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.