In an effort to gather all my writing in one place, I’ve been posting articles that originally appeared elsewhere. This piece was originally published by the The Morning News in 2003. Thanks to Rosecrans Baldwin, for the edits.
A girlfriend of mine just went through a particularly hard year — divorce, career upheaval, the possibility of leaving her beloved bungalow. We were talking about New Year’s resolutions, and she said she was going easy on herself. Her only resolution was to accessorize better. Screw the gym — this is a goal I can get behind.
Designers draw from the past, and so should you. The oft-repeated rule is that styles are recycled every twenty years or so. Wearing something that was once all the rage but has since fallen out of style will make you seem fashionable without risking disasters.
This is my list of standbys from decades past. I skipped the ‘90s because I still don’t have enough emotional distance to recommend that you bust out your shrugs. Forgive me.
Why do we wear shoes that make our feet bleed, but refuse to carry an umbrella that won’t tuck into our purse? Half the convenience, ten times the appeal, the full-size umbrella with a wooden hook handle is too charming to abandon. How forlorn to browse in a bookstore, sip a latte, or buy a paper on a rainy afternoon without one.
Aren’t fans sweet? They’re light, compact, and they drop right into your purse. If you live somewhere hot, or you like to go out dancing, it’s such a comfort to have a portable cooling system with you, and so much more attractive than fanning your sweaty neck with a magazine. If you live in a big city, head to the nearest Chinatown and pick one up for a buck or two. I’m a sucker for cherry blossoms.
Without a decent pair of gloves, what do you suppose you’ll use to slap your offenders? Maybe white cotton gloves are a little too precious (and OCD indicative) for afternoon shopping trips nowadays, but dress gloves are so suave with an evening gown. I’m also in favor of colorful, soft, leather gloves for the winter. Try deep green with your black coat or a soft blue to offset chocolate. Leather gloves give such a satisfying thwack when defending one’s honor.
You can wear them slutty, classy, or somewhere in between. Where else can you get that kind of versatility for ten bucks? Back-seam stockings lend ba-boom to the most mundane dress or shapeless skirt. Black is a classic choice. Please straighten your seam, or you’ll look as though you’ve just had a tryst in the broom closet.
Cigarette smoking is a nasty habit. Don’t cigarette cases make it ever so much more attractive? Press the precise, silver button, and pop! A tidy row of cigarette soldiers waits to defend you against the evening chill. Offer one to a friend; give him a light with your shiny flip-top lighter. (Plink! Tiny flame. Plink! Pocket-ready.) And for god’s sake, get yourself a drink. Why do you think they call it a cocktail dress?
Brooches are nostalgic, and rarely the first choice when you’re digging through your jewelry box. They’re just grandma enough to qualify as quirky, and a very simple outfit is elevated with the right pin.
A kittenish sidelong glance is nothing without them. Buy a pack of individual lashes and some lash glue at the drugstore. Put a couple of lashes on the outside corner of each eye, and maybe one in the middle to even things out. Paint on some black liquid liner and give yourself a slow wink in the mirror. If you don’t want to have sex with your own reflection, you’re doing it wrong.
The more interest you take in your wardrobe, the more you’ll realize that caring too much about what people think can be the kiss of death. When everyone is wearing their sleek little black watchmen’s caps, nothing says ‘piss off’ like a ‘70s-style pom-pom ski cap in Lifesaver colors. Orange and green stripes, or navy blue and white topped with a cherry-red pom—this is clothing that bobs when you walk! Right on.
Crocheted Beer Can Hats
Perhaps you’ve seen one of these at a thrift store. You cut beer cans into squares or ovals and then crochet them into a hat. Eh? Eh? I’m kidding. Take it off.
You had to give up your side ponytail, but don’t let go of the bow. Try it at your waistline, on your shoes, or tie a long scarf into a headband with a bow at the top.
Every time you leave the house, consider wearing, or carrying, one unique thing that makes you a happy kid. If you have an unusual accessory, you can throw on a black turtleneck and a ho-hum pair of jeans and still seem hip. The unexpected diverts attention from the mundane, and stocking up on wacky vintage brooches is a lot cheaper than buying an electric-green Cashmere coat. Also, electric green isn’t your color.
This is Pam Daghlian, and she is fun. Pam is the type of person who makes lists of things to do on Post-it Notes and sticks them to the wall so she and her husband have ideas when they have a little free time. She laughs a lot, and she has a great smile. See?
I met Pam because she runs events for Adaptive Path, which used to be one of my freelance clients. Pam looks so sharp every time I see her at an event. She chooses clothes with clean lines, and isn’t afraid of color.
Her simple apple-green skirt is by San Francisco’s Sunhee Moon. You can never find this perfect A-line skirt because Pam bought them all. She says, “I have this same skirt in black, denim, and light blue, and they’ve got my number to call when new colors come in.”
Tip! Try a simple skirt as your base layer instead of throwing on yet another pair of jeans. Well played, lady.
Her peacock feather bracelet is Ambience.
Watches are so much more convenient than digging out your cell phone. This one is Red Monkey.
When I asked Pam if she’d do a Mighty Closet, she looked baffled, even though she was dressed impeccably when I asked. Perhaps it’s because Pam is a woman dedicated to sensible shoes. She has to be on her feet all day for events, so she needs practical footwear. Exhibit A:
These Dansko shoes aren’t objectionable, and they work pretty well with the outfit, but some wedges or bright pink ballet flats would pull the look together much better. I told her we’d post her crazy cute clothes and then go out for a shoe makeover whenever she said the word. Shoe makeover! Pam, I’m waiting by the phone.
Tomorrow, join us for Pam’s lazy Sunday look.
I try to travel without checking luggage, and Packing Light is a series about what I pack to get that done.
I haven’t done a lot of winter suitcases, so I thought I’d do a post about what I packed to speak at ALT Summit. The jeans are from The Limited, and I need to imagine a gospel choir singing and Jesus rays breaking through the clouds as I type this next part: They were the first pair I tried on. I’m a size 8 to 10 in jeans, and the ones at The Limited have a perfect waist to bum ratio for my figure, so the waistline doesn’t gap. The boots are my magic Buenos Aires boots from the trip we took when Hank was a baby.
The undershirt is an acid yellow top I got at Old Navy in a frenzied stock up on layering pieces when they had the $5 sale before Christmas. I like to buy unusual colors so I can combine them with neutrals and have it look all artsy, which is what I’m going for with this grey Dolman sleeve sweater, also from a sale at The Limited (twenty bucks, baby!).
Laura took this lovely photo of me in my outfit for the “Old Hollywood” party. I took that to mean retro-Oscars, but most other ladies wore chic little cocktail dresses, which means I was grievously overdressed. Upside, I arrived after dinner and drinks, so I was mostly too illuminated to care much.
This is a cheap feather hair clip I often use to spruce up dress straps. It can add va-voom to the most mundane spaghetti strap number.
Update: I got the clip at a cheesy costume shop on the Haight, the one with all the wigs and spandex zebra print outfits. I looked for a similar one online but couldn’t find it. If you do, let me know and I’ll post a link in a later post. Also, this can get crushed in a suitcase, so I pack it in a hard-sided cardboard box that’s maybe three inches high.
My hair is getting too long for ponytails, it just tends to look scraggly, so this is my version of the quick updo. I twist back the front sections, then do a loose chignon in the back.
The shoes are a hand-me-down from my sister. I like the surprise lattice work in back.
I got the shirt and belt on sale at JCrew and I wear them both constantly. The cashmere sweater is a vintage Pringle from the Alameda Flea Market (twenty bucks!). The brooch is by Elefante, e a Vida, and I adore it. Miriam’s work is my go-to gift for beloved girlfriends, all of whom I’m pinning one by one.
I got this fake fur jacket years ago at a thrift store in Sacramento. It brings back amazing memories of having breakfast at a sidewalk cafe on sunny winter mornings. My roomie at the time had a giant giraffe-print coat, and we’d wrap up so we could sit outside without waiting for a table. I swear I can smell mint tea every time I put it on, and it’s crazy warm.
Update: I wore the jacket and boots on the plane, so I didn’t have to fit those in the suitcase. Next time I’ll remember to include a shot of the case packed. I also roll my clothing to save space, though the long dress I just folded over and stored in a top panel of the case.
Leggings by H&M, as is the zip-front sweater.
These leg warmers are also H&M, and they are divine. They make it more feasible to wear leggings as pants, and you can really wear them with anything when you want to throw in a little trendy kick.
(Someone asked in comments what I’m wearing on my lips in this photo. I think it’s just Burt’s Bees peppermint chapstick.)
And finally, you must own one of these American Apparel circle scarves. I never take mine off, and there’s so many ways to wear it, I give a full-on infomercial to anyone who will listen. Sorry about that, Karen and Erin. But you love the scarf don’t you? I thought so.
I’ve had lots of requests for a maternity Mighty Closet, but no willing pregnant friends so far. Fortunately Gabrielle Blair, one of the Alt Summit organizers, just posted her five favorite maternity outfits on Design Mom, so she did the work for me. Have a look at Gabby’s closet, and if you’re looking for more inspiration, head over to the Wardrobe Remix maternity pool.
Are you seeing this, Internet? This is Margaret Stewart prevailing. Right after we took these photos, she performed a brief tap number.
It would never even occur to me to purchase that vest, let alone tie it jauntily and pair it with wide-leg trousers. Also, wouldn’t it make a great maternity piece? It would. Vest is by Splendid, and the open front knit cardigan seems to be a signature piece for that brand. Trousers are from H&M.
Two-tone shoes are by Greater LA.
The necklace/collar is handmade by an artist in Buenos Aires. Margaret bought it on the street a couple years ago. You’re already plotting how to make one for yourself, aren’t you? Me too.
1. Fashion Tips for Women From a Guy Who Knows Dick About Fashion (*Per commenter request, adding a warning to this link. This guy is a mouth breather, who I found fascinating, not authoritative. Carry on.)
3. The pregnant lady’s Rubber Band Trick courtesy of Rare Device’s Rena Tom.