Sunday, September 05, 2010

Effortless beauty, continued

A Parisienne describes her own look as "effortless." What does this effortlessness entail?

-"This is my way of being bourgeois: a camel coat from Phillip Lim. Everyone has to have a camel coat this season."

-"Current Obsession: Blouses. I have too many T-shirts in my closet, and I am a madame now. I also think they're sexy. I like silk ones from Balmain. And black transparent ones from YSL. Or a Ralph Lauren cotton blue shirt — you know, easy."

-"I have a lot of handbags, but no Hermès. So all my friends have to do something about that for my birthday — it's the fifth of November. I also like diamonds."

-"I love fashion, but I'm not a shopping addict. I'm never like, 'I need these shoes by Miu Miu!' I don't kill anyone for this. I prefer well-made basics that you can keep: the right trench coat, a good leopard-print coat."

To someone who doesn't read much about fashion, the distinction between stocking a closet (or several) with silk Balmain blouses and leopard-print coats, on the one hand, and designer shoes, on the other, might not make sense. So, to translate, what she's getting at is, she's low-maintenance. She prefers basics and classics to trends. Sure, she's pretty much constantly acquiring big-label clothes and accessories, but her concern is durability - she'll wear these things for years.

To be fair, what she's describing as effortless is her "no makeup, natural hair" self-presentation. The accompanying photo is too small to assess if there's makeup going on (and even someone who didn't wear makeup generally couldn't be faulted for wearing some when being photographed), but if her hair is "natural" that's in texture only.

The thing is, I don't fault her for any of this - the YSL blouses, the somewhat predictable taste in accessories (diamonds and Hermès, really?), the elegantly bleached hair (if I had a guarantee it would turn out like that, I'd seriously consider going ombré-roots blonde). And I'm very much in favor of a camel something for this season, but probably a sweater. I am also a "madame" these days, with far too many t-shirts. I get that.

What bothers me is the way dress has to be discussed, as though a straightforward, 'I'm known for how I dress, and here's how I determine what does and doesn't make the cut' isn't enough. A disclaimer along the lines of, 'I don't really care how I look, or whether what I wear is in style,' has to be woven into even an interview where it's abundantly clear that the interviewee cares deeply about both. Again, my issue is not with her caring, it's with the charade of her not caring, a charade not particular to this Parisienne or this interview, but the norm in fashion writing.


Britta said...

This might be tangentially related, but I always have an issue with the idea that low maintenance means keeping stuff for years AND not having a lot of clothes.

If you buy high quality stuff and care for it, you might easily have that article of for 30-40 years (I own not so nice stuff I care for rather poorly, and much of it has lasted for well over a decade, and I wear clothes my mother and occasionally my grandmother wore when they were young (e.g. 30-50 years old).

Even if you only bought, say, only one shirt a year (which is incredibly frugal), by 50 you could have a closet of 30 shirts, and 30 pairs of pants, etc., assuming you didn't change a huge amount in size since age 20. However, owning so much clothing marks a person as a "clothes horse" and probably high maintenance.

I get the answer is to prune your closet, but if you're buying ageless classics, isn't the point that in 5 years you're not going to say, "oh, what was I thinking?" or, "you know, this color really doesn't do much for me?"

Britta said...

ok, so that e.g. should be i.e., and there should be two parentheses.

(grammar and English language fail)

Phoebe said...

I hear you on the bursting-closets-for-innocent-reasons issue - a lot of my clothing results from hand-me-downs, from not changing much in size for years, and from (as a grad student) not needing to dress differently than I did way back when. Occasionally (such as when moving) I'll get rid of stuff, but mostly it just collects.

As for "ageless classics," it's not something I believe exists. There's really no way to predict what will or won't look dated in even a few years. There is, at any given time, a style that gets labelled "classic," just as every era has its own version of preppy, hipster, gangster, lady-who-lunches, and so forth.

Kaleberg said...

I don't believe she said she didn't care, merely that she has a particular strategy that involves buying a certain type of item. In fact, she obviously takes fashion seriously, but does not devote as much time and effort to following trends as others in her position.

Remember, you live and work in a town where clothing, the design, promotion and criticism of same is a major business. You would expect to hear and have reported statements on the various approaches to design and selection of clothing. Why be so negative?

Also, it is surprisingly easy to predict which articles of clothing are likely to remain wearable and considered good looking for a fair while. In Don't Tell Alfred, Nancy Mitford gave one part of the formula. Clothing, for women, that follows the female figure as opposed to fighting it tends to remain fashionable. You probably have more a sense of this than you give yourself credit for.

Phoebe said...


My negativity is directed not towards the Parisienne, who looks awesome and damn well should work in fashion, but towards the trend in fashion writing of affixing disclaimers to everything. Models tell interviewees about having just eaten a cheeseburger. And fashionistas of all stripes denounce fashion in favor of Timeless Style, all the while participating in an industry whose very purpose is to make sure that straight-up everything looks dated in 5 to 10 years if not sooner.

The formula you mention sounds nifty, but fails to account for the subtle-ish differences that make it clear clothing 'needs' to be replaced. Such as, pants either flare or taper. Or to just return to the Sartorialist post I link to above, what an ostensible fashion expert deems 'classic' and independent of trends is in fact a look that's an outright rejection of everything that was trendy five minutes ago and that is as such on-trend. Skinny jeans were in, so how about flares? Fedoras and porkpies had their moment, why not a floppy sunhat?

I suppose what I'm getting at is, it's hard for me to picture a single item of clothing, let alone an outfit, that counts as "timeless." I want examples!

And yes, I suspect that a fashion-and-shopping-oriented person who expresses a taste for the timeless is doing so in order to present herself as less frivolous, or to convince herself that whatever it is she's buying, she'll wear for years.