Essays and Musings

Desperately Seeking Romance

Angelica Huston, Richard Avedon

Anjelica Huston; photo by Richard Avedon

I have been reminded lately that despite being creatures that crave stability and routine, most of us are still delighted by the unexpected. In my life, this plays out rather clearly in the realm of fashion. Though I can’t seem to get enough of the classics – straight leg trousers, dresses with sleeves, silk blouses, well-cut cotton shirts – I am endlessly inspired by the accidental. As someone who regularly seeks out vintage things, I am always on the lookout for that fortuitous one of a kind object. Most of my outfits follow a simple formula: tailored pants, vintage blouse and necklace, modest heels, vintage bag. Pulling together an outfit makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something for the day; making the effort to get dressed is imaginative. Getting dressed is an escape from reality and the inverse of escape; it’s a way to connect with other people.

It will come as no surprise, then, dear reader, when I say how dismayed I was to learn from one of my students, a fashionable woman in her early 60s, that my style reminded her of the J. Peterman look. As I am more likely to be inspired by Richard Avedon photos of iconic women than direct marketing catalog editorials, I really didn’t know what to make of such a comparison. And I hate to admit that until preparing to write this, I had no association with the whimsical clothing company outside of what I saw on the hit TV comedy Seinfeld in which Elaine worked for J. Peterman himself.  The original J. Peterman Company, founded in 1987, sold merchandise through the use of elaborate narratives, accompanied by drawings instead of photographs. How could my vintage style reflect a catalog business that with the air of a Technicolor film or Harlequin romance, sums up each article of clothing in a few witty sentences?

Owner's Manual, J. Peterman Catalog

Owner’s Manual, J. Peterman Catalog

In preparing to write this post, I came across an article in the Harvard Business Review in which John Peterman recounts how the company was born with the chance purchase of a cowboy duster in Jackson Hole, Wyoming   “… it [the duster] said something about me that I wanted said. It said that I don’t need to wear something with a logo to show people who I am. It was romantic, different. I found when I wore it strangers seemed to give me approving glances. In airports people would try and meet my eye as I walked by them. And I thought, I like the way this feels, I wonder if there are others who would appreciate the feeling as well.” Reading these words, I recognized how similar my own thoughts are regarding vintage. How I am drawn to the illusion of the authentic and to the wondrous, to a connection with the past and to others. Vintage garments also have the romantic mystique of the incongruous. As much as I would like to be fully modern, I enjoy the dimensionality and outsider nature of mixing vintage items with the contemporary.

Anyone new to thrifting might find it intimidating and even overwhelming: not being able to find your size, not understanding the history of certain items, finding prices too high, struggling to pair vintage with your current wardrobe. But with the help of Ebay and the accessibility of secondhand stores across the country, vintage has never been easier to explore. In an odd contradiction, vintage keeps me anchored to the present; if it were to go, all that I hold dear in life might go.

And in the philosophy of J. Peterman, don’t people want things that make their lives the way they wish they were?

Lauren Hutton

Lauren Hutton

China Machado

China Machado

Cher; all photos by Richard Avedon

Cher; all photos by Richard Avedon

 

 

Standard
Essays and Musings, Personal Style

Making It After All

MTM4In my late twenties, newly diagnosed with cancer, I lived in Brooklyn, and under the care of a kind and gifted oncologist did treatment at NYU Medical Center. That year of treatment happened to coincide with the terrorist attacks of 9/11; in fact, my very first chemotherapy round of six monthly doses, occurred two weeks before the unforgettable morning of September 11th. The timing meant that my hair had begun to fall out in chunks on that day. I found it on the pillow when I opened my eyes and later, on the shower floor. If you’ve ever experienced this kind of catastrophic hair loss, you’ll know how unnerving it is. At the age of twenty-nine, I wasn’t prepared for going bald, let alone for having cancer. I didn’t own any clippers and was at a loss as to removing the remaining scattered patches of hair; in the chaos and fear immediately following the attacks, the bridges and subways were closed, making it impossible to get to my hairdresser in Manhattan.

So I called a friend who lived in Park Slope, and asked him if he could shave my head. Accompanied by my husband and by my friend’s partner, we all four went up to the  rooftop that looked out towards Manhattan. In the empty horizon you could see two rising columns of black smoke where a day earlier the World Trade Center Towers had stood. I still have the before and after photos. From time to time I look at my husband posed with his arms encircling my waist, the sky falling behind us as a backdrop, bluer that I remember it being that day. In one photograph I have hair and in the other I don’t.

You might think that I got used to the idea of having cancer and of being bald, but I struggled against the image of outsider, the image of someone to be feared because of her condition. And so I immersed myself in the bright and deceptive world of TV and cinema. Submerged in this fantasy realm, I was free to identify with iconic women who had the wherewithal to make it through. One woman stood out in particular: Mary Richards. Mary was a great favorite from numerous childhood years of watching TV. Mary Tyler Moore’s iconic character was my heroine: a stylish woman who used humor along with courage to move gracefully through the day-to-day. She fearlessly bucked the trend of wife and homemaker, seeking independence instead. Today, with so much uneasiness about the future, alongside the hopefulness of the recent Women’s March on Washington, Mary Richards’ ability to make it after all remains profoundly relevant.

I’ve written before about Mary’s influence, and on this day of Mary Tyler Moore’s passing, I am sharing here  as a tribute, the article published in Elle magazine.

Mary Tyler Moore, 1970s

Mary Tyler Moore, 1970s

Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards

As Mary Richards

 

 

 

Standard
Essays and Musings, Personal Style

On Packing

Ingrid Bergman, "Stromboli" 1950

Ingrid Bergman, “Stromboli” 1950

A few months ago, my husband and I decided it was time to visit Italy again. Since booking the airline tickets and renting an apartment in Rome’s Centro Storico, I have been in a muted state of anxiety over what to pack. Despite the fact that I’ve been traveling to Italy on and off since childhood and am wildly excited to once again walk the streets of Rome, I feel bad about my vacation wardrobe. The truth is, since about my thirties, I always fly into a panic before a trip abroad. If you saw my wardrobe, you would politely say there was no need to panic. After all, it looks as if I have all the necessary basics. But that is just the problem: the basics. When it comes time to pack for a two-week trip, practicality retreats and fantasy takes over. In order to explore the streets of a European city, I suddenly feel guilty about choosing sensible outfits. It seems as if the least I can do is to make the effort to approximate through my clothes the mystique of the cities I will be visiting.

This, I find, is harder to do when you are a woman of a certain age. How to look casually glamorous in comfortable shoes for sightseeing and walking on cobblestones in ninety-degree heat? Today’s trends – the charming floral mini dresses, the sweeping boho skirts, the high-waisted, wide leg pants worn with a midriff t-shirt, the kimonos paired with cut off denim shorts are not tempting options. It seems in the words of Linda Wells, former editor-in-chief of Allure magazine, speaking with Cathy Horyn in 2007, “The choice is to wear something juvenile or be a total killjoy.” Despite the shift in trends and the fact that the options for women’s clothing have expanded exponentially over the years, Wells’ comment rings as true today as it did back in 2007. In refusing youth driven trends and low quality fast fashion chains, I sometimes feel like I am resorting to normcore by stubbornly adhering to my personal style. This, dear reader, is the reason why the last few days have found me craving the kind of clothes Audrey Hepburn wore while living in Rome with her second husband, the Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti.

Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Santa Marinella, Italy 1950s

Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Santa Marinella, Italy 1950s

That I turn to vintage photos in order to inspire my packing doesn’t greatly surprise me; just before sitting down to write this, I began going through photographs of Ingrid Bergman in the 1950s Rossellini films, Stromboli and Journey to Italy. In flicking through the film stills, I realize it is not just the glamour projected by these images of Bergman or the stylishness of the paparazzi shots of Hepburn that I am after. Rather, the images impress me with the ease and confidence of these women of a certain age. Instead of the typical girlish movie star photographs, these pictures document grown-up faces and experiences. When Bergman starred in Stromboli she was in her thirties and had just begun an affair with Rossellini that would cause a scandal in the United States for producing a child out of wedlock. The Roman photos of Hepburn reveal a woman in her forties, in her second marriage, raising her son from her first marriage; these are not the better-known Roman Holiday pictures of the ingenue in her twenties, floating about the ancient city in ballet flats. In a time when blogs and fashion magazines regularly preach to women about age appropriateness, the images of these two fashionable and graceful women make the claim for considering proper fit and quality before age. Maybe the focus should shift to what’s suitable for one’s body and lifestyle – ageless dressing – over what is age appropriate.

As I begin to pack, I comfort myself with fantasies of a new definition of basic: tailored, well-made clothes in durable fabrics that can be worn many times and personalized with accessories. (I’m thinking vintage and sustainable fashion here). Could it be what’s old is truly what’s new again?

Ingrid Bergman, "Journey to Italy" 1950

Ingrid Bergman, “Journey to Italy” 1950

Audrey Hepburn and Andrea Dotti, Rome 1971

Audrey Hepburn and Andrea Dotti, Rome 1971

Audrey Hepburn, Rome 1972; image by Lino Nanni

Audrey Hepburn, Rome 1972; image by Lino Nanni

Audrey Hepburn with her son, Sean, Rome 1972; image Girani Reporters Associati

Audrey Hepburn with her son, Sean, Rome 1972; image Girani Reporters Associati

 

Standard
Weekend Style Inspiration

Cut, Sew, Stitch Part II

Back from my tailor, a vintage Yves Saint Laurent blouse. I think the before and after photos really demonstrate that proper fit matters.

Before: vintage Yves Saint Laurent silk polka dot blouse

Before: vintage Yves Saint Laurent silk polka dot blouse (Recess LA)

After: with recut shoulders, body and sleeves taken in

After: with recut shoulders, body and sleeves taken in

Standard
Essays and Musings

Cut, Sew, Stitch

2f5f68e47da910b6c101a933fad3ae8e-1

When I was a child I spent the summers in Italy and the winters in New England. While this may not sound like much of a significant formative experience, it set the course for how I feel about tailoring. It was the 1970s, and I had a doll named Emily who was better dressed than I was. Her clothes were custom made while mine were off-the-shelf. She had two tailors: my mother, who cut the fabric and operated the sewing machine, and my grandmother who finished the details by hand.

Summering in Italy and wintering in New England meant that Emily needed the right clothes. Her winter wardrobe focused on print dresses, pants, and long sleeve shirts, while her summer wardrobe included sundresses and the perfect red bathing suit for the beach. I grew up surrounded by the hum of my mother’s old Singer sewing machine, flanked on all sides by various baskets, heaped high with spools of thread and buttons and scraps of fabric. Despite my grandmother’s repeated attempts to teach me how to sew buttons and to stitch by hand, I never developed any real skill beyond threading a needle. My passion seemed to lie in the process of tailoring rather than in the actual mechanics of sewing. I loved choosing the fabrics for Emily’s clothes and watching the cloth take shape into a finished form.

If my mother and grandmother are to blame for my appreciation of tailoring, they are also to blame for my general state of rapture when it comes to vintage. As a teenager, I learned the pleasure of hunting through old clothes – a pleasure that was partly derived out of necessity – as my mother’s deep-seated thrift prohibited spending on designer items. Unlike today, when wearing vintage is considered both coolly sophisticated and environmentally conscience, donning secondhand clothing in the 1980s branded the wearer with a distinct air of the alternative. Those were the days of Laura Ashley and the Gap and Jessica McClintock. While it’s true, at least in the 80s, that vintage clothing became more socially acceptable through the influence of movies like Pretty in Pink and images of pop culture stars like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, it still wasn’t something that many teenagers and college students openly embraced.

Melanie Griffith, "Working Girl" 1988

Melanie Griffith, Working Girl 1988

Madonna, St. Marks Place, 1983 by Amy Arbus

“Madonna, St. Marks Place, 1983” by Amy Arbus

Not too long ago, I read a quote by Diana Vreeland that really struck me. “I always say I hope to God I die in a town with a good tailor…” No one has taught me more about the transformative power of adapting clothing to the wearer’s specifications than my beloved tailor, Tatyana. Hailing from Kazakhstan, where her sartorial training included engineering, Tatyana has a fundamental knowledge of construction and a grave regard for fit. Although proper fit is generally acknowledged as the hallmark of notable style, most people would never buy anything secondhand that required alteration; for them it is too great a chore. But I am convinced there may be some readers who, like me, derive satisfaction from the process. The allure of vintage lies in its ability to speak to both memory and metamorphosis: you are able to quite literally take a garment that is too big and perhaps too evocative of another era (think mountainous Working Girl shoulders) and reshape it into something that harmonizes with the present. Rather than a destructive act, the tailoring process celebrates the past, and reincarnates it, washed free of any melancholic nostalgia.

I don’t think I am fooling myself when I say tailoring is my greatest luxury; the sea change it affords is deeply gratifying. As a daughter who has had a lifelong fraught relationship with her mother, the collaborative process of alteration is a means of staying connected to the happiest and most cherished times with my mother. Reconstruction of the vintage clothes I buy strikes me as an attempt at understanding, an attempt to control the outcome. It’s as if all the youthful hurt might be redeemed through this simple act of transformation.

Over the span of our twelve-year relationship Tatyana has altered countless vintage blouses and dresses. Each time the result is the same: I recapture both that childhood wonder at watching a garment transform under capable hands and the echo of the lost intimacy with my mother and grandmother. Maybe all along I have been chasing after the traces of this lost relationship, the cuttings and threads of maternal care, of maternal love. And the vintage fabric that is proof it all existed.

Tailored to fit: 80s Amen Wardy silk blouse (Recess LA) with vintage Ann Demeulemeester blazer

Tailored to fit: 80s Amen Wardy silk blouse (Recess LA) with vintage Ann Demeulemeester blazer (Resurrection Vintage, LA)

Before: 80s Oleg Cassini silk jacquard blouse (Recess LA)

Before: 80s Oleg Cassini silk jacquard necktie blouse (Recess LA)

After: with recut shoulders and neckline

After: with recut shoulders and neckline; body and sleeves taken in

Standard
Essays and Musings, The Four Seasons of Vintage

A Report in the Spring

Carole Bouquet, 1980s Chanel Advertisement

Carole Bouquet, 1980s Chanel advertisement

I wasn’t really prepared to buy a brooch this week, and it may have been impulsive on my part, as it comes on the heels of having purchased a charm bracelet last month. Though I love fashion jewelry, and regularly wear a necklace, I had never really thought about owning a brooch, or for that matter, a charm bracelet. The truth is I don’t know for how long I have wanted such a bracelet. Possibly since the 1980s, after seeing a Chanel perfume commercial in which Carole Bouquet sports an extravagant charm bracelet with a red suit. My attraction to brooches is recent, a desire born only a few years ago at a dinner party in Los Angeles. After meeting a woman of advanced style who wore a remarkable brooch against her simple black blazer, it suddenly occurred to me how wonderfully sophisticated owning a brooch would make me feel.

The fact that these traditional pieces of jewelry reveal divergent tastes doesn’t trouble me. On the one hand, there is the brooch, regal and glamorous, conjuring images of the Duchess of Windsor, impeccably dressed and groomed. And on the other, there is the charm bracelet, girlish and flirty. The bracelet I acquired last month is a Napier from the 1950s, the heyday of the charm bracelet before it fell out of fashion during the women’s movement. As soon as I saw it I knew it was the most perfect of things: constructed from pearlized Lucite and styrene beads in Easter egg colors that the Napier company called “moonstone pastels.” Completely impractical, a charm bracelet garners smiles as it clinks with each step you take, with each wave of your hand. It clangs brightly, keeping you company when you are home alone or out driving. As for the brooch, I discovered the ideal one on EBAY from a seller in Louisiana. A vintage Oscar de la Renta, it is resplendent with its faux pearls and center crystal.

The Duchess of Windsor's 1940 flamingo brooch by Cartier

The Duchess of Windsor’s 1940 flamingo brooch by Cartier

The Duchess of Windsor and Prince Edward of Wales, 1942

The Duchess of Windsor and Prince Edward of Wales, 1942

Despite having written about fashion jewelry here, I neglected to mention that charm bracelets and brooches are the showboats of any outfit. Both are rich in historical connotation: the brooch dates as early as the Bronze Age when it was used as an indication of ethnicity and class, while from pre-historic times the charm bracelet was worn as an amulet to protect against the evil eye. Today, in an age obsessed with the practicality of the iPhone and the Apple Watch, to wear either a brooch or a charm bracelet is to be reminded of the joy that the quixotic still has the power to shower over us.

I have wondered why it is only now, in my middle years, that I am embracing the brooch and the charm bracelet. The only satisfactory answer I have come up with is that as the world accelerates its championing of all things utilitarian and technological, the more the antiquated and the superfluous – things lacking any real use value – rise in appeal. Vintage objects tell a story, their beauty is not impersonal. Beckoning from beyond, they help us to stay connected to an ever receding past.

Vintage Oscar de la Renta faux pearl and antique gold brooch

Vintage Oscar de la Renta faux pearl and antique gold brooch

1950s Tropicana charm bracelet by Napier

1950s Tropicana charm bracelet by Napier

Standard
Essays and Musings, Personal Style

The Look of Love

Vintage Viktor & Rolf jacket

Vintage Viktor & Rolf mohair jacket

With the excitement of back to school clothes already come and gone and with Halloween costume season currently in full swing, I have been contemplating the question of how much men notice what women wear. It’s sometimes happened that women I’ve met while shopping, have lamented the clothing purchased for them by their special someone: brightly colored loungewear, patterned onesie pajamas, ankle length floral dresses, impossibly high-heeled shoes, and sexless architectural shapes. The main problem, from what I can tell, is that they are given clothes that don’t bear any relation to how they see themselves or to how they wish to be seen by others. I am not persuaded that such misguided choices, which women find dispiriting, are proof of men’s inattention to a woman’s individual style. I am not sure it is an indication of a blindness or of some kind of myopic distortion. And I think women would feel better about a man’s vision of the female wardrobe if they understood it most likely has its roots in childhood fantasies.

My introduction to how men see women’s clothes came when, unemployed and in my middle thirties, I arrived in Los Angeles from New York. Having left the East Coast for the foreseeable future, along with my job teaching Italian at The Fashion Institute of Technology, I decided it was an opportune time to try my luck as a middle and high school English teacher. Though students at FIT always took notice of whatever I happened to be wearing in class (usually with the intention of learning how it was made) it wasn’t until I taught thirteen and sixteen year-old boys that I got a true sense for how the opposite sex thinks about women’s clothes. I noticed right away that save for the occasional addition of a sweatshirt, the boys typically dressed in jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers every day of the school year. Though their clothes gave me no cause to suspect they harbored any interest in fashion, on more than one occasion, the boys looked upon my wardrobe as an object of fascination.

Viktor & Rolf Fall 2002 RTW in blue on the runway

Viktor & Rolf Fall 2002 mohair jacket in blue on the runway

There is a fundamental contradiction in teenage boys: they are as direct in their observations as they are equivocal. It wasn’t uncommon in the middle of a lesson to have a student raise his hand only to ask a question about the logistics of what I was wearing. Could the two columns of buttons on a Dries Van Noten cardigan be buttoned on either column? Was my cropped black Viktor & Rolf utility jacket with large pockets on the chest a Soviet army issued military coat? Certain silhouettes and fabrics, I discovered over time, were associated in their minds with the things they had some familiarity with – historical figures about whom they were reading or classic films or individual cultural reference points, with a good dose of pop culture thrown into the mix. On one school day I wore a vintage Givenchy necktie dress and several of the boys remarked that I looked like Anne Frank. In a 1980s Cerruti oversized chartreuse sweater I reminded them of iconic rap stars they had seen on TV. Rather than shying away from their perceptions, I welcomed the chance to understand the mechanics behind male associations with women’s clothing. And, as though to bring things full circle, for Halloween I wore a silk YSL necktie blouse with wide leg trousers. Students had a hard time pinpointing who I was embodying but after a few broad hints, they eventually guessed I was trying my best to look like Jackie Onassis.

I’m not sure if the boys learned anything about a woman’s personal style from the outfits I wore that school year. But I came away with a solid belief, reinforced over the years by anecdotes and by personal experience, that men not only notice what women wear, they create narratives around clothes, perhaps as much if not more than women do: a graffiti print handbag reminds one man I know of Woodstock, while for another, a Margiela wool trench coat evokes images of captivating female spies. Almost every runway show by male designers from the recent Spring 2016 Ready-to-Wear collections is full of elaborate sets and fanciful themes, and Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton gives credit for his show’s inspiration to a favorite boyhood film, the 1982 “Tron.” Clicking through the runway images, I notice that the male designers far outweigh the female creative directors in their use of intricate concepts. Proof, I think, of what most women learn merely by evaluating the bewildering clothing gifts from the men in their lives: our projections are bound by the youthful imaginings of what we find familiar.

I am convinced women should not be so quick to judge; the sartorial fantasy men construct around their significant other is simply the look of love.

Louis Vuitton Spring 2016 RTW

Louis Vuitton Spring 2016 RTW

 

Vintage 1970s YSL blouse

Vintage 1970s YSL blouse via 1stdibs

My vintage Givenchy dress

My vintage Givenchy geo print dress

Standard
Essays and Musings

Heroine Chic: Some Thoughts on The Blouse, Part II

Gillian Anderson, "The Fall"

Gillian Anderson, “The Fall”

"The Fall" BBC/Artists Studio/Steffan Hill

“The Fall” BBC/Artists Studio/Steffan Hill

In October last year I published a post about Lauren Bacall and my fascination with the blouse as the ultimate wardrobe staple of the heroine. After recently watching both season one and two of “The Fall” with Gillian Anderson, I am reminded again of the power of this feminine garment. In nearly every episode Anderson, as Superintendent Stella Gibson, wears a silk blouse to work at the police precinct in Belfast, Ireland. Rather than apologizing for her femininity, Stella, much like the heroines Bacall portrayed in the 1940s, dresses attractively. She is not interested in hiding in men’s style suits and sensible shoes in order to prove she is the detective in charge of the investigation of a serial killer. Rather her self-possessed authority becomes vested in soft blouses and heels: in her very womanliness.

What struck me most in watching the series, is Gillian Anderson’s inspiring portrayal of a capable and sensitive woman in command. She is the kind of seductively outspoken character that was once common in film noir, but that is unfortunately rarely seen on contemporary TV. Through the role of Stella, Anderson projects a powerful femininity that is as convincing today as it was in the 1940s.

At this writing, I’m optimistic enough to assert the return of the blouse as the quintessential symbol of heroine cool.

Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall

Rita Hayworth; image George Hurrell, 1942

Rita Hayworth, 1942; image George Hurrell

Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca

Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, 1942

Jackie Kennedy

Jackie Kennedy

Aurora Sansone; image Sartorialist

Aurora Sansone; image Sartorialist

Viviana Volpicella

Viviana Volpicella

 

 

Standard
Essays and Musings

Why Breaking the Fashion Rules Matters

In the mix: winter and summer - Vintage silk dress, feather scarf, Rodo wicker bag

In the mix: winter and summer – vintage silk dress, feather scarf, Rodo wicker bag

Why don't you wear a MM6 Maison Martin Margiela corduroy motorcycle jacket over a vintage silk cocktail dress and carry a vintage Walborg bag?

Why don’t you… MM6 Maison Martin Margiela corduroy motorcycle jacket, vintage silk cocktail dress, Walborg bag

Nora Ephron gave a commencement speech at Wellesley College in 1996 and said something I’ve cherished. “Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there.” This statement occurs to me each time I look in my closet, tasked with finding something to wear. Unlike many of my peers, I missed out as a child on experimenting with fashion. I was never one of those kids, who on the path to self-expression, masterfully paired clashing items of their wardrobe to create an improbably chic outfit. My sisters and I were closed off from this creative process: we wore a uniform every day from kindergarten through to eighth-grade. In the Catholic school atmosphere we grew up in, there was no room for sartorial experimentation.

A direct consequence of my uniform years is that, as a teenager and college student, I abided by the fashion rules. A lady doesn’t wear white after Labor Day; she matches her bag to her shoes; she doesn’t show her knees past a certain age; a lady avoids black, white and pants when attending a wedding. But rather than finding comfort in my execution of the rules, I often felt insecure in whatever I had on. I didn’t take any joy in getting dressed. Wearing all white in the summer made me uneasy, as did wearing dresses to weddings. In college, I didn’t understand why it wasn’t socially acceptable for a woman to wear a jumpsuit or even pants to formal events. Then, in my late twenties, when I was about to become a bride, I was cautioned on all sides against the color black and dressing in pants.

At this point, I knew it was time to rebel and break the rules: I wanted to be the bride who wore both black and pants. I also wanted to experiment with oppositions, combining those colors and fabrics that are conventionally seen as incompatible:  purple with burnt orange, burnt orange with green, navy with black, brown with grey, velvet with brocade, tweed with chiffon, and floral prints with military separates. And while we’re at it, why not mix winter fabrics with summer fabrics? And layer a tough chic motorcycle jacket over a ladylike dress? Let’s incorporate feathers and sequins into a traditional daytime look. But contrast and opposition are not ladylike. And society places a great deal of pressure on women to dress appropriately. In her commencement address, Nora Ephron, a rule breaker, recognized that women are encouraged to follow convention, to avoid taking risks, to be ladies.

Like Ephron, Loulou de la Falaise was the kind of woman who never bothered with the rulebook. A bohemian with whimsical style, de la Falaise met Yves Saint Laurent in 1968 and became his lifelong muse and collaborator.  A jewelry designer for the Saint Laurent house, she once described her style in a Guardian interview as tomboy gypsy.  In refusing to conform to various fashion decrees, de la Falaise was extraordinarily stylish. Shortly after her death in 2011, Hamish Bowles wrote in Vogue, “she provided a walking embodiment of what real style-personal, quirky, unexpected, inspiring-could be.”

It seems to me, that not following the fashion rules matters because in the process of jettisoning certain dictates and trends, you arrive at a point of discovery.  It’s a moment in which you come to recognize what it is you truly admire about fashion. It’s not rebelliousness for the sake of rebelling; breaking the fashion rules is far more complicated than that. When a woman wears what’s unexpected she demonstrates a fearlessness that’s both empowering and engaging. Because breaking the rules is honest-a woman is being true to her own unique style-and that’s awfully courageous.

Loulou de la Falaise

Loulou de la Falaise, Vogue 1970; photo Richard Avedon

Loulou de la Falaise with Yves Saint Laurent; photo Guy Marineau

with Yves Saint Laurent; photo Guy Marineau

Loulou de la Falaise

circa 2008; Rizzoli has just released the first monograph detailing the life and work of Loulou de la Falaise

 

 

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