Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fade Out, Fade In

It took three months for me to read the stack of September issues living in my room. At first they sat in a neat pile near my closet before I finally plopped them atop my low, wide dresser in order to keep them in sight. I needed to remind myself that they remained unread. Boston had shaken me free of my magazine reading habits. I was too concerned with other things while there, not drowning mainly, and had in nearly every way ceased to be the person I'd been when I began religiously consuming them during my senior year of college.

One of those long-neglected glossies touted itself as The Personal Style issue. Themed issues are nothing new and I took little notice of the white letters on the cover when its turn to be read finally arrived. That is until I stumbled upon a specific piece of advice. I shouldn’t have been surprised at its inclusion, small as the mention was, since most discussions on the topic of personal style land in the same place. Be yourself. I tend to shy away from complex topics boiled down to happy, meaningless aphorisms. The Self is a shifting, slippery thing, and even as I settle, somewhat uncomfortably, into my 30s, I barely have a handle on it.

I dream of clothes often, think about them and play with them in my head. In the past these fantasies rarely featured me, at least not a realistic version of the Samantha that existed at the time of the fantasy’s creation. I imagined seeing the clothes and touching them but not of living in them. I outgrew this behavior eventually, began to put myself in the clothes, to daydream about those items that would best suit me. And I began to write about them as often as the mood struck, to wrestle with the concept of my personal style.
For a long time my style was about going unnoticed. Invisibility through adaptation and assimilation. Even when it stopped being about those things, it was all a game. A sometimes trendy, sometimes sweet, and often preppy game. A cardigan as body armor game. There are pieces from that time that I love unequivocally. The classic blazers. The chambray and gingham shirts. The striped tops and dresses. The chocolate brown equestrian-style boots that have yet to make the trip west. But eventually you come to realize certain truths about yourself, about what you like and what you love. Although I lamented leaving behind many of the clothes that featured heavily in my New England existence when I got on that plane in April, I knew that their absence would allow me a certain freedom, not to reinvent myself really, but to let go of those pieces of the past that kept me from settling into a style that I could love without hesitation. A style that all at once tells the story of who I am, who I’d like to be, and who I’d like others to see.

The years of working in retail both helped and hurt me along the way. The employee discount allowed me to expand the size of and to play with my closet in a way that would have been impossible in any other part-time employment scenario. But I also molded my style into a shape that fit the aesthetic of the company for which I worked. It was easy to stumble further down the preppy path that deep down I knew wasn’t really me at all. In the middle of my retail career, I showed up to work in one of my simpler outfits. Black skinny jeans and off-white, suede ballet flats worn with a denim shirt belted over a white v-neck tee. My tweed blazer, a necessity for the dress code, was slung over my slouchy hobo. A co-worker mentioned how much she liked the look. She noted how rare it was to see me in something so easy and relaxed. This is how I dress when I’m not here. It was a half-truth. It was how I hoped to dress when I wasn’t there.


I first saw Trance well over a year ago on a somewhat dreary day at a movie theater that sits across from Boston Common. I found the story and performances intriguing enough, but it was another piece of the production that stuck with me after the credits rolled. The film’s one and only female protagonist, a hypnotherapist played by Rosario Dawson, had a wardrobe that I lusted after and greatly envied. She favored pencil skirts with blousy tops tucked in. Crisp shirts paired with high-waisted pants. Airy shirtdresses worn with classic ballet flats. Her palette was muted, filled with blushes and grays and cool blues. In one of her few casual scenes, she wore a slouchy, oversized sweater with skinny denim, thrown on as she enjoyed a carefree day with her boyfriend.

I often use films as descriptors when discussing the style of those around me. My mother and her Diane Keaton in Annie Hall and Manhattan mish mash. My college classmates’ tendency to dress like the preppy villains from Brat Pack movies. My older sister’s adolescent obsession with clothes that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the set of House Party. The people I see walking down my stretch of Sunset clothed in a style birthed out of a Singles/Benny & Joon/Reality Bites triad. It's an easy shorthand when talking about fashion with those who don't spend their evenings clicking through photos from runway shows and visiting clothes in luxury department stores. I've thought about my clothes in terms of cultural references here and there but not to the same extent that I've classified the looks of others. But then rarely had the styling of a character resonated with me so deeply or gotten to the heart of what I had been searching for all these years.

Sometimes you need a starting point from which to leap. On that gray day the movie screen provided one for me. The magpie tendencies of my childhood began to fade away long ago, and I've found myself drawn more and more to pieces of the simple variety. Things that allow me to breath in more way than one.

A black cowl-neck sweater bought soon after I moved to New York City broke me out of my collegiate addiction to ill-fitting "party" clothes. A gauzy, white v-neck rediscovered soon after I saw Trance forced me to reconsider the idea that t-shirts make me look unkempt. And then there was that first pair of skinny jeans purchased close to a decade ago.

It is in those pieces, and others like them, that my nervous fidgets subside, where I relax into myself and my clothes. It is in those pieces where a new, not yet fully formed Samantha is let loose. It is in those pieces that her well-behaved, straight backed counterpart begins to melt away.

I'm done with her, was done with her years ago, but I am still working on letting her go completely.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Favorite of the Day: Gareth Pugh

Fashion as art is not a new concept. In fact the idea is often trotted out in defense of collections that are too much. Too expensive. Too detached from the real world. As if being "art" explains away the excess that can come from a lack of vision.

But there are some who deserve to have the clothing they make described as such. Gareth Pugh is one of those few. Season after season he presents collections that transport you to a sculpture garden.

But he also takes those skills and create pieces that are wearable. 

Beautiful. Dramatic. Breathtaking. But also wearable.

Photos via

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The End Is (Not) Near

A year ago the talk was all about seasonless dressing. The looks were primarily centered on the cool minimalism that dominated the mid-1990s. I scoffed at the suggestion floating out of and around the collections that the reemergence of this trend marked the beginning of some seismic shift in how we dress. An industry almost wholly sustained by manufacturing a need for the new isn’t suddenly going to abandon the concept of a shifting, trend-driven landscape. As the Spring/Summer 2015 shows rolled out, it became obvious that this was to be a season dominated by the recent past. The silhouettes of the 1970s as seen during Fall/Winter 2011. The black and white color play of Spring/Summer 2014. The sportiness that seems to be everywhere at the moment. And that cool, minimal feel.

As the number of fully realized seasons expands, and as the big players like Chanel and Dior and Burberry amp up the spectacle of those seasons once only paid attention to by buyers and insiders, the trend cycle has shortened. Themes come and go and return again at a speed never before seen.

So I wasn’t surprised to see that minimal moment make its return so soon after its last appearance. Bored maybe but not surprised. Companies like Everlane and Cos are making their mark outside of the circus of the ready-to-wear shows and, much like activewear companies large and small, their influence was bound to creep in and leave a mark.

But in New York there were some who took things a step too far. The collection from The Row was a prime example.

Although it might feel as if we’ve had more than our fair share of them recently, dystopian films focused on both the near and distant future are nothing new. With each decade comes new versions of what in many ways are the same stories about the same anxieties. What I didn’t expect to see was collections that brought to mind the worlds of those films and the clothing of the downtrodden masses that lived within them. They lacked personality and character. They were shapeless and lifeless. The clothing version of Soylent. They fulfilled basic needs and functions but were sapped of all joy. In the world of the dystopian film, this type of clothing makes sense. Many of the characters have lived through disaster after disaster before settling into some sort of emotionally dead half life. The clothing is a visual representation of that turmoil.

However, that's not exactly the image that one wants to come to mind when buying a jacket or a dress. It has been a long, hot, hard summer in many ways. If these clothes had been about sleek, enduring classicism that would have been one thing. But they weren't. They were darker and baser than that.

At Kate Spade New York

At Tia Cibani

At Creatures of Comfort

At Rosetta Getty

At Rachel Comey

At Marc Jacobs

I'm not sure what came over New York. Once the shows moved on to London and Milan, the mood lifted. Somewhere in those studios people remembered that these clothes were meant for spring and summer. That the end times had not yet come. That clothes could provide some happiness.

Photos via

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Favorite of the Day: Antonio Marras

Antonio Marras has been doing the best print work in Milan for years now.

Pre-Fall 2012

Pre-Fall 2013

Fall/Winter 2013

Resort 2014

Fall/Winter 2014

Resort 2015

So it was no surprise to see him continue that streak in his most recent collection.

Always a little off and a little odd in the styling. But in the end, pretty above all else.

Photos via

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Blazer

At the beginning of the summer a well-known women's fashion magazine asked their readers for essay submissions for their Personal Style issue. They were looking for 500-word explorations focused on "a treasured piece from your wardrobe." I'd been looking at my wardrobe in that way for years, searching for the gems that define it, that explain the root of my style, but I hadn't written something in that vein for quite awhile.

The issue is now on newsstands, so I know for certain that my submission was not chosen. But that doesn't really matter. I write best when there is an assignment involved, a task to steer my occasionally muddled thoughts. I can't shake the school girl. I doubt that I ever will. And this assignment gave me a chance to return to my roots in some ways. I'm not including a picture of me wearing the item because none exists. Maybe I'll get around to that someday when I stop hiding from people clutching cameras.

I thought about lengthening it but I like its crispness. 500 words on the nose. My middle school self is particularly proud of that fact.

I’m not sure how I made it through my east coast, prep school existence without amassing a closet full of blazers. After spending my earliest years in a Catholic school uniform, I happily greeted the relatively laid back dress code of the girls’ school that I began attending in the fifth grade. For good or for ill, I relished the chance to participate fully in the trends that would become signposts of a 1990s adolescence. Blazers were nowhere to be found among the plaid skirts and the platform shoes from Wild Pair and the flared jeans.

At the age of 26 and back at home after being chewed up and spat out by the economy and New York City, I turned to my mother’s closet for a temporary solution to a sudden problem. When it comes to personal style, she and I reside miles apart. After the ups and downs of my trend-obsessed adolescence, I settled into a restrained classicism. She had always been, and continues to be, a colorful risk taker. During my youngest years, she wrapped her hair in vibrant printed scarves and wore one long earring instead of two. She is comfortable with imbalance in a way that I never have been. I long saw her wardrobe as a place for play and fantasy but rarely for inspiration. However, my employment roller coaster had led me to an apparel retail job for the holiday season and a blazer or two would be necessary. I searched through her closet for the first time in years and was stunned to find hidden among the pieces that I’d come to associate with her persona and her presence a classic wool blazer in navy with notch lapels, gold buttons, and a maroon silk lining. The shoulder pads marked it as a relic of the 1980s, but she assured me that she could remove them.

It was the beginning of a beginning. The blazer was longer in the torso than many that I’d seen for women, which made it perfect for me, and for her, as above average height is a trait that we share. It opened me up to new ways in which my mother and I are connected, and it happily started my descent down a slippery slope. The blazers that I collected over the next five years would prove themselves to be more than simple tools to help me ease my way through a life in retail. They became a way to elevate a tee or offset the femininity of a sun dress. They became makeshift jackets and occasional umbrellas. As their number grew so did their breadth. My closet now houses linen and bird's eye tweed, seersucker and shawl collar tuxedo varieties. But I most often return to the classic option that I found hiding in my mother's closet all those years ago. Timeless is a word thrown around in fashion circles quite a bit but that term fits the blazer perfectly. And it, in turn, fits me.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Favorite of the Day: Preen

I was feeling a bit of exhaustion after the end of the New York season. It's a fairly normal occurrence for me. After sifting through so many looks in that many shows, I can't help but feel a bit muddled. But this time the fatigue was laced with weariness brought on by a season that inspired only sporadic excitement. Perhaps unfairly some of that feeling bled into my thoughts as the proceedings moved to London. It wasn't until the third day, and the Preen collection, that I was finally shaken free of it.

Preen did what it, and London, do best. Prints. Patterns. Combinations of the two. Here and there you could see the athletic thread that remains a force in the industry. Details that called to mind the collars and cuffs of letterman jackets. A callback to a classic tennis dress.

But it was never too much.

Photos via

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Favorite of the Day: Michael Kors

The fact that I often love Michael Kors and his take on preppy, American sportswear shouldn't surprise you, but the fact that I have chosen it as one of my favorites might. The collections are consistently pretty and wearable but I often get distracted by something that lives closer to the extremes.

But this season I've been longing for a breath of fresh air. For a collection that didn't revel in carefully constructed nothingness.

And this preppy, American sportswear provided just that.

Photos via

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Favorite of the Day: Carolina Herrera

Child Samantha was always drawn to the "pretty pretty". The big skirts. The sweeping trains. Adult Samantha isn't as easily impressed by such things. But there are some designers who do that work so well, who can still draw out my slumbering love for drama.

Carolina Herrera produces those types of ensembles every season, but in the midst of a season of black and white and utility they stood out even more than usual. Not just for their beauty, because so many of the clothes presented during this week are beautiful, but for the way that they spoke to one another.

Everything felt connected. Each piece told one part of the same story.

Photos via

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Favorite of the Day: Alexander Wang

New York Fashion Week is at the halfway mark, and I find myself bored. Everything started to bleed together almost from the beginning, and it's been hard to become excited by collection after collection of the same old thing. But the Alexander Wang show provided me with a jolt.

I watched the livestream in my room and found myself standing up. Bouncing around. Dancing to the music. The clothes were thrilling. The girls sped down the runway. He was playing with the prevalent sporting motif but that has always been his wheelhouse, and unlike most others he continues to provide fresh takes on it. These were not off-duty yoga looks, devoid of shape or life. 

They were sharp and tailored and hard and sexy. 

Photos via