LAST YEAR at this time I was struggling to stick to my Shopping Diet. In the past 12 months I haven’t exactly been clothing-deprived, but I’m striving for greater control and discrimination. And Cathy Horyn isn’t helping.
I like the New York Times’s chief fashion writer; she’s witty and critical and has on occasion been banned from runway shows when the designer didn’t like her reluctance to suck up.
On the other hand, she is writing about style for a high-end newspaper in a strapped economy, and in “The Five Things You Need for Fall” (take a look; it’s at www.nytimes.com/2011/08/25/fashion/the-five-things-you-need-for-fall.html), I question her use of the word need. I mean, really. Moreover, the fashion insiders she interviewed for the story, though they may be demon trend-spotters, can’t possibly be paying full price for anything they mention “investing” in, unlike the rest of us.
The choices themselves are not particularly bizarre. One is a turtleneck (yes, we have those). Another is a Miu Miu dress (couldn’t help but notice that there was a big Miu Miu ad nearby in the print version; plus, I might be sick if I hear one more person say she likes dresses because you just slip one on “and you’re set”—hard to believe that a creative director is fazed by having to put two or more pieces together). Wide-leg cords? Well, maybe. Especially in autumnal colors. But wide-legs (the Theory pair she suggests are nearly $300, by the way) are hard to wear successfully unless you also wear heels. Ms. Horyn has a pair of those for you (number 4): lavish black suede with a gold chain, from Givenchy. So practical. Finally, a short, bright coat. Burberry. So affordable.
I CAN SEE her reasoning: Give the people fairly normal items, some of which they already own and others of which will be translated swiftly into less pricey knockoffs. But the whole concept of compulsory fall shopping seems dated and inappropriate to me. As a former women’s magazine-ite, I know that the economics of publishing dictate a certain “support” for brands that advertise. But it would be lovely if fashion writers focused on refreshing and remixing what you have in your closet. In other words: ideas, not shopping lists. Like:
· Making stuff. It’s not all that hard to create a scarf out of a fabric remnant or a belt out of a nice piece of ribbon and a D ring, or to resuscitate dormant crocheting or knitting skills to get a jump on fall accessories. Some people may think it’s artsy-craftsy or latter-day hippie to do it yourself. Actually, it is the coolest thing possible.
· Trying unusual color combos. Most of us have matchy-matchy DNA, so we get into routines—this top always with that skirt—that turn into ruts.
· Wearing dress-up items for everyday life—in moderation. What are you saving the silk shirt or “good” pants for, a night at the opera (where almost everybody, these days, wears jeans anyway)?
· Swapping with friends, relatives, or even significant others who are male (nothing like a nice big shirt or sweater to make one feel extremely cozy). I used to trade scarves with my mother. It was like getting a whole different wardrobe.
· Hitting the thrift shop. I admired the dotted-swiss blouse of a neighbor recently, and that’s where she got it (“Salvation Armani,” as she put it–a phrase I wish I’d thought of). I guess I gave up on vintage when it began to remind me of my own past fashion mistakes (when it involved stuff from the 1930s or ’40s, before I was born, it reminded me only of great old black-and-white movies). But now I’m thinking, If I buy too much and have to unload the excess, often lightly worn, other people are doing it, too, and their giveaways could be my inexpensive gain.
In classic children’s books like Little Women and Ballet Shoes and the Little House series, the parts I loved best had to do with the way families made old clothes last or altered hand-me-downs (“turning” collars, extending hems) for the next sister in line. And let us not forget Scarlett and the green velvet curta ins in Gone With the Wind! I am not romanticizing poverty. But consumption these days is crazy. Back then, a new dress was an event rather than a habit.
YET RETAIL AREAS, even mere catalogues, remain danger zones for me. I drool and pant and yearn. I had to get out of a Gap store fast the other day because I was about to fall victim to a chiffon-esque (most likely polyester) gray shirt with a vintage rose pattern. Another version comes in a beautiful, rich red.
Those shirts still haunt me. Fortunately, as I write, the subway and buses aren’t up and running yet, and the nearest Gap—which probably isn’t even open—is a good mile away. Thanks, Irene: A woman after my own heart, you have helped me stick to the Shopping Diet.