A few notes on personal style

 

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My feet, in Birkenstocks bought in Berlin, on the cobblestones of Rovinj, Croatia

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Now that the U.S. Congress has its highest-ever number of elected women — yay! The New York Times recently commissioned color portraits of each. Given the nature of politics, where everything is fodder for argument or criticism, most of the women chose safe-but-snoozy gem-toned jackets, the default option of TV reporters and anchorwomen everywhere.

Except for one, whose image leaped off the page.

Damn! I was immediately intrigued by her confidence, and wondered who voted for her as well. Those boots! That lilac-highlighted bob! That Miyake-esque dress! That muffler!

Intriguingly, she represents a wide swath of Connecticut, not a place I’d expect to elect a woman with such awesome style.

 

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Rep. Rosa di Lauro of Connecticut; NYT photo by Elizabeth Herman or Celeste Sloman

 

I love personal style!

 

I grew up among people who did as well. My father had a growing collection of safari jackets and highly-polished leather shoes while his late wife, literally, had garment racks bulging with designer clothing. My mother owned a glossy black mink with an emerald green silk lining and a stunning collection of wigs, changing her hairstyle daily when she felt like it.

If I had all the money in the world, I’d wear The Row (designed by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen), Belgian Dries Van Noten and Etro.

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One of my Banana Republic scarves, a Ghost bias-cut dress bought in L.A., a silk floral and sequin jacket bought at an Opening Ceremony sample sale. Why are my Dad and I hysterical? It’s my wedding and all we can hear outside the church, on Toronto’s Centre Island, is cows mooing from a petting zoo nearby.

 

My own style? It’s tough when you’re (sigh) larger than a 10, a size most designers ring with razor wire, deeming the rest of us too fat to bother with, while I’m a size 14 to 16 trying hard to get back to a 12.

The basics of great personal style include knowing your body well enough to emphasize the better bits and draw attention away from the rest; wearing clothes that fit you properly and are comfortable without being sloppy; meticulous grooming (hair cut/color, manicures/pedicure, attractive eyewear, discreet make-up, well-polished/ironed footwear and clothing.)

I spent a year living in Paris, and visit as often as we can afford, which has taught me a lot. I don’t find nearly as much inspiration in New York and black is, indeed, our official color.

Style is less about spending a lot money and more about choosing quality cuts and fabrics, knowing what suits you best, wearing it with pride and consistency.

My style? Minimal. European.

My go-tos:

Knits, not too revealing. Recent finds include a Michael Kors top and matching skirt, several sweaters and dresses from Canadian retailer Aritzia.

Scarves.  Silk, wool, cashmere, cotton, Hermès to vintage. When your basics are simple, you need a hit of added color and pattern. My favorites include a violet wool muffler from J. Crew and four silk crinkled ones from Banana Republic, in cream, dark brown, pale pink and fuchsia. (visible in my new Welcome and About photos on this site.)

Good jewelry. Lucky to have a generous husband and I haunt antique shows; I wear my tiny diamond wedding hoops almost daily. Here are a few of my most-worn rings.

 

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l to r: wedding ring, Secrett, Toronto; vintage; new; vintage, found in Truth or Consequences, NM; new, mother-of-pearl and sterling, bought in Alexandria, VA.

 

— Unexpected patterns and colors. While I stick to neutrals for my main pieces, I add color and pattern in scarves, gloves, hats, shoes.

Shopping out of the U.S. I pretty much hate most of what I see from mass-market American retailers: colors, shapes, sizing; sleeves too long, armholes cut for elephants. So, every two or three years, in Paris, I stock up, and every four to six months, in Canada, usually in Toronto and Montreal, where I know the stores. Thanks to the Internet, you’re only limited by budget and what’s available. In Canada, I like Aritizia, Ca Va de Soi, La Senza (lingerie) and Heel Boy and Brown’s, shoe stores. Were I wealthy, I’d buy almost everything from Gravity Pope, another Canadian clothing and footwear retailer. We buy scarves at Diwali in Paris on every visit.

— Occasional full-price the-hell-with-it investments. Very rare, but worth it. In December 2014 I wandered into Barney’s and found an Isabel Marant heathered navy light wool jacket in my size and a dark denim carryall with black leather handles and base. I blew $700 and don’t regret a penny, still using both and loving them. A $250 cardigan from Canadian brand Ca Va de Soi is perfect in size, shape, color and weight.

Thrift, resale, vintage and consignment. Check out The RealReal, Vestiaire Collective and others for high-end stuff. Recent scores include a beige suede newsboy cap and a burnt orange velvet and silk muffler.

My husband is a snappy dresser, slim and able to carry off French looks with ease, like a wrapped muffler with a jacket or blazer. I follow a British professor, Nigel Cleaver, on Instagram and hope to go clothes shopping with him when we get to London later this year; his Insta handle is (!) ignoreatyourperil.

For inspiration, we read the weekend FT’s How to Spend It, which offers insanely expensive ideas, but also some cool stylish ones we can afford. I read Vogue and Porter but don’t follow anyone on Insta or any fashion bloggers.

 

Where do you get your personal style?

 

Are there people whose personal style has inspired you?

Does style even matter to you?

I’m still trying to figure out what an older person is supposed to wear

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s got to be tough to maintain standards if you were once the fashion director for both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, as was Paul Cavaco, a New York City fixture in the stylish world.

Harper's Bazaar
Harper’s Bazaar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I was struck by his comment, the headline to this post, as it resonates for many women I know, mostly those of us north of 40.  Good to know it’s a challenge for some men as well.

Bits of you head south. Bits of you are little less appealing, (upper arms, upper thighs), than they once might have been. The late Norah Ephron wrote a whole book, published in 2008, called I Feel Bad About My Neck.

Choices that are cute or fun in your 20s and 30s suddenly start to look cheap, tacky and weird in later decades. Grooming — hair, nails, pedicures and (yes, please!) trimming men’s nose and ear hair — becomes even more essential. Careless starts to look disheveled.

For years, I’ve loved watching the TLC television show What Not To Wear, and have learned a lot. But it’s ending next month. Noooooooooo!

So…what to wear?

Do you know about this terrific blog — Advanced Style? Ari Seth Cohen focuses his lens only on older New Yorkers with panache.

Have you heard of Iris Apfel? Now 91, the self-described “geriatric starlet” gave an interview to Harper’s Bazaar in April, 2013. I liked this:

If your hair is done properly and you have on good shoes, you can get away with anything. That and having a good attitude — try to keep yourself on an even keel. All the plastic surgery in the world isn’t going to help if you are unhappy.

My father just turned 84 and, when he dresses up, still sets a very high bar for elegance — navy blazer, polished loafers, a silk pocket square. My husband, in his 50s, is known around his Manhattan office for a splendid array of socks and ties. I bought him a great pair of fawn suede Lacoste sneakers as my wedding gift.

I see far too many women in their 50s and beyond who look like hell, as though they have simply folded the tent of style, (if they had one in the first place) and jumped the express train to schlumphood. No, I say!

I’m not arguing for the size-2-ropy-arms drama very prevalent in the wealthier precincts of America, as much a uniform as a diktat. But surely we have better options than crappy haircuts and dumpy clothes?

Russian VOGUE magazine - April 2011
Russian VOGUE magazine – April 2011 (Photo credit: jaimelondonboy)

Then what? Shop where?

For me, it’s a varied mixture of vintage, J. Crew, an H & M shift, a bit of designer, some classics: an Hermes silk carre or a pair of Ferragamo suede loafers or an Edwardian necklace.

Then something unexpected to shake the whole mess up. This week I did something utterly out of character, emboldened by a surprise check, and bought a big, blingy watch. I wear it loose, like a bracelet. It’s a hoot and I love it.

The worst sin we make as we age is to give up, to stay stuck in a style rut, to assume that color and wit and fun is something only enjoyed by the young ‘uns. There are several women on my apartment floor who are north of 80 and look great — sparkling eyes, make-up, coiffed hair, fab outifts. Bless them for being a role model.

And so I still read Vogue and Bazaar and Elle and Marie-Claire. I buy very little of what they suggest — both the sizing and prices shoving much of it beyond my reach — but I have fun keeping up, knowing what the cool kids are wearing, and sometimes snagging an H & M copy for $30 or $50 instead.

I’m more willing to invest real cash on great shoes, accessories and jewelry.

Ladies and gentlemen, how has your look changed as you’ve aged?

Any fab shopping tips/sites to share?

How Do I Look? Asking Strangers' Advice On-Line

LONDON - SEPTEMBER 17:  Cheryl Cole walks down...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

I find this both helpful and a little sad — that anyone so trusts a bunch of strangers and so lacks self-confidence.

From The New York Times:

Not long ago, people turned to fashion magazines for advice. Now they are turning to one another. Web sites like Fashism and Go Try It On, both less than a year old, are picking up where fashion blogs have left off, and are making fashion more immediate and personal.

The premise is simple enough: Upload a photo of yourself wearing a particular outfit. Ask a question or share some details about your look. Users then rate your outfit by clicking “I like it” or “I hate it” on Fashism (or “Wear It” or “Change It” on Go Try It On).

Would-be Rachel Zoes can also comment. It’s similar to that Web site Hot or Not, where users rate one another’s sex appeal. But these sites are geared for fashion and, more refreshingly, are largely free of the snark or harsh judgments that plague earlier crowd-sourcing sites.

“It’s for people who want a quick second opinion,” said Marissa Evans, 26, a former Web analyst and strategist in New York, who started Go Try It On. Ms. Evans employs a small team of moderators to ensure civility. “I really wanted to build a site that is helpful, not hurtful,” she said.

If you’re not sure about a look, who do you turn to for advice or feedback?

Or do you simply trust your own judgment?

Or…not care how you look?