Taxonomy 101 - une femme d'un certain âge

Taxonomy 101

When it comes to personal style, there are two types of women: those who early on suss out their own unique style and hang onto it with minor tweaks throughout their lives, and the rest of us. Or at least sometimes it seems that way.

Since my late teens, I’ve had an image in my head of how I wanted to dress and present myself, an image with which neither my body nor my budget were ever in alignment. So I settled for what was available, what was appropriate. Sometimes I came closer to that vision within the physical and monetary constraints. Like art or obscenity, I couldn’t define it, but knew it when I saw it.

Now, Simon Doonan has spelled it out for me: I’m an Existentialist. (mostly*)

First, let me say I’ve been a style book junkie for many years. Because my own vision felt so out of reach, I’ve floundered and flailed about trying to find something coherent that fit my body and my life. But “Eccentric Glamour, Creating An Insanely More Fabulous You” is a different (and a bit refreshing ) dip into the genre. Written with humor and tongue firmly inserted in cheek, the book combines anecdotes, interviews and style advice to yield an affirming and age-positive brew. Rather than focus on hiding flaws or looking younger or dressing appropriately for the venue du jour, Doonan encourages women to trust their own instincts, to embrace their wackier impulses, and to give freer rein to one’s Fashion Id.

*Doonan groups Glamourous Eccentrics into three primary categories (each with subsets): The Gypsy, The Socialite and The Existentialist. While the framework is helpful, I can see how taking the categories too literally would feel just as confining as any other style rules. It did help me identify some of the common themes that run through the styles I gravitate to, mostly in the Existentialist and Gypsy categories. (While I admire women who can pull off the classy Socialite look, trying to emulate that style myself makes me feel as though I’m a little girl playing dress up.)

Duchesse at Passage des Perles says “Doonan breaks a heel stomping on Ho attire, a crime against the aesthetic environment. But any woman who can read his indictment without moving her lips will know exactly how dressing like a pole dancer is likely to be read, and choose accordingly.” While this may be true, I suspect Doonan’s perspective is that of someone who spends a lot of time between NY and LA, where the landscape is generously dotted with Club Girls who take their style cues from Paris Hilton and no matter what the time of day look as if they’re headed to Les Deux, women a few years older trying to prove they can still keep up with the Club Girls, and the Trophy Wives who are hanging on by a thread. (Hey, I work with some women in their 30’s who feel that belly shirts and thong-baring sweatpants are appropriate office attire.) The rest of Duchesse’s post is spot-on, go read it now. I’ll wait.

For those of us who check out The Sartorialist and other style blogs daily, “Eccentric Glamour” will be an amusing read confirming what we mostly already have grasped, rather than a revelation. The interviews are fun, but skip the dysfunctional “weight loss” chapter. Doonan’s smackdown of our fascination with les Françaises (his take on that pouty French allure: they’re grouchy because they’re perpetually hungry) and snarky dissection of Coco Chanel -isms provide a bit of good-natured schadenfreude. I really wish there had been more photos of his subjects and examples.

Edited to add: materfamilias is giving away a copy of this book. Go here to enter!


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  1. July 9, 2008 / 2:54 pm

    I love Simon; he’s such a hoot. I guess this is another book I’ll need to pick up soon.

  2. July 9, 2008 / 3:32 pm

    I can’t wait to read this.

    BTW, is that a top photo of the gamine really a picture of you in your youth?

  3. July 9, 2008 / 3:53 pm

    I’m still waiting to read this, but Duchesse’s post was making me think perhaps I shouldn’t bother. Sounds as if there’s much here to enjoy, nevertheless, and I’ll look forward to having a browse — I suspect I’ll fall into a similar category — Gypsy/Existentialist. Have to save Socialite for another lifetime.

  4. July 9, 2008 / 4:31 pm

    Well I too love Simon, echoing Nancy here. And I have long been a style-book junkie. I still want to read this, the Elle article perhaps just fed the flames.

  5. July 9, 2008 / 6:13 pm

    Thanks for the reco. I’m putting this on my hold list at the library now!

  6. July 10, 2008 / 3:34 am

    nanflan – I think you’ll enjoy this one; he’s quite the character.

    belle – oh, I wish. Actually that’s a pic of a young Jean Seberg, probably from “Bout de souffle.”

    materfamilias, mardel, kasmira and miss janey – let me know what you think of the book if you do read it.

  7. July 10, 2008 / 10:50 am

    Dejapseu: A Sunday paper was publishing extracts of this book over last couple weekends. I think somewhere most of us adjust our dressing up to occasions. It is when the ordinariness of life creeps up on us that we start fretting. That is what I feel anyway.

    That Jean Seberg photo somehow has ‘International Herald Tribune’ ringing in my ears 🙂

    PS: Thought I should tell you this. I was thinking of you in Geneva as I bought a Hermes scarf last weekend. From the Indian collection – a Kantha print. Kantha is a traditional embroidery style from Bengal which they have done a good job of capturing. I have my eyes on Indian dust though…

  8. July 10, 2008 / 11:19 am

    SO enjoy your take on the book!

    Yesterday I was at a fine jeweler’s when a young woman who was a Cameron Diaz type walked in. When she bent to survey a case, anyone could see down the entire back of her jeans. I was shocked that such an ethereal beauty would present this immodest view. Know I sound 100 years old but, sigh, Ho style is alive even in conservative Canada.

  9. July 10, 2008 / 12:47 pm

    shefaly – Even occasion dressing has had me flummoxed at times trying to balance what’s appropriate for the situation and what feels right for me. The Kantha is a lovely design! Which coloway did you choose? I picked up a “Chasse en Inde” a few weeks back in a lovely olive green/blue/red colorway that’s going to be perfect for autumn.

    duchesse – thank you! I know what you mean about feeling 100 years old. Heck, I used to hang out with a bunch of nudist hippies and that was very natural and comfortable. It’s the dressing-to-titillate bit that brings out my Inner Prude.

  10. July 16, 2008 / 9:42 pm

    I have an International Herald Tribune T-shirt somewhere! You’ve just reminded me! (*Where IS it??*)

    I’m reading that book right now and loving it. He’ll a genius…

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