Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Time Machine

It's a pretty standard awards show photograph. The stars of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Blake Lively, Amber Tamblyn, America Ferrera, and Alexis Bledel, stand arm in arm at the Nicklelodeon Kids' Choice Awards in the spring of 2005 and smile into the camera. They’re all dressed in some version of one of the dominant fashion items of the time: lowcut, flared jeans. Blake has a pink belt around her hips that ignores the loops at the waist of her cuffed, distressed denim. It's paired with a tank layered under a cropped, sheer, and sequined t-shirt. Amber is the most ornate of the bunch with her gold buttoned, sailor-style jeans, many long necklaces, bejeweled top, bejeweled earrings, and bejeweled belt, which sits high above her waist. America wears a lacy top and a metallic brocade blazer that tries and fails to challenge Amber's look for ornate dominance. Alexis, the most casual of the four, is wearing a floral print halter in a hue that fits in with the pink theme they all seem to have settled on. 

None of these looks would have struck me as anything but normal at the time. Every piece was certainly more expensive than anything living in my closet at that moment but otherwise they were similar in almost every way. In fact, somewhere in my dorm room that same spring was a floral print halter in black, white, and yellow that had returned to campus with me after my semester abroad.

I was on the cusp of 22 that spring and while I vividly remember other awards shows from that era, I was long past the age of caring about or paying attention to this one. The event came and went and rated barely a mention as I prepared for my final handful of weeks as an undergraduate. I would go and see the movie when it premiered in theaters a little over two months later, but this awards show appearance had nothing to do with that decision. I’ve always liked movies about female friendships that endure in the face of life’s trials and tribulations. I figured this latest installment would be worth my time. It didn’t disappoint, leaving me feeling happy and light and a bit teary. So when the sequel arrived three years later, I didn’t hesitate to once again make my way to the theater. While my movie watching habits had changed little in the interim, by 2008 my personal style had moved on in ways both big and small. The floral print halter top that I had only seen fit to wear once was buried and forgotten. In the middle of 2006, I bought my first pair of skinny jeans and was forever lost to anything with a wide leg. I stopped wearing heels. Those were the big, tectonic style shifts. But more important were the changes that were simply an effect of the passage of time. You wear through things. Colors fade. Your wardrobe turns over slowly until one day you look up and almost all of the old is gone.

That awards show picture didn’t reenter my life until the spring of 2015 when I came across it in a retrospective of early and mid-2000s red carpet looks. This time it stuck. Murmurs about the return of trends from that era, like bucket hats and the Juicy Couture track suit, had begun to enter my daily fashion reading and for that reason my brain couldn't shake the picture loose. Because the fashion industry can't help but examine its past and mine it for treasure, in the past decade, we've had the 1980s, 1990s, 1970s, and 1990s (again) all make their way back, in that order, to relevance and sales floors. And so for the past two years I have been unable to stop thinking about when, not if, the clothing and shoes that defined my collegiate life, platform flips flips and handkerchief hems that fell to some no man's land near my mid-calf, would have a true renaissance. When would this photo begin appearing on Tumblr or Pinterest as inspiration for someone’s spring aesthetic? Would I be prepared for that return?

When I entered college in the fall of 2001, I was free for the first time from the types of picture taking moments that define a childhood, first days of school and dances and portraits featuring loose ribbons and laser backgrounds. My response to that freedom was to rarely let others take pictures of me. I've always been mildly awkward in photographs, unsure how to stand or where to put my arms or how much to smile. But suddenly I had the chance to duck out of them, and I savored it. In that in between space before the arrival of the many, mostly unavoidable, ways in which we now capture and share images, there is a something resembling a Samantha-sized blank spot. The pictures that do exist are mostly of the physical sort, stuffed in their original envelopes from CVS and Walgreens instead of tucked safely into albums like those from my childhood. They live somewhere in my mother’s house where I left them when I moved across the country to Los Angeles in the spring of 2014. I assumed that those items, the items full of sentiment and memory instead of utility, would follow once I had settled in. But after nearly three years, I find myself surrounded by the new memories I have made here and few of the old.

When the 1980s and 1990s made their fashion returns, I was either living in my hometown of Boston or not far off in Brooklyn. Photographic evidence of what I wore the first time round either surrounded me, in albums or on walls in my childhood home, or could be easily seen with the purchase of a $15 bus ticket carrying me north. I could look at pictures of denim vests worn over long floral dresses or an old pair of neon platforms from The Wild Pair that inexplicably still took up space in my old bedroom and chuckle. Why was I doing that? would eventually lead to Do you remember when you were 13 and sneakily wore a crop top to camp only to have your ruse discovered by your mother who promptly grounded you for what would be the first and last time? And that was it. Suddenly I would be lost to reverie.

My memory has always been good. It holds on to things that I want it to as well as those I would rather not remember. But as I’ve gotten older, prompts have become more necessary for those trips into the past. Without the photographs, the few I allowed to be taken and the many that I wormed my way out of, I look at this awards show picture with its lack of belts worn either at all or as belts are generally meant to be worn, and remember that I never wore belts with my (almost definitely) bootcut jeans in the early 2000s. I can't do that anymore. Leaving without a belt situated firmly in the loops of my (almost definitely) skinny jeans leaves me unsettled now. But among the abandoned pictures is one of me taken soon after midnight on my 21st birthday on the dance floor of a London club. I am wearing a crisp cotton tube top from Topshop. It was white with diagonal pinstripes in a rainbow array and a side tie detail at the waist. I hadn’t learned how to effectively wear boxy items and was years away from realizing that strapless tops were not my friend and so I looked a little out of proportion. I am smiling and there is tinsel in my hair from a cracker that my roommates had snuck into the place. And my bootcut jeans are worn without a belt and the wide smile and the hand jauntily placed on one hip would make it appear that I could not care less. My only thoughts are about which colorful drink I would have next and where the chocolate confection my roommates had stuck a candle in had gone off to. There was no fear that I might look back one day and find myself ridiculous. There was no knowledge that looking at this past self would lead me down some rabbit hole about time and life and things old and new.

Because accessories and denim and birthdays aren't the only reasons I keep coming back to that image of four young women with questions rushing through my head. It’s the short amount of time that has elapsed between now and then. Trends seem to be returning at a faster rate, the fashion cycle shortening, and that quickening merry-go-round makes time appear to race forward in a flash. But then maybe it's not the clothes' fault, this odd nausea that comes and makes me want to scream "it's too soon!" Maybe I am simply getting older and time is becoming a far more slippery thing. Maybe things are moving at the same rate they always have and I am moving slower.

Image via

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Planner and The Scammer

I saw the picture almost immediately after it happened. I'd spent the previous decade getting my hands on pictures from every runway show and look book that I could. I clicked through images of accessory close-ups, atmosphere, and attendees until my wrist ached. But by 2014, I'd started to take less note of who was sitting front row. Fashion week was changing and the importance of that publicity venue was waning.

But there were still some shows where an invite mattered, where a front row seat meant something. Chanel and Dior and Louis Vuitton's elaborate runway productions are always chockablock full of their ambassadors, the women who help sell their shoes and leather goods and perfumes to the masses. Because these contracts last for years and are generally renewed repeatedly, the same faces are seen again and again. Creative directors step down or burn out, years pass, but still Charlize Theron is in Dior and Jennifer Connolly wears Louis Vuitton.

Miu Miu is one of the last shows to walk during Paris Fashion Week and always has a front row full of buzz. While many of the women given access to those seats end up in a Miu Miu campaign, the brand prefers to cycle through young actresses and models from season to season instead of committing to a few for long stretches. More importantly, the Miu Miu front row crowns those who are newly it, the term that entered our cultural lexicon with the Clara Bow silent movie of the same name and whose slippery concept rising stars, especially female ones, continue to chase to this day.

I think it's safe to assume that Rihanna was there simply because she liked the idea of it. The fashion side of the celebrity game has never seemed like a chore for her. In fact, she has always seemed to find real joy it it, and she was at a point in her career where she could do as she liked.

On the other hand, Lupita, fresh off her Oscar win for 12 Years a Slave, was a new name and a new face. She bookended her many red carpet appearances of the preceding fall and winter with Prada, the sister brand of Miu Miu, first at the movie's Toronto Film Festival premiere and finally on her triumphant night only days before the show.

I wasn't surprised to see her seated there taking a picture with the stars of 2013's Palme d'Or winner.

And I wasn’t surprised when she was selected as one of the faces of the Spring/Summer 2014 Miu Miu campaign.

But I was surprised to see the picture of these two seatmates return to my life a couple of months ago. The image had originally taken over Tumblr, but I am just old enough to not understand how Tumblr works or what happens there. It wasn't until it resurfaced on Twitter that I became aware of its second life as a meme. Hadn't this picture been around for years? I reminded myself that not everyone spends hours following the goings on of various fashion weeks. The excitement spread to the two women at the center of it all, and I let myself get a little giddy about it as other creatives jumped in to say they found it intriguing as well.

What is a scamming movie if not a cousin to a heist movie? And didn't I love heist movies?

I knew there were probably going to be issues around attribution and Hollywood is still itself, so when the fervor died down, I let the image drift to the back of my mind again. Then the news broke. It was happening. Something that would make many of us happy had been willed into existence. This year has been kind to very few of us, but here was something to celebrate. Instantly my mind ran off in search of an answer to a pressing question. What would these characters wear? It would be so easy to put them in seasons and seasons of Prada and Miu Miu's quirky chic. But a scammer must wear many masks and many masks calls for many brands.

I'm sitting on five seasons worth of bookmarks going all of the way back to Resort 2017. If I get out of my own way, I could still write something about many of those seasons. But Resort 2017 is over now, and this is my chance to finally give it the due it deserved.

I started with what they would wear when alone and hanging out together, possibly while constructing a new plan in the modern kitchen of a beautiful loft that some gullible man pays the rent for. Or maybe when they're tucked into a quiet corner of the neighborhood coffee shop where they've become close to a barista who supplies them with complimentary espresso. The clothes that you truly live in. Those worn when all of those performative parts of your personality are turned off. The ones that you wear with someone you trust.

For Both

At Sonia by Sonia Rykiel

At A.L.C.

For The Planner

At Sonia by Sonia Rykiel

At Sportmax

At Timo Weiland

At Alice + Olivia

At Mara Hoffman

For The Scammer

At Rachel Zoe

At Tomas Maier

At Haney

At Rodebjer

At Victor Alfaro

Then I chose one Resort 2017 collection as the core inspiration for each of their on wardrobes.

For The Planner, it was Holly Fulton's playful patterns.

For The Scammer, it was the luxe architectural feel of Maticevski.

From those points of reference, I went about the fun but somewhat overwhelming task of further flushing out their on closets.

The Planner with her offbeat prints and full skirts and Peter Pan collars.

At Sonia by Sonia Rykiel

At Tracy Reese

At Versace

At Delpozo

At Fausto Puglisi

At Alexander McQueen

At Victoria Victoria Beckham

At Nina Ricci

At Delpozo

At Fendi

The Scammer with her glamorous outerwear, architectural notes, and structured sex appeal.

At Boss

At Sally LaPointe

At Akris

At Emilio Pucci

At Bottega Veneta

At Courrèges

At Missoni

At Rochas

At Osman

At Monse

At Mugler

At Dion Lee

But this is only scratching the surface.

Images via, via

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Jumping In

Most of the years that I spent living at home in Boston bleed together. Did a certain event take place in 2010? Or 2012? Or 2013? Was I in a skinny phase brought on by distress or a larger one brought on by the depths of boredom? But inside that muddled timeline, there are those moments that stand out. In the spring of 2013, my mother came home with a clothing purchase. This in and of itself would not have been worth noting normally. At times she feigns ignorance about where my love of fashion comes from but I've never forgotten. It has always been her, the root and the source. What was noteworthy this time was the item purchased.

"Is that a jumpsuit?" Disgust laced my voice.
She hung it in a hall closet before turning to me.
"Yes," she replied.
"Are you actually going to wear it?"
"Of course. I used to wear them in the 70s."

I didn't question the latter but I had my doubts about the former. Although my love of clothes and shopping originates with her, the ways in which we pursue our conquests diverged long ago. My mother doesn’t try things on in stores. Instead she brings them home for the necessary testing before returning them if they aren’t quite right. There was a chance that in a few days the jumpsuit would return from whence it came. Or, less likely but still possible, that it would be consumed into the back of the closet, never to be heard from again. 

Sometimes I take to a class of clothing immediately. The moment skinny jeans became The Thing, I knew that I had to have a pair. With others, it takes time for me to come around. For years suits on women made me recoil. The options were limited. The manners in which I saw them worn were either uninteresting or unflattering. Now I cheer for them, the sharp and woolen as well as the luxe and velvet. I write long posts full of my favorites. I do celebratory dances in my bedroom when a woman walks the red carpet in one.

And yet, I haven’t bitten the suiting bullet myself. The last suit I bought was a gray, pinstriped Michael by Michael Kors number from the old Filene’s Basement that served me well during that first blush of post-collegiate life. It was an interview workhorse. A well-fitting workhorse, not like the shapeless rectangles that made me turn my nose up at suits for so long, but a workhorse all the same. On its last outing, I stood looking out at Boston Harbor from the well-appointed waiting room of an upscale insurance company that a staffing agency had sent me off to see and considered the possibility of a suit-wearing life. That was three moves and more than a decade ago.

My initial disgust at the jumpsuit’s rise was mostly logistical. I had worn many impractical clothes in my nearly 30 years but I hadn't had to strip to use the bathroom since the bodysuits and overalls of my 90s childhood. And my body had changed a lot since the age of 10. Puberty had left me busty but still somewhat slight of hip. Finding a single, pants-dominant piece that would fit both halves of me seemed impossible.

My mother kept the jumpsuit and even wore it a few times before I moved across the country the following spring. With the move, I suddenly had time that was my own and some disposable income. It was then that I began my quest for a jumpsuit.

Well I didn't know it was a quest when I started but I think that's usually the way of such things.

While my mother tries on nothing when in a store, I try on everything. It's not only about fit. It's a form of playing dress up. I don't linger too long, always take care not to damage the clothing in any way, and, because I cannot be helped, often leave with something even if that wasn't my intention. I like to know if I'm being too quick to judge a new trend, and the only way to do that is to put it on my body. To slowly turn in front of a mirror and examine it from all angles. To be able to categorize it as simply not for me, maybe only for me, or definitely not for anyone.

My time working in apparel retail only reinforced this habit. At the beginning of each new season, everyone would have to do a fit session to better acquaint themselves with the product and provide feedback to corporate. And so while on the clock I would take all of the major pieces of the new collection into a fitting room and test them out. Even now that the retail chapter of my life has ended, I continue to wander into stores for fit sessions. I live tweet my mall journeys and post pictures, always tilted slightly one way or the other, of suits and skirts and dresses and jeans.

I spent most of 2014 being "kind of blown away by" or "maybe [sold] on" the occasional jumpsuit seen on a celebrity at a red carpet event. I was warming to them outwardly but inwardly I struggled. I rarely took pictures of myself during jumpsuit try-ons. Something always felt off. The leg was too wide. It was too tight across the thighs. The crotch did unpleasant things. The top made my chest look as if it were bound. And yet I kept trying them on. It only took one pass at an off-the-shoulder top last summer to know that that trend was not for me. But in 2014 and early 2015, I couldn't shake myself free of the jumpsuit.

It took many frustrating months for me to find that first pair of skinny jeans, but I kept at it because I wanted them. I needed them. And what did I need nearly a decade later? A jumpsuit. I didn't know why. If I'm being honest, I rarely do when it comes to clothing with this strong a draw. There's no logic. Only longing. 

Almost exactly two years ago, I stepped into an H&M fitting room with a black, white, and gray jumpsuit covered in a big cat print. The color scheme was all me but on the hanger everything else about it was wrong. I rarely wear graphic prints. And it was, of course, a jumpsuit. I was years into my denial about them and happy to stay there. But then I put it on.
It was over. In an instant. Like magic. I couldn't find a single fault. More importantly, I was no longer interested in searching for one.