Personal style follows the 80/20 rule, i.e., 80% defining and refining, and 20% experimenting. Within that framework, isn’t shopping with friends one of the most comfortable and enjoyable experiments of all?
Most of you probably know the blog, Une Femme d’un Certain Age. I’ve been following Sue for ages, and have met her in person. She’s admirable, professional, and a great writer. Somehow, I can’t say why, I got obsessed with seeing in her in a pair of wide leg pants. So I wrote and suggested a project in which I would dress her (via the Internet bien sûr), and she would do the same for me. For icing on the cake we asked Nancy of Beladora if she would be so kind as loan us jewelry. She said yes with great good cheer.
Shopping with virtual friends, indeed.
In the end, the experience delighted, surprised, and unsettled me a tad. First, here are the links to the clothes Sue sent me to wear. (We both ordered for ourselves, so as to be able to manage returns, etc.)
- Vince leather “Scuba” jacket in Coastal.
- AG “Stilt” Cigarette jeans (Set Seatt) or Vince black ponte leggings, my choice. I picked the jeans.
- Long, white, half-transparent Helmut Lang “Lawn” button front shirt, or an Eileen Fisher v-neck, irregular hem tank. I picked the button front.
- Not to mention Fiorentini & Baker Eli boots (which she knew I already owned)
Even as I stepped into the jeans for the first time, and pulled the jacket closed, my internal voices began to chatter. First, the nay-sayers.
“The jacket lapels are too wide, they will not disguise your shoulders. The shirt has a transparent panel on your belly! ARE YOU CRAZY WOMAN?! And, you KNOW you don’t wear skinny jeans. The shirt isn’t just see-through, it GOES UP where your thighs JUT OUT! Nail in the coffin, my dear, the shirt gaps.” (Yes, my nay-sayers can be loud. I’ve spoken to them but they refused to behave.)
However, some happy voices joined the chorus.
“This Coastal blue is perfect. I need to look for more tops in smoky navy. And Sue really does know her layering! No point in looking for a non-transparent, non-thigh baring top – these proportions are so harmonious that my figure flaws pale in comparison. Wait, I will wear a BLACK BRA so it all looks intentional. And double wait, I LIKE MOTO BOOTS!” Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.
Time came for photos.
Then I put on the jewelry Sue and Nancy had chosen. Huge black diamond hoops, corded Tahitian pearl and diamond bracelet, Tahitian pearl and diamond pendant, and a cocktail ring of diamonds, 18K gold, and blackened silver. The voices chittered in debate.
Nay-sayers: “Too many pieces.”
Happy voices: “But the outfit WANTS me to go over the top.”
Nay-sayers: “A fancy modern pearl pendant AND a goth diamond cocktail ring?”
Happy voices: “We’re going for Stylish French Roitfeld meets Iconic American Rocker, are we not?”
The happy voices won. Lesson learned, let happy voices win as often as possible when experimenting.
I headed out in the Golden Hour, following Sue’s practice for her spectacular photos. The outfit seemed to require a gritty setting. I had in mind a San Francisco alleyway fronted by cyclone fencing. Significant Husband graciously agreed to keep me company, and the jewelry safe.
I loved walking up the street. The boots, the hair, the makeup, the whole thing. I felt so cool. I rarely feel cool. I felt powerful. I even felt artistic. Artists don’t care about their thighs, or at least my imaginary artist doesn’t.
The shoot itself was an adventure. The alleyway was already occupied, by Cedric, a street person, and his friends. Significant Husband, a city native, negotiated terms of alleyway usage, as I ran back and forth between the camera and my tripod. I confess to a little fear. And more than a little showmanship. The clothes allowed me.
Cedric approved the photos, even though I declined his suggestion to undo one more button. We went home.
In the weeks since we shot, back in early March, I’ve been thinking. I’m sticking with the 80%, AKA my historical style. I still don’t want to wear wide lapels or skinny jeans. I still don’t want to wear lots of eye makeup. I still don’t want to wear 4 pieces of jewelry together.
At least most of the time.
Because what the 20% taught me is that I play it safe. A lot. There is something about the attention brought by dramatic dressing, and rocker clothes, that demands effort. I don’t roll with being noticed, at least for my clothes, very well.
There are hosts of reasons why. Take the upbringing. High WASPs don’t call attention to themselves – they live by The Creed Of The Appropriate. Add experience working in male-abundant industries, where attention for looks was generally a problem. To say nothing of who knows what other underlying issues.
But you can learn a lot by pushing limits, particularly when given permission by someone you respect.
Lessons From Sue And Nancy
- Layering and proportion. If one part of your body is more evident than you prefer, you can balance. For example, balance shoulder volume with skinny legs and a bulky shoe.
- Color. If color works, explored all shades of it.
- A true smoky eye has an order of magnitude more impact than the decorous eye-liner I know.
- Mix jewelry with abandon for special occasions.
- Style icons have their value.
That’s an attempt to show you the jacket’s subtle coloration.
So I returned all the clothes. Except the jeans, which I am exchanging for a white version of the same pair. I’m game to expand my repertoire, at the margins.
If you’ve been able to restrain yourself this long from going to see what Sue did with what I chose for her, I salute you, and wave as you skedaddle over there. Hint. She’s wearing the same jacket as I, but in peach.
It’s very good to have friends.
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