Tag Archives: hand-me-down

Operation Fairy Dust

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. 

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What to Wear at 12,000 Feet

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.

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Party Dresses

More than even the average occasion, weddings really beg the question of what to wear. They’re a special excuse to get dressed up, and see lots of people I rarely do, so I want to make it count! A few years ago–no, five years ago, my dear friend Mike asked me to be his last-minute date for a wedding in St. Louis–my hometown. I was visiting from California at the time, and didn’t have much with me. I wanted to go, but what to wear?

Mom? She descended the basement steps, dove into the archives, and emerged with this.

Remember Laura Ashley?

The British brand is not really what it used to be in the ’80s, which I imagine is when mom (pictured below) bought this.

She had kept it in beautiful condition, and it was the perfect fit for an August afternoon wedding, sipping Seabreezes at the St. Louis Country Club (seriously!) A good family friend, Mike had helped mom move years earlier, and probably carried the box that contained this dress–and many others, downstairs.

So it was nice that he appreciated it, and looked lovely himself in seersucker. But this weekend, he’ll likely be wearing a tux, as he will be the groom!

Tomorrow I’ll go from Vanity Fair, to an airplane, to the rehearsal dinner. (What to wear for that marathon? I haven’t the foggiest just yet.) But more importantly…what to wear to the wedding this Saturday?

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The Sartorialist's Dilemma

In yesterday’s introduction, I mentioned Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book that poses a simple question, one I spend a good deal of time, energy, and money in efforts to correctly answer: What should we have for dinner?

Here, I’m posing a dilemma even dearer to my heart (rather than my stomach), that also has a bit to do with value, as well as values.

What should I wear?

I spend even more time, energy, and money thinking about what to put on my body than I do thinking about what to put in my body. Both of these “dilemmas,” the omnivore’s and the sartorialist’s, are problems of privilege. It’s because we’re blessed with so many choices, and presumably, a little bit of time, energy, and money, that we can question these matters at all. Combine that with an affinity for fashion, and ever-increasing information, and you’ve got the makings for a great deal of debate.

What on earth am I going to wear?


Sometimes it’s a question of fit, others it’s a question of cost, sometimes it’s about instinct, history, or dare I say, love.

Here’s an idea…I’ll deconstruct what I’ve got on in that snapshot (taken last fall,not for the purpose of this exercise) to give an example.

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Okay, the necklace was my mom’s. It’s a tiny butterfly on a gold chain that my dad gave her a long time ago, and is unquestionably my favorite accessory. An identical necklace would probably twinkle at me from a jewelry store’s display case, but what makes it irreplaceable is its sentimental value.

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The white top came from a little vintage shop in Rio I wrote about for Nylon. You can read a few of the reasons that I loved their store in that little article, and they sort of apply to the top too: it took a little bit of looking to find it, it’s one-of-a-kind, and both delicate and durable. Although the straps are a little fragile, it has worn beautifully. The fabric is a woven cotton, kind of like a thin sheet, so it hasn’t gotten stretched out or pilled. I have no idea how old it is, but I do know that to buy something similar (handmade and well-designed) new, rather than vintage, would be very expensive, and without the joy of discovering a little gem in a special shop at the top of a hill.

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The cardigan is a sample from Edun, the fashion company I went to work for in 2006. I have lots of stories to tell about that, but let’s stick to the sweater. It’s a sample, which is sort of like a rough draft for the fashion industry. It was made at a small factory in Lima, Peru, where the boss lady was a fantastic creative problem-solver, which is pretty important when you’re trying to make a quality product at a specific price. That particular style didn’t make it into the collection, which means the stores didn’t purchase enough to warrant manufacturing, so it was cancelled. At Edun we used to dream about a collection called cancelled to incorporate all the lovely styles that never made it to the market. In the meantime I have my own little collection of cancelled samples–some from various jobs in fashion, others from sample sales. I’ve since updated this one by switching the buttons from metal to old-fashioned black leather knots.

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Topping it off is a wool hat I bought in a market in Arequipa, Peru–a souvenir from a visit to Edun’s yarn manufacturers in the Andes.

So…as you can see, everything has a story. And I’m only scratching the surface here. My hope is that I’m going to be able to use my closet as a case study, to begin asking, on various levels–whether economic or ethical, scientific or sartorial…what to wear?

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