if my dependence on fashion jewelry has become an obsession. When deliberating over a purchase, I bear in mind how it will age on me. Will my desire for it extend into my advanced years, and will I wear it as convincingly in the future as in the present? It’s true that this sort of calculation drains some of the excitement from shopping, curtailing the deep pleasure derived from finding something you love. If I am obsessed, it is an obsession in which the end results matter most to me. I experience both a comfort and a luxury in putting on the same familiar objects over the years.

Like Garbo, who wore her bracelet watch as a type of amulet, I count on my fashion jewelry for strength. There it is seeing me through day-to-day obligations and trying moments. Once more, it is there to accompany me on the travels and adventures that lie ahead. And in donning again and again the pieces I’ve carefully collected, I’ll feel, as when beholding them for the first time, that spark of love at first sight.

1980s Yves Saint Laurent tortoise pendant necklace

1980s Yves Saint Laurent tortoise pendant necklace

1980s Chanel leather and gold cuff

1980s Chanel leather and gold cuff

Vintage Paco Rabanne cuff

Vintage Paco Rabanne cuff

Chanel turnlock necklace, 1995

Chanel turnlock necklace, 1995

Standard
Essays and Musings, The Four Seasons of Vintage

Heroine Chic: Some Thoughts on the Blouse

Lauren Bacall,1944; photo Everett Collection/Rex

Lauren Bacall, 1944; photo Everett Collection/Rex

Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall

In the classic Hollywood movies I watched growing up, the blouse was the wardrobe staple of the heroine. As a teenager, I was fascinated by the clothing I saw on film. Even if my life in a small New England town didn’t bear any resemblance to the lives of the stars, my plan in closely observing the heroine was to learn how to dress like one. And so, when my sisters and I would go shopping at the designer discount chain T.J.Maxx, more often than not, I gravitated to the racks of blouses. Tucked into a skirt or worn with pants, long-sleeved or sleeveless, the blouse managed to look both elegant and cool.

In high school, I participated in regional and state student council, and as secretary, I thought wearing a blouse would be the best way to convey my competence. For an after school job, I worked at the local bank, where many of the female executives arrived dressed in skirt suits, paired with white or jewel-tone satin blouses. While reading the employee manual one day, I decided the blouse fit the description of “professional attire” and was the ideal choice for my part-time position as a teller.

I have little doubt that my attraction to the blouse as an emblem of sophistication is due in large measure to Lauren Bacall. What strikes me most in considering those images of her in a blouse is how self-possessed and capable she looked. In her many roles as the heroine, Bacall projected a heady seductiveness that famously blended outspokenness with ironic humor. She was the kind of heroine who made me believe that in speaking her mind, a woman could be both tough and sexy. This projection of strong femininity seems as glamorous to me now as it did when I was a young woman, just beginning to experiment with fashion.

Of course, my hometown in Central Massachusetts was a far cry from the settings that Bacall’s heroines found themselves in. And the silk blouses I owned in the 1980s, with their towering shoulder pads and full sleeves, didn’t fit impeccably like those the iconic actress wore. Even though I currently live in Los Angeles (not too far from Hollywood) nothing’s changed: I still gravitate to 80s blouses when I go vintage shopping in whatever city I happen to find myself in. But now I have a tailor. She snips out the pads and reshapes the sleeves to give me the look of a modern day heroine.

Vintage silk blouse;bag;1990s Chanel turnlock necklace; Vintage Paco Rabanne cuff

Vintage silk blouse; 90s Chanel turnlock necklace; vintage Paco Rabanne cuff; Winfried Kralle vintage embossed bag

Silk wood print blouse

80s Levante silk wood print blouse; 60s unsigned necklace; Hermès Kelly long wallet as clutch

Standard