My wheels, pictured below in the illustrious pavilion behind my building. This classic cruiser is sort of an iteration of the dress I wrote about yesterday: retro, red, reliable.
Category Archives: closet case study
This dress was originally purchased from Anthropologie in the year 2000, for the occasion of my sister’s college graduation, which is pictured below after a long night of celebration.
I’ve worn the wrap-dress (Anthropologie’s private label, made in the USA) every year since, layered with a semblance of slips, swimsuits and stockings take it from spring to summer and into fall.
Many of these moments (above) were immortalized by my friend and former neighbor Tom Slaughter, and today the dress is back, with an old Laura Ashley petticoat beneath and an American Apparel hoodie over the top–my easy ensemble for Easter brunch with long-lost pal Julie Roads. It’s all about resurrection.
Is it just me, or is Jim Dwyer going through a fashion phase? First, it was H&M, then The New York Clothing Bank and in Sunday’s Metro section, The New York Times columnist highlighted Operation Fairy Dust, a program for distributing pre-loved prom dresses to girls in need. Dwyer referred to “the fancy dress: usually worn once for a few hours, then retired from active duty.”
How does Dwyer know? Does he have a closet-full of said dresses? I love the idea of Operation Fairy Dust, (and wonder if they still need volunteer personal shoppers) but had the columnist looked further, he might have found not all girls ferret away their formalwear when the dance is done.
You bet your bustle that as soon as the snow began to melt in high school, I was wondering what to wear to the prom.
Image from Wgirls.org
Senior year, my original plan had been to wear a dress that belonged to my friend Laura (or was it Molly?), who was a year ahead of me in school. It was an Uma-inspired slippery number, if memory serves. I think I was getting dressed in my mom’s bedroom. My hair was done, my makeup on; I pulled the dress over my head and turned around to show my mom. Her face fell, and she pointed to a large spot on the front, like a water stain over the right thigh. The dress was periwinkle sand-washed silk–oh my, it’s coming back to me now–there was nothing that could be done. My mom drew in a deep breath, likely flashing back to the violent fashion crises that nearly kept me home several mornings in the second grade.
But all was not lost. We had inspiration. It was 1999, and Gwyneth Paltrow had worn a silvery ball gown skirt and strapless top to the Golden Globes. I had a skirt like that. I even had a tube top, albeit a cotton spandex one. I put it on. It looked like cotton spandex. I think that by that point my date, Jimmy Kerley, might have actually been downstairs. Mom went into the closet for reinforcements (sound familiar?) and emerged with a black negligee. I was confused. I was scandalized. I was…relieved. I pulled it on over the tube top and tucked it into my skirt. Done!
There I am on the right. My friends Kate and Katie, in the middle, chose dresses that were not too prom-specific to be worn again. Jessica, on the left, was likely inspired by the same muse I was, and I bet either she or her older sister has worn at least one piece of that outfit again too. But, I’m sure we all have at least one one-night wonder that might be better off relegated to a cycle of rebirth at various proms, and it’s great that NYC has organizations like Operation Fairy Dust for those glamorous gowns.
However, that silvery skirt is still hanging in my closet (next to the hand-me-down prom dress I wore Day 2 of Fashion Week) as I type, and I’m contemplating what I might be able to wear it with for spring. It could be cute with a grey tee shirt and a jean jacket. I’m sure photographer and stylist Kristen Joy Watts will have an idea or two when she helps purge my closet this weekend. Maybe there’s still some fairy dust left in there.
This is my favorite purse. It’s by Jerome Dreyfuss. I got it in Paris four years ago, and to replace it at the designer’s new store in SoHo today would probably cost close to $800. Although it cost a little less then, it is still the most expensive accessory I’ve ever owned. (It was a different place and time, when I traveled to France for fabric shows, and designers subsidized my purchases so they could examine my choices.)
If you’re gasping at the price-tag, consider this: Most women in New York City do not drive cars. Sure, we ride the subway, but in many ways, our purses are our vehicles. They carry our valuables, they are with us everywhere we go and might be one of the first things someone notices about us (depressing, as it is with cars, however true).
Therefore, like a car, bags must be reliable, comfortable, functional, and ideally, beautiful. But reliability is of utmost importance, lest you end up like Malika Ritchie, who I met during Fashion Week. Malika had traveled from Seattle to work dressing models backstage, and this was after the Karen Walker show, midway through her week:
I’ve had better luck with my Jerome Dreyfuss. I would estimate I carried it every day for the first two years I owned it, and then for the following two, gave it temporary breaks until occasions like Fashion Week or travel required the convenience and convertibility offered by the bag’s design details: the genius key-leash (long enough that you don’t need to detach them), the outer and inner pockets for passports and pens and the inner straps that let you gather it up small when it’s empty-ish, and expand it to hold a notebook when necessary.
That’s not a bad record, when you calculate the price per wear. But then just yesterday, as pictured above, a strap gave way. The bag didn’t come crashing down, no cell phones skipped down stairs. It happened quietly, the strap held strong by reinforcements and buckles until I could knot the end in a temporary fix.
I brought the bag to Sweden last week, where all my cameras, recorders, notebooks and cosmetics likely did it in. That’s also where I met Mike Schragger, at Stockholm’s Sustainable Fashion Academy. There, he proposed an interesting solution: leasing, rather than purchasing clothing. That way companies would be compelled to make their products more durable, since they would be responsible for the maintenance. He compared it to leasing a washing machine from Electrolux–a concept as foreign to a New York City girl as automobile ownership, but compelling nonetheless.
You might be thinking you already heard this idea, from Jennifer Hudson’s character in the Sex and the City movie.
But Schragger’s proposal sounds different–more like making a purchase from a company reliable for repairs and returns like Patagonia, rather than renting a patchwork Louis Vuitton until the trend passes. The benefit, of course, would be that rather than dropping $800 on a new bag (or $1800 in the Vuitton case), you could make smaller payments over the long-term, either working towards ownership, or returning it for a new ride when the time is right.
For the moment I’ll have to take of my own bag maintenance–although there is an updated model at Jerome Dreyfuss’ new downtown dealership I’d love to take for a test-drive.
Although I started skiing soon after I started walking, I had taken a 5-year hiatus until my recent trip to Telluride. My aprés-ski wardrobe strategy was pretty low maintenance, but what to wear on the mountain required a little more thought. Here, clothing crosses into the realm of equipment, where performance–or lack thereof–can affect not just the wearer’s comfort, but their safety as well.
I know of one family where the four kids were required to dress entirely for a day of skiing the night before they hit the slopes, so that each child had a distinct pile of clothing to put on in the morning with utmost efficiency.
Here’s what would have been in my pile for the past week: neon wool socks, Icebreaker merino leggings and undershirt, second Patagonia Capilene long-sleeved shirt, wool (with 2% acrylic) turtleneck sweater, polyester fleece neck gaiter, nylon fleece-lined mittens (not warm enough), a North Face nylon shell and lined nylon powder pants. Although the general color scheme has changed a bit, this is more or less the same layering strategy I’ve had since I was a student of the Snow Bunnies ski school as a toddler, with the addition of one major accessory: a plastic helmet. (As The New York Times reported in last week’s Style Section gear test, some resorts require them now.)
If this sounds like a lot of crap to put on, that’s because it is. It’s sort of ironic that what should be a simple pleasure–essentially succumbing to gravity to slide down snowy mountains–requires so much gear. And if you think ski-bums are all laid-back hippies, just engage one in a conversation about what to wear, and watch how dogmatic they can get. I thought I was going to be thrown out of Telluride Sports when the guy in the ski boot section saw my stretchy ski pants that went inside–inside!!!–my boots. No wonder I had sore shins and frozen toes. Poor circulation, he diagnosed, and shook his head. The next day I wore baggy powder pants, a sexy ski bunny no longer.
But he was right. Although this might be a sweeter photo in stretch pants, I’m not sure I would have made it to the top, and in this case, the scenery is not wearing spandex.
But there is a tension–and I’m not just talking about tight pants–between outdoor clothing companies and the natural settings their garments are designed for. Just look at that list of what I wore for a few March days in Telluride, and imagine how much clothing would be required for more technical expeditions. I’m lucky most of my ski clothes are hand-me-downs, but eventually it seems no amount of Scotch-Guard can make a worn-out shell waterproof, and many fabrics that keep warm against water and wind are synthetic and non-biodegradable. It seems a bit hypocritical to consume these materials and the resources they require for production to appreciate the great outdoors, but the companies that make these clothes do a pretty admirable job of confronting the contradiction head-on.
Yvon Chouinard, image from Malibu Magazine
Yvon Chouinard, who founded Patagonia, wrote a great book with a silly title about this very topic, and how he reconciles his roles as an environmentalist and a businessman. It’s a thought-provoking read for anyone who has ever wondered how to humanely run a business…or even simply wondered what to wear. But, the simple answer, at 12,000 feet? Layers.
You’ve seen what I can do with wondering what to wear, so you can imagine that wondering what to pack—essentially wondering what to wear in advance, in a foreign setting—is an extensive endeavor.
But I’ve done it. I’m composing this post from an airplane that left LaGuardia just after dawn, headed towards Telluride, Colorado, an old mining town turned ski village where I’ll spend the next several days on the slopes. I think I was in middle school the first time I saw Telluride and I was totally spellbound—not just by the town’s stupendous setting (nestled in a high-walled box canyon) but by the style of its residents.
Each day, to reach the mountain, we walked through a parking lot where a bump-top Volkswagen Westfalia, with the requisite Grateful Dead stickers, was parked, it’s owner likely still sleeping inside behind the little printed curtains. Growing up in St. Louis, the coolest older sisters in my life (other than my own, of course) were Colorado-bound Deadheads, and Telluride was my first exposure to the species in their element. I was in love.
I bought a tee-shirt from “Baked in Telluride,” where I would walk post-skiing for hot chocolate, and wore it winkingly well into high school. (Sadly, I just found this news, that the bakery burned to the ground only a few weeks ago.) I would love to tell you I chose these memories as inspiration when I packed my bag, but it wouldn’t be true. The fact that my wardrobe for the week to come could have been pulled straight from my high school style file was entirely unconscious.
Today I’m wearing a grey cotton dress with a patchwork placket over hunter green tights and olive green Converse. (Eva—the ones you bought me in Brazil, love!) I’ve got my rainbow-blankety scarf and my pumpkin-colored Patagonia down jacket to keep me warm.
This look extends to the rest of the suitcase. From mom’s archives I’ve got ski pants—vintage navy Obermeyers with suspenders and little over-the-boot bells (incredible) and the above alpaca sweater (previously photographed in its “Christmas sweater” capacity) that I have lived in all winter. The tag reads “Horn’s of St. Louis,” so we’re really in keeping with the Midwestern-mountain-bound hippie theme. A couple New Zealand merino fine-knit undershirts made the cut as well, as did this turquoise and coral necklace.
What didn’t make the cut is equally revealing. It’s much more difficult, for me anyway, to leave something behind, than to toss it in the bag. Unless of course, that something is a pair of behemoth goat hair boots.
D&G F/W2010 from Style.com
First of all, picture airport security. They may have tried to nab them, tranquilize them and put them in a cage. Secondly, I kept picturing myself rolling into Telluride like Harry and Lloyd arriving in Aspen—just a little overstated. I thought better to try to mix in with the locals.
So, I left my shaggingest après-ski boots at home in favor of my sister’s old Vasque hiking boots. I did however, just open my purse to find my coyote earmuffs—a gift from an old co-worker. You can take the girl out of New York…