Susan O. Singer
THERE'S DEFINING ONE'S STYLE...AND THEN THERE'S RE-DEFINING ONE'S STYLE
February 8, 2013
Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea that defining one’s style can and should happen more than once in the course of a woman’s life. There are several key junctures when questions need to be asked and wardrobes must be reevaluated. And each juncture carries its own challenges, not to mention emotional baggage. In this essay, to illustrate what I mean, I will focus on just a few.
When it comes to style and fashion, we all know that young women get a lot of the attention. Pretty much, they get ALL of the attention! It’s no secret that fashion magazines and other media focus on style for the young. And that makes sense, at least to a point, because often times a young woman needs to be taught the basics of style before she can even begin to develop her own personal look. There’s a lot to teach her and a lot to say about the basic rules and tenets of style so the young woman is a perfect target audience.
This is Juncture #1 and here’s what happens: The young woman emerges from the cocoon of school/college and she realizes she has reached that significant crossroads between being a kid and being a young adult. She already knows how to look like a kid! That’s always been easy because she’s spent most of her years up until this point surrounded by other kids. And kids like to look and dress like each other. (Remember when you HAD to have Levi’s jeans? Or Jordache Jeans? Or Calvin Klein Jeans? Or Seven for All Mankind jeans?)
But then this young woman graduates from school/college and must go out into the world where life is no longer proscribed. There are choices to be made, decisions to be reached…and individual style to be defined. This young woman has plenty of resources to draw from. I can’t count how many “ONE MONTH OF OUTFITS” pages I have pulled out of magazines for inspiration and how many blogs I have bookmarked on my computer. And in most of the outfits portrayed, the skirts are way short and the looks are funky and colorful; generally pitched to the under-30 crowd. That’s great. When you’re under 30.
What happens next? Well…we are approaching Juncture #2. The young woman has worked for a decade or so, and now time has come to get married and have babies. Maternity-wear is a whole other article. So here, I will focus on what happens after pregnancy. Maybe the woman goes back to work after she has her baby or babies. Maybe she doesn’t. Maybe she goes back part-time. But in all three cases, there is now an adorable, precious and messy baby in the young woman’s arms. Also, the young woman is now 1) a little less young and 2) a MOM! The world’s perception of her has changed. More to the point, her perception of HERSELF has changed. Possibly, her shape has changed too. And she needs new clothes for this new phase of her life. She’s got plenty of power suits and slacks and button down blouses and pumps. But what should she wear when she’s with the baby? Whatever she wears, it needs to be comfortable, washable, and not have things that the baby will choke on or pull off of its mom. Like an earring for example. Or a scarf. Plus, she's lucky if she has time to shower, let alone put on make up. Not so easy to look put-together with all of these limitations!
When my kids were young, I used to say that just because I was a stay-at-home mom, it didn’t mean I had to LOOK like a stay-at-home mom. By this I meant that I didn’t want to live in elastic-waisted pants and sweatshirts. A little makeup goes a long way! So does pride in one’s appearance. And that is the emotional baggage at the heart of key juncture number 2. It’s a wonderful and deeply important point at which to take stock and figure out how you want to present yourself to the world. I would go so far as to say that how one navigates this juncture can be a significant indicator of how one will adjust to this new phase of life and possibly even to the ones that come after. It isn’t actually only about the clothes! It’s about one’s self-concept and one’s self-esteem.
At juncture #3, the kids have gotten their drivers’ licenses and/or left for college. There is FREEDOM! For mom, that is. The EMPTY NEST! This is a HUGE transition point for any woman. It’s a point at which many women feel a loss of purpose. All those years of child rearing (even if she stayed in the work force at the same time) are over and….now what?! It’s another moment for re-examining oneself, one’s goals and, yes, one’s wardrobe. I've had more than one client tell me that at this age, she feels invisible. She may be smart, educated, funny and interesting. But she is also 50-ish. And people pay less attention to her than she is used to. Or than they used to. And once again, she needs to figure out what her next chapter will be, as well as how to dress for it. Maybe now is the time to play with the accessories or makeup that she didn’t have time for when she was raising her kids. Maybe her reevaluation will involve getting back into the gym and getting into better physical shape. Whatever one’s individual circumstances, this is a point in life at which to take stock, count one’s blessings, and make sure that what one looks like on the outside truly reflects the person we have matured into on the inside. It’s an opportunity (and it should be viewed as one) to move forward and embrace the adventure.
I’m sure that there are probably juncture numbers 4, 5 and if one is lucky, 6. I haven’t gotten there yet myself, so I can’t speak to them in a personal or compelling way. That said, the one thing I feel certain of is this: What we wear and how we present ourselves to the world-- at every juncture and every day--reveal an awful lot about how we value ourselves.
Keep that in mind next time you reach for the elastic-waisted pants!
MY FASHION DILEMMA
May 3, 2012
My niece is getting married. And I need a dress! One might think that since I’m a professional stylist and all, this might not pose a huge challenge for a person like me. But “one” would be wrong.
I’m good with dressing for every day. I know what works on me, and what I feel comfortable wearing. For everyday, my look is all about separates. I can make a great outfit out of a top/blouse/sweater paired with pants or a skirt. I love the challenge and the game of finding ways to use color, accessories, layers and jewelry to their best advantage.
What’s more challenging is finding a special occasion dress that’s age-appropriate as well as flattering for a woman of a certain age…like me!
I don’t do miniskirts anymore. (Come to think of it, I never really did. I remember wishing in high school I had the legs for Hot Pants. But I digress…) I don’t do matronly (yet?) either. So what do I wear to the wedding?
I spend a fair amount of time in stores, shopping for my clients. I have combed through my share of racks and I know what’s out there. In fact, one of my clients had a wedding to go to recently and I was charged with the task of finding the perfect outfit for her to wear to her event. While I was shopping in dressy dress departments for her, I also had my own event in mind. But I saw nothing that felt right for me! Everything I saw was either too young or too old; too short or too….pastel. And by “pastel” I mean matronly. So frustrating! In the end, I bought and returned several dresses, at least two pairs of shoes and a belt. I just couldn’t make up my mind.
And then I had an epiphany. The lesson I teach to all of my clients would work for me as well! Over and over again, I tell my clients that they should focus on buying basic pieces and use accessories to make them special and unique. It’s the same idea as buying a solid colored sofa to live with for decades, knowing that one can easily switch out the throw pillows to change the look and feel of the room without busting one’s budget.
So I took my own advice. I eventually found a simple and basic dress in a rich color and in a shape that flatters my shape. I made sure to buy the size that was long enough to cover my knees and my shoulders. At my age, less (skin) is more. I chose interesting and bold accessories and really cool shoes that would elevate that plain and simple dress to another level.
The necklace I will wear was made by Amy and Audrey Kekst, talented jewelry designers in Cleveland who also happen to be dear childhood friends of mine. (Learn more about them at http://amykekst.com/). Just the fact that I will be wearing that one beautiful piece will make me feel stylish and elegant. Which means that, ironically, the main focus of my outfit won’t end up being the dress at all!
I'm so excited for the wedding and I am excited to wear my new outfit. And my niece, the bride? I bet she will look stunning too!
A HIDDEN GEM IN A CITY FULL OF THEM
February 17, 2012
About a year ago, I made a discovery; a hidden gem in a city full of gems. I discovered the Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). I was so impressed by what i saw that ever since my first visit to MFIT, I have made it a point to see every show this small museum has mounted. I am consistently amazed and impressed at the depth and quality of their presentations. Best of all? Admission is free and it's open to the public Tuesdays through Saturdays!
The Museum currently features two exhibits. The first is called Fashion A-Z; Highlights from the Collection of the Museum at FIT. It features clothing from the permanent collection and includes some of the most gorgeous and classic looks I've ever seen; items from the early 1900's for example that look like they could have been designed this decade...or this year.
The splashier and more publicized exhibit is Impact: 50 Years of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The CFDA is exactly what its name says it is. Currently helmed by president Diane Von Furstenburg and governed by the very top leaders in American Fashion Design, CFDA has the connections and wherewithal to make just that; an impact. So in putting this new exhibit together along with the Museum, they reached out to over 400 of the top fashion designers in America, among them the most famous and influential; people whose names and designs are familiar to all of us. They asked these designers to send in the look or outfit that most clearly represents them or which had the biggest influence on their careers. Von Furstenburg, for example, submitted an early wrap dress from the 1970's. Donna Karan submitted a look from her early "seven easy pieces" collection from 1985. And you know what? Both looks are still completely modern, current and relevant today. If you visit the Museum you will see, up close and "in person" some of the most intricate, beautiful and innovative clothing ever created. And although there wasn't space to exhibit designs from all 400 designers, there are video displays airing in a constant loop, and ipads available through which you can scroll to see a whole lot more.
I admit that I am certainly a bit of a fashion geek. But even if you aren't as obsessed as I am, I urge you to visit the Museum at FIT. You won't be disappointed. And the price is right!
The Museum is located on Seventh Avenue at 27th Street in Manhattan.
For more information, visit fitnyc.edu/museum or cfda.com