Choos? Chuck Taylors? Doc Martens? What’s Your Style Tribe?

Distinctive yellow stitching on Doc Martens shoes.
Docs! Image via Wikipedia

As we head into 2011 — and the publication of my second book, “Malled; My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio, April 2011) — I’m seriously re-thinking how I dress, knowing media interviews and speaking events are soon to fill my calendar. As I wrote in the book, a memoir of selling clothing in a suburban mall, working with men and women 20 to 30 years younger whose looks were so different from my own reminded me weekly how differently we each choose to present ourselves to the wider world.

I typically go for classic, European-inflected choices: a few Hermes silk carres, brown suede Ferragamo loafers, triple-ply cashmere cardigans, gold or silver jewelry, leavened and quirked with bits of vintage, like sky blue suede gloves or a fab ’40s black mohair hat. (Thank heaven for my secret source consignment shops!)

I prefer navy, camel, gray and cream to black, New York’s official uniform. Prints? Not so much.

adore accessories. Especially when you’re on a tight budget, as I’ve been in recent years, mixing it up with fab, affordable accessories can keep you looking and feeling au courant.

My most consistent style signifier is a scarf or muffler, whether silver-shot ash gray ($38, Ann Taylor) or the four crinkled silk ones I bought years ago at Banana Republic (cream, brilliant pink, chocolate brown, ashes of roses.) I buy them long and wide enough that they also work as sashes or shawls. I have scarves of vintage Victorian paisley wool and embroidered silk and modern pieces like the looped circles of burgundy wool I bought from a Paris street vendor.

Once, desperate to finish off a black-tie outfit (Carolina Herrera-esque white cotton shirt and teal silk taffeta wide skirt), I fished out a silk net scarf, in bottle green, I’d bought decades earlier in the Paris flea market. Parfait!

I still have, somewhere, the black suede Doc Marten lace-ups I bought in a London flea market. They are super-comfortable, classic, indestructible. But I haven’t worn them in years. I was feeling snoozy and boring, so I recently took, for me, a huge style risk and snapped up a pair of taupe suede lace-up boots made by Seychelles, edgier than anything I’ve bought in years.

I love them! (And was amused indeed to see a recent photo of Lee Ann Rimes wearing the same boots. ) What a hoot! Especially since she’s young enough to be my daughter.

I liked the editor’s letter in the December issue of Elle:

If there’s anything that expresses individual style, it’s a woman’s accessories — shoes, bags, jewelry. Lots of it? Pared down? Heels with miniskirts? Or maybe the soon to be ubiquitous long flowy dresses — with Doc Martens?…How a woman puts together her accessories is a delicate and surprisingly communicative blend of taste, class (belonging or aspiration to), politics (nose ring, anyone?), career and mind-set. Most women don’ consider what they’re signifying when they jump into their 14-centimeter black YSL Tribute Sandals or sturdy low-heeled pumps as they’re running out the door in the morning, because all of those notion of class, etc. are baked into their choices in the first place.

When you present yourself to public view, what messages are you sending?

10 thoughts on “Choos? Chuck Taylors? Doc Martens? What’s Your Style Tribe?

  1. Good grief…still trying to figure it all out. I get compliments on my look all the time but I still feel like I haven’t ironed out all the kinks yet. My main problem is that my tastes are wildly outside my budge…

    1. I hear you…I often dress very casually but love to dress way up when I can find an occasion to do so. My biggest challenge is to shop more frequently — not buy a lot, per se, but stay fresh and not get bored or boring. I find clothes shopping exhausting and tedious most of the time so I avoid it, then have nothing to wear. Hm.

      My trick for getting to own some luxury goods or the rare label is to seek out consignment shops where wealthy women discard stuff after a few wearings, sometimes unworn. I’ve snagged Big Name (i.e. Prada) new sandals for $60…not $300-500 a pair. I love the stuff I find there and it really can add a lot of luxury for very few dollars. I also spend a lot on tailoring and shoe repair. I have some amazing shoes I’ve kept for 15+ years that look new because I care for them.

  2. Deep within is a fearless woman with a talent for mixing patterns with more flare than Mondo on Project Runway; a woman who wears the purple Doc Marten’s she’s been lugging around for years with vintage lace and the perfect Theory cardigan. On the outside, however, is someone with neither the budget nor the career to accommodate her whims. I’m a yoga teacher. I wear black yoga bottoms and tee shirts. Sandals by Keen in the summer and Uggs in the winter. An outdated pashmina takes me from car to studio and back again. But in my dreams? I’m a fashion plate.

  3. I just watched my favorite TV show — What Not To Wear — which is now an hour long. I envy those people on it having $5,000 to spend and having plenty of help to do it well.

    I think you can add more fashion, slowly, if that’s important to you. I find fun things affordably at vintage/consignment shops, always of great materials and design that I could not afford full price or even on sale. The problem of a tight budget is when/where/how to spice it up. I buy basics and have been adding more style whenever I can afford to…

    I also just donated three bags of clothing, shoe and accessories to Goodwill. Style needs updating — and clearing out the old demands some new (to me) items.

    I still enjoy reading Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Marie Claire so I know what’s “in” — the very day the NYT styles section featured camel color and capes I had already bought a reversible black/camel Jaeger cape from one of my consignment sources.

  4. Congratulations on your book! And I love the fashion you describe … sounds like you could write a book about that too. My style is purely utilitarian, and I so wish it could be different and flowing and feminine. It is, in my dreams, where I actually have a clothing budget!
    Sunshine xx

  5. Interesting how many women speak of fashion “in their dreams”.

    Now that you’re in London — such a fantastic treasure trove of the sorts of clothes you describe (much more so than here in NY, where black and boring reigns!) — I feel positive you could start building that wardrobe. You have a new job now…?!

    One of my favorite labels is Ghost, which you’ll find there. It’s expensive but classic in a quirky/cool way — I have two pieces, a creamy white shirt and a mauve-y floor length bias-cut dress I bought in LA,both bought on sale years ago. I’ve had the dress for about 10 years and it has the timeless look of something from the ’40s. Because the fabric is a crinkled quality rayon, it also has some give so is forgiving of some weight gain, thank heaven.

    I’d start scouring boot sales, yard sales, church sales, Oxfam shops…and see if London also has consignment shops in chichi nabes like Kensington. I have assembled my wardrobe a la francaise….slowly and over time, upgrading when I have a bit of extra cash and keeping things. French women buy very little but are super-selective and they are ferociously attentive to fit and proportion. My two French jackets have super-tight high-cut armholes. What a gorgeous line!

    When I get back to London, let’s go shopping!

  6. John

    Outdoor casual rules the day for me, but there is something one might call style to it, at least out here in Colorado. I don’t see too many Doc Martens here, but I love them. I have a very old pair of brown wingtips I like to wear with jeans. Otherwise, for me personally, it’s all about jackets. The more technical the better. If you bump into me, there is a good chance I have my hiking shoes in the car so with very little effort, perhaps a change of shoes, we could be on the trail in few minutes getting muddy and breathing fresh air. So my look is casual, but practical, at least in terms that make sense to me. I’m not sure the names you have listed cover me so I would add REI just to get a rise out of the fashionista crowd.

  7. Hell, yes, REI…I did work at The North Face, after all!

    I agree that having the right clothes to enjoy your life are key. I have a terrific J. Crew red parka that must be 15 years old that is warm, waterproof, has a hood and kangaroo pocket. Love it! And my North Face lightweight ski jacket (although I’m forbidden to ski for now.) I am not a fashionista in being a label snob, as I can’t afford 99% of them. But I do love beauty and style and well-made garments, whether hiking boots or a handbag.

  8. I typically go comfort before style: Birkenstocks, and anything that is loose-fitting (or form-fitting if it’s impossibly soft), fleece, or soft cotton. I would live in yoga pants and PJs if I could. The only accessory I regularly put any thought into is socks — colorful, wacky, thigh-high, toeless, fur-trimmed, mismatch, anything can go.

    I guess my typical “look” is low-maintenance with a playful streak.

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