Thinking About: Fashion, On My Own Terms

Tom Ford Fall 2016 daytime looksLike many women our age, I’ve had an on-again-off-again relationship with Fashion over my lifetime. I remember pre-teen me thumbing through glossy fashion magazines at the grocery store while my mother shopped, and dreaming about growing up to be that stylish and glamorous. Well. Even though I realized fairly early on that a) I’d never be able to afford those clothes from the dreamy editorials and b) even if I could they weren’t designed with women of my size, shape, and lifestyle in mind, the infatuation dragged on. I went through various phases of fashion rebellion throughout my young adulthood (including a year in college wearing a homemade cotton wrap dress, tights and Birkenstocks every day), but always kept drifting back to those magazine racks.

After our son was born, I had trouble losing my pregnancy weight; between that and the demands of caring for a special needs child and working full-time, fashion and style dropped off my radar. Sure, I needed clothes for work, but a few simple pantsuits sufficed. When I finally did lose the weight and looked to rekindle my relationship with style, I saw little that inspired me. It felt like Fashion had lost the plot, and had become lost on me. Everything seemed to have swung in various theatrical (and impractical) directions. I found magazines like (now-defunct) Lucky and InStyle more engaging than Vogue or Elle.

For the next few years, I’d look hopefully to each season’s runway shows, searching for signs that clothing for grownups (with actual lives beyond a dressing room) would make an appearance. I never expected to actually wear high-end designer clothing. But I did hope for some direction that would trickle down. To quote the imperious Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada

This… stuff’? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select… I don’t know… that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets? … And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.

But she’s right in a way. Or was at the time.

Fashion is in a huge state of flux right now, from the creative to the business side. Designers move from house to house, and the showing/selling schedules are being upended. Last week Tom Ford decided to show fall fashions in the fall, which were then immediately released for purchase. Though the show was being streamed live and we could have watched from our laptops, Lisa sniffed out the location where it was being held (conveniently a couple blocks from our hotel), and thanks to a tip from a young woman standing next to us watching arrivals, we were able to view the entire show live through the windows in back of the Four Seasons. Equally as thrilling as seeing the show was seeing the attendees: Diane von Furstenberg, Carine Roitfeld, Julia Restoin Roitfeld, Cindy Crawford, Julianne Moore, Jon Hamm, Iman, and I think we spotted Grace Coddington…all just 15-30 feet from where we stood outside.

Tom Ford Fall 2016 runway show evening looksUnfortunately the sheer bead curtains in the windows confused my iPhone camera, and I couldn’t get anything inside to focus. At the top of the post and above are some of my favorite looks from the show. (Leopard and sequins? Oh yes!)

It was the capper to a very serendipitous visit to New York. For the past year or so, I’ve been feeling a bit in the doldrums, style-wise. I’ve wanted to be inspired, to add elements that express my playful, creative side, but for the most part, have come up “meh.”

Dior 1949 gown with petals and beading

On a whim, I spent a few hours on Labor Day at The Met, to catch the last day of the exhibit Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology. I’d captioned the Instagram I posted from the exhibit, “Having a religious experience,” and it was only partly tongue-in-cheek. Yes, the clothes shown are haute couture pieces and well outside of the realm of anything that could be worn in day-to-day life. But oh, those gorgeous details! The mind-blowing craftsmanship! The imagination! It was breathtaking and reminded me of what drew me to fashion in the first place: a way to try to incorporate beauty into everyday life. It was a moving experience, and made me look at fashion and style with new eyes. (Above: a gown from House of Dior, 1949. Will have more from the exhibit in a later post.)

So I was primed when Lisa arrived in town and was ready to get close up with some Fashion Week events. We hit the ground running, spent the morning exploring Soho to do some retail reconnaissance and street style spotting. Lisa operates on the “it never hurts to ask” principle, something I need to get better at. We were allowed into the foyer to people watch for the Parsons MFA show, and later were granted admittance to the WHiT presentation. (Clothes not my style, but cute and well-done nonetheless. Held at NY Academy of Art; I liked the format, with art students all around the room sketching and painting the models, as if it were a class.)

artist rendering of WHiT SS17

And then, of course, our serendipitous Tom Ford experience. While I’m still not expecting to “shop the runway,” I’m feeling excited about Fashion again. It’s not about chasing trends or the latest “It” thing, or taking runway looks literally. It’s about appreciating artistry and imagination, storytelling through clothes, remembering that beauty feeds the soul, and it’s especially about keeping an open mind. And perhaps, teasing out what speaks to me and finding ways I can incorporate more of that into my day-to-day style.

the real kate spade

Above: another fashion celebrity sighting…that’s designer kate spade in the dress.

Are you still inspired by Fashion? If so, what has influenced you most recently?

You can read Lisa’s recap of New York adventures, both our’s and what she did after I flew home here.

Tom Ford images source.

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  1. There’s someone who inspires me. She always wears designer clothes, but she never looks “off the runway.” She always looks like herself. Elegant and classy. Sure, she has a great figure, but her wardrobe doesn’t aim to flaunt the fact–that wouldn’t be elegant or classy! Her signature look is a dress, usually patterned, with a fitted bodice and either an A-line or straight skirt and a rounded neckline. She wears a short necklace. Sometimes a jacket or a cardigan sweater. Her hair is fairly short but not “short,” and she hasn’t changed the style for years but it’s still current. She wears heels but never extremely high.
    I’m sure you have figured out that it’s Anna Wintour I look to for style sense. More her than her magazine.

  2. I enjoy the big fat September fashion issues but I am disappointed in a few magazines whose editorial photos are more ‘art’ than ‘show us the clothes’ – a dimly lit set with the dress contorted and cropped ? I am not asking for catalog type photography but please don’t forget it’s the clothes we want to see.
    I like to be inspired but not dictated by what I see in the high fashion realm. This year, velvets and brocades are shown a lot . Now I am not a sylph , and to wear brocade would be like upholstering an easy chair. But a touch of velvet? Yes please. Not too shiny though? A brocade bag? ooh! Yes!
    A few years ago I got ‘silly excited’ at the Eileen Fisher store in mid town Manhattan when I found a pair of fingerless gloves that had beautiful crystals set in the knit. They were a quiet grey, but the crystals were so pretty and sparkly. I bought them immediately. I still love these, and they add such a touch of fun and wit to a plain winter coat. That’s what I like about fashion- putting a dash of vinaigrette in my ‘this works for me” wardrobe.

  3. What a great post! Like you, as a teen, I remember flipping through magazines like Seventeen and admiring the cute clothes, hair, makeup, etc. I remember getting my hair cut EXACTLY like one of the teen models in the magazine–and finding the shoes pictured. (My mother said I dressed in “costumes”.) Then, I went to college in the age of blue jeans and forgot all about fashion except for flower child embroidered blouses. Then, I don’t even remember what I wore when our children were young. I don’t have a clue. I was just focussed on our children. Now, always struggling with weight, I’m not much of a fashionista, but DO have a brand new pair of Stuart Weitzman hair calf flats. They will be my fashion statement this fall along with some Eileen Fisher designs that are not flowy.

  4. It sounds like such a wonderful experience, right when you needed it.

    Fashion doesn’t dictate what I wear as I shop thrift and vintage. It stretches my style sense beyond what I thought possible.

    Thrifting inspires me. It teaches me to look at a piece of clothing differently. An open mind and a good imagination is all that is required to have a very successful day of thrift or vintage shopping. That is what all the designers do…they look to vintage styles for inspiration.


  5. Donna Karan and Diane von Furstenberg
    in the 70’s Diane von Furstenberg–her wrap dresses and I were made for each other.
    in the 80’s Donna Karan for exceptionally well made and wearable clothing for professional women,
    (though I could not afford them I knew older women who could!)
    Most Vogue clothes, in my opinion, have nothing to do with real life unless one is watching “The night manager” (at which point one wishes to be 6’2″ and very slender and be the mistress of a very wealthy bad guy!-). Most Vogue layouts/clothes even in the 60’s did not have anything to do with daily life (which is when I read Vogue assiduously)–
    Probably why Eileen Fisher clothes are lovely–good fabric combined with wearable design.
    Also probably why the athleisure (interesting word) is the new norm –including at airports and
    at a professional conference I just went to.
    One interesting place to observe women’s “style” is at museums–many women make an effort–
    especially with gorgeous scarves
    very fun to read your blog first thing in the am-thanks again for writing it

  6. I’ve never been inspired by Fashion with a capital F. The few times I looked at fashion magazines when I was younger I thought the clothes were ridiculous. But as someone who made some of my own clothes when I was in my teens, I love the look and feel of beautiful fabric, and I appreciate good design. I also care a great deal about wearing clothes that make me feel good and, for work, that project the image that I want to project. Perhaps that is fashion with a lower case f? I still don’t much like looking for clothes, which is why I read your blog and Lisa’s and use a personal shopper – I’m very happy to have someone else show me what looks good this season and give me ideas that I might or might not incorporate into my wardrobe.

  7. I’m not as inspired by “fashion” as I was when I was younger. These days I look to blogs for inspiration–yours, The Gardener’s Cottage, Paris to Go, and Passage des Perles.

  8. I’m still inspired by fashion. Big time. In many ways I’m still that twelve year old girl fashioning outfits for my Barbies. I can get excited by an outfit as much now as ever. And as much as I sometimes feel that it’s harder now to find things that fit, when I think about it, there have always been challenges. As a teenager I was too tall and skinny so pants were always baggy in the butt and too short in the leg. As a twenty and early thirty something it was easy to find a good fit but I couldn’t afford most of the things I wanted. Now well, I can drool over a lovely form-fitting dress that I’d never wear… because…middle-age-middle. Or sigh over the coats from The Row which are way too expensive for me now that I’m retired. I find most of my inspiration these days on the net. Some shopping sites have better “editorial” content than many fashion magazines…, or, or the e-magazine sent out by the Canadian retailer Holt Renfrew are my go to sites for inspiration. Those and blogs that I subscribe to … like yours:)

  9. Susan, what a marvelous trip! I haven’t visited NYC in many years, and your post reminded me that I’m long overdue. Fashion inspiration? As a teenager, I was like you, poring over my latest Seventeen magazine (or Vogue in the school library), but reading and looking at the glamorous models in outfits so far out of reach I was consistently disappointed. College, career and children ensued and took up my time, energy and focus for many years. I shopped “on the fly” which left me with a closet full of mismatched pieces, most of which I rarely wore. Fast forward to present. My inspiration now comes from the fashion and lifestyle blogs I read (including yours) written by “real” people figuring out what works for them and providing inspiration for my own fashion evolution. I keep it simple now, with mostly solid separates and add a splash of color with some carefully chosen accessories. My morning routine is a breeze now, and I both look and feel better with this new-found wardrobe wisdom.

  10. I’m glad you’ve reignited your excitement. Like you, I’ve had extreme bouts of fashion rebellion through the years, but I always found my way out.

    I love the art factor in fashion, the glossy magazines and their dreamy photos, and then seeing tiny snippets of the elements in “real” stores or in vintage shops, and maybe even the actual items hanging forlornly in high-end stores.

    Probably my next excitement will be with hair and makeup – I’m in a state of flux. I’ll be interested to see how you parlay this new thrill into your wardrobe choices, whether it’s what you wear or something you just keep warm inside. The spark is everything.

    I love this post.

  11. “It’s not about chasing trends or the latest “It” thing, or taking runway looks literally. It’s about appreciating artistry and imagination, storytelling through clothes, remembering that beauty feeds the soul, and it’s especially about keeping an open mind. And perhaps, teasing out what speaks to me and finding ways I can incorporate more of that into my day-to-day style.”

    Yes. And using fashion as a Buddha, almost, a way to understand oneself.

    You are an absolutely wonderful adventure companion.

  12. Blog of the day! So well done. I can relate to many ways you’ve felt over the years: Wanting to be inspired by Fashion, but not feeling it. Loving Fashion in concept, but the physical manifestation not so much.

    There are some bright spots: Menswear in beautiful, smooth wools always turns me on. Rough rocker chic and I were born to ride, like Debbie Harry in Armani.

    Predictably, I usually wind up in jeans, boots and jackets, a far cry from Fashion. These days, my goals are modest — to continue mimicing Emmanuelle Alt and to upgrade the quality of my belts.


  13. Throughly enjoyed this post, I connected with it quite a bit, the journey of fashion in our lives and how I lost it too, raising families, weight gain, and then reconnecting.
    Loved it thanks Maz xx

  14. Susan, your intelligence and thoughtful writing always draw me here to your blog. I am mainly inspired by blogs and Instagram such as yours in an effort to spark ideas. Like Suzanne I thrift shop often and try to add a gem to my collection. I’m mostly trying to convey “I’m middle aged but I care about how I look when I leave the house!” Trying new things is good for our brains and our souls, but always residing in the area of comfort with who we are. I think this is such an exciting time for women our age! Don’t like being ignored by the rest of the culture and advertising focus on mainly the young and ridiculously skinny? Create our own encouraging movement of finding what’s equally comfortable AND flattering!

  15. I enjoy looking at fashion magazines, even though the vast majority of clothes are either a) only suitable for young slender models or b) way too expensive or c) too ridiculous to wear or d) all of the first three. I like to find a couple of trends that I can adopt to feel that I’m still fashionable at the age of 69 (usually a scarf in the latest colours or a bag – something small and subtle). One of my most amazing experiences was going to the Alexander McQueen Exhibition at the V&A in London last year. It was absolutely awesome!

  16. This is my favorite post of yours because it gave some insight into what you are like. I LOVE that! I can’t picture you in Birks–and you used to wear them! Like you, I loved looking through fashion magazines when I was younger. I aspired to look like my favorite “Seventeen” model–Colleen Corby! I loved Twiggy. I loved Jean Shrimpton and Terri Reno and all the clothes.
    As a young woman working and living in NYC, I had the original DVF “Wrap” dress. And loved Halston sightings near Studio 54.
    I put fashion on hold when I had the kids and after the weight came off, my favorite store was the flagship J. Crew store down at the South Street Seaport.
    Fashion changed. I have never forgiven Wintour for dismissing fashion models on the cover of Vogue and replacing with Z-list celebrities who think they are models like Kardashian and West. I haven’t opened a page of Vogue since then and I’m not missing a damned thing.
    My iconic women of fashion remain the same, Bardot and Jackie O. I’ve also added the fantastic Grace Coddington and Carine Roitfeld. I love Carine because she always looks slighty messy–just like Bardot. That’s a look that was made for me. My biggest influence on my personal style though, was the school uniforms I wore for years. I still love a blazer and a white shirt. I still love a pleated skirt and I still wear loafers as much as I wear my pointy-toed heels.
    Fashion today is almost a joke. Everything is geared to youth. The fashion industry and beauty industry just don’t get it–or they don’t want to. And that is sad.
    Back to desigers though. I also love Mr. Karl. I love him. He is very kind to the older women who work for him and they love him back. Watch the documentary”Signe Chanel” by Loic Prigent. It gives a great look into the world of a couture collection and a look at Lagerfeld’s genius! I”m glad I have this!!

    Seriously. This is one awesome post!

  17. Very excellent post and oh so true on many levels. reminded me of my teenage years of going to the drugstore sometimes 2 times a day to see if “Seventeen” magazine had been delivered for the new month. I devoured every page and so wanted to be a model. I still love the idea of walking the runway . Maybe someday!! Haha! Better be soon…i’m 66years!!!

  18. Am basically on the same page with you….the same page of a ridiculous fashion magazine. For years I subscribed to Vogue, Bazaar, and W. Eventually I dropped them all, because there were too many articles about rich but otherwise unaccomplished people to go with the bizarre fashions, amd I found it all too pretentious. I did turn to In Style and Lucky, because they were all about the fashion, amd most of it was pretty relatable fashion.

    Funny thing, today at the salon while getting my hair done, I picked up the September issue of W. Thought I could scope out some beautiful fashion while under the dryer. But no! About 90% of styles shown were WAY out there. I get that it’s supposed to be aspirational, and more of a suggestion than a catalog. But really, ugh. Show me something that will make me want to run out & buy!

  19. “Fashion” is an artistic concept, “style” is what we choose to wear every day. Fashion is not a dictate, no one need take it seriously, but it might suggest to us a direction. I get my ideas about style from the street, and my inspiration from the British and French fashion magazines that I indulge in a few times a year, or when I travel to those countries (not so often as I would like). But Style…well, thats up to me.

  20. Your previous employer’s loss is so very obviously our gain! I can only imagine how much time and thought went into this exuberant, insightful, smart and thoroughly entertaining post — wonderful, the post, the trip that inspired it, and all the ways the trip is likely to spark many future changes that you will generously share with us, as you do. Thanks!

  21. Thank you Susan for another interesting article! I just finished reading “The Lost Art of Dress” by Linda Przybyszewski (from the library, of course), and I think that anyone who is interested in why fashion is in the state it is today (versus what it was in the 1950’s when most people had a small wardrobe and knew how to dress appropriately for any occasion) would find it quite an interesting read. Next, I’m off to try to find books from The Dress Doctors to discover a bit more on the subject.

    WHAT HAPPENED……………HOW MANY years has she been a HIT!I remember a young GIRL…….I think TIME has FLOWN!

  23. I also read Lisa’s post on your adventures, with distinct envy at the fun you had! But as one who decided in my teens to quit reading fashion magazines because I always felt depressed afterwards when contemplating the myriad ways in which I would never, ever, measure up to what I should be, and what other people apparently were, I admit my bias. That said, I’ve always taken exception to Miranda Priestly’s rather fierce argument, which I think boils down to, “Lots and lots of people are involved in the fashion industry, and have been over time, and therefore it is a field worthy of respect and expenditure,” particularly when she says that it’s “comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.” Most of us can’t pick our own cotton, comb and card it, weave it, cut it and sew it, so precisely what choice do we have other than the participate in the industry, willy-nilly, thereby supporting its excesses, exploitations, shallowness, and the sometimes painful misplaced reverence that it accorded some participants in a field that, after all, simply provides us with things to wear? And THAT said, I still enjoy the only slightly guilty pleasure of virtually accompanying you to the celebrations of fashion that you have so generously and amusingly shared.

  24. I have enjoyed fashion most of my life,except for the present. For spring/summer, I replaced what I needed to and did not feel inspired to do anything new. I loaded up with prints to break up the solids. Ihave not felt inspired by trends and whats’ current. My goal is to be stylish and comfortable,(sigh)

  25. I missed this post and I love it. I am a big leopard fan; it’s about the only print I like to wear. I sew, and I have quite a few leopard prints in my fabric stash. I love the mix with menswear. I made a leopard knit dress and pants this summer. I did of not wear them together. I just ordered some Dolce and Gabbana stretch velvet animal print for pants. I’ve got a gray and black leopard print wool coating in my sewing cue. I wouldn’t mind some leopard print with sequins.