Because I am now unemployed - and therefore poor - I rely less upon my purchase ability and more upon inspiration to keep me from looking like a renegade cafeteria lady. I have a dear friend in New York, whose sharp eye, kind heart, and judicious commentary rescues me on a regular basis from the fashion sinkhole which is Chicago.
I mean no insult to my city. It is not that the people in Chicago are unaware that they have the option to dress fashionably, or - in lieu of fashionably - at least stylishly. I believe it is an innate belligerence towards being bossed around by anybody (good when dealing with organized crime, bad when dealing with fashion) which keeps Chicagoans hovering, style-wise, between "lumberjack" and "Vegas yard sale" in their pret-a-porter. That, and a misbegotten belief that they look really, really, really good. But, hey, bars are dark.
Thus, I look forward to my care packages filled with fashion articles, carefully selected (with me in mind) from the pages of the Wall Street Journal, along with the occasional issue of WSJ Magazine, which - faithful to its demographic - deals a lot with "men's fashion" (i.e., men dressing the way women would dress if they were men). More than Vogue, more than cruising fashion blogs, or the glittering store windows of Michigan Avenue, this is what keeps me on the style straight-and-narrow, an area of my life where I have required a handler since the day I was born. I choose to believe that you can't go wrong with New York-style (two years behind Paris/three years ahead of Chicago) and find it to be a safe middle-ground: if something takes hold in New York, it will generally be around for a while, a criterion I apply to any trend before I will spend money on it, even at a resale store. This is crucial to everyone in my age group and up, since many of the articles of clothing we are buying now will outlive us.
It is not that I am clueless as to how to put together an outfit. Since 1998, when my assistant at work threatened to film secret footage of me and send it to "What Not to Wear", I have generally managed to look, if not chic, than at least appropriate to the occasion. My problem is that I am too cerebral in my approach to fashion, not trusting the evidence of my own eyes. I have a personal dislike, bordering on disdain, of all things "popular culture", which makes me extremely skeptical of trends, no matter how fabulous they are, and also prevents me from being a viable contestant on "Jeopardy".
My skepticism of trends tends to place me a little out-of-touch in other areas of my life, too, sometimes detrimentally so, causing me to miss out on some very good things, while the world around me enjoys a common heady experience and incorporates references into the vernacular that inevitably go right over my head. For example, I have only recently discovered "Downton Abbey", feverishly fast-tracking through all three seasons with an obsession that caused a me to dream that Richard Carlisle called and ordered two trays of baked mostaccioli for his office Christmas party.
The latest batch of articles from my New York connection produced in me all the usual responses, which range from amusement to abhorrence to gratification (whenever a trend coincides with more than one item already in my closet) to dismay (when I finally have given away something to which I have paid an unreasonable and outdated allegiance, only to find out it's the next big thing). Some of the highlights were:
- Brooches. This article was accompanied by a note saying "Hit the resale shops!" My NY friend, like myself, is a dedicated thrift store shopper and the one thing a thrift store usually has plenty of is brooches. Beautiful ones, sometimes real gold or silver, sometimes with stones, sometimes deeply meaningful. I have a few, which I wear on a fairly regular basis. But I will say that a brooch is not my favorite item of jewelry, being too closely associated in my mind with Madeleine Albright. I am such a mess;
- Cable sweaters. I am proud to say that I own eight cable sweaters and paid less than $5 for all but two of them;
- Hot pink. This is a trend from Fashion Week. It is horrible;
- Quilting. Another trend from Fashion Week. Equally horrible. Now one can dress like a Vera Bradley bag;
- Neoprene clothing. Need I say it? Okay, I will. "Really?"
- Padded, and otherwise exaggerated, shoulders. Unless one is deformed, one does not need these. I admit to having one vintage Christian Dior jacket with padded shoulders. In case of emergency;
- Teal and purple. I sense a Beyonce-style over-exposure backlash coming soon. Remember the '80s? Approach with caution, unless you look fucking amazing in teal and purple. Which I do;
- The $400 dress. Are you kidding? I'm going to bet they're all polyester. And that half the people who buy them will return them the next day. After wearing them. With a receipt;
- Power flats. Silly twit that I am, I've spent the last decade stubbornly resisting heels and running around in power flats. Three weeks ago, I finally figured out what heels are for (projecting power and commanding respect), that they don't have to hurt (can you say, "insole"?), and that I love them. If I pay very close attention, I can see a lesson here;
- Handbag Decision Paralysis. One of the articles presented me, the reader, with a collection of nine "regret-free" handbag choices. Only one of the bags (Coach) was under $1,700 which leads me to believe that the author of the article does not consider the spending of the equivalent of the price of a transatlantic cruise on a handbag that will, most likely, one day be available at a high-end consignment shop, to be an occasion for regret.
And some non-fashion trends:
- Nicaragua. The next vacation hot spot. Motto: "Don't leave the beach!"
- Oysters. I am sorry, but I just don't "get" food that is not meant to be chewed.
Now I am feeling all up to date, equipped with what-to-know, ready to hit the stores. The resale stores, that is, where I will find unique and interesting takes on the current trends taken from the last time they were in style. It's an art.
One problem, though.
In eight weeks, my son will be graduating from a fancy east-coast school. And I'm fairly sure he would like to have his mother attend wearing something manufactured in this century. Which I will do, if the stars align and allow me to find something less expensive than a trip to Hawaii.
If not, I think I can come up with some power flats. And a brooch.