4.17.2018

style notes: lessons i've learned pt.i


it's been nearly a decade since i started this blog, and it feels apropos to reflect on some things i've learned along the way.

one of my biggest takeaways from a number of years of shopping and periodic wardrobe editing is: be your own design advocate.

what does this mean? simply put, it means pay attention to your habits, lifestyle, and personal preferences and how they relate to what works and what doesn't in your wardrobe. this is not revolutionary style advice – "buy for your lifestyle" pops up in nearly every style manual out there. but actually following this through can be tricky.

why? well, one of the reasons is that we live in an aspirational world where the cultural current (and especially the fashion industry) pushes us to always want more. the more unattainable something is, the bigger the cult status. which brings me to Exhibit A: The Birkin.

the Birkin as part of the 111 iconic pieces in MoMA's Items: Is Fashion Modern? exhibition.
(curiously, how is it that this one has a built-in shoulder strap?) [my own photo]

a number of years ago, i definitely had The Birkin at the top of my fantasy timeless/holy grail accessories wishlist. but now, knowing myself better, i'm able to look at it with a more critical eye. is it iconic? absolutely. but if i could afford a Birkin tomorrow, i doubt i would buy it simply because i don't think i'd get real use out of it in my day-to-day life due to its design (the rather fussy opening/closure, the handheld-only carry option, the weight of the bag when empty). it may be the perfect bag for others for those same reasons, but i know it's not the ideal one for me. on an aesthetic level, i can appreciate it as a beautiful (museum) object, but i can appreciate it and many other beautiful things from afar without needing to want it in my life. that's a cool, empowering, liberating feeling.

another reason why "buying for your lifestyle" is challenging is figuring out what gels with your lifestyle takes time – some of my own wardrobe insights took years to really coalesce into an 'aha' moment. that's okay, because personal style is an organic process, not an algorithm or a numbers formula.

i know now, for instance, that a beautiful but delicate bag that i feel like i have to handle with kid gloves is a bag that just won't work for me (case in point: a beautiful vintage 1990s Chanel lambskin bag that i bought, couldn't bring myself to wear regularly, and ultimately sold). my current wardrobe motto is: use all the things. if something feels too precious and i just can't get over that feeling, or if i can't effortlessly integrate it into my daily, carefree life, it doesn't belong in my wardrobe. sometimes, something is just perfect in theory but impractical in real life. case in point: the lovely SC bag (regular size) that i loved, finally got, and eventually sold because the bag was just too big and the weight too heavy for everyday use. whatever the reasons, ultimately the design characteristics determine if something has staying power in my wardrobe.

dear readers, i'd love to hear your experiences in this realm. what have been your biggest takeaways from building your wardrobe?

12 comments:

  1. I remember those 2 bags that you bought and sold. I bought a Chanel jacket and definitely did NOT have the matching Chanel life. And other little things like certain cuts, fabric, brands, & shapes I've learned over time dont work for me.

    And the general evolutions of my life, things that I loved or wore a lot at one pt in time I no longer need. That said I regularly wear pieces that I bought 5, 10, and over 10 years ago. So there's also the notion that buying the "good stuff" in my early 20s paid off.

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    1. i definitely try to keep track of certain cuts/fabrics/brands that haven't worked so i don't repeat the mistake. that's so great that you wear "the good stuff" from all these years ago! definitely #wardrobegoals

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    2. interestingly enough not even necessarily "designer" pieces but more tailored modern/classic pieces. Trousers from Express/Zara (over a decade ago they were like a lower priced Theory), jackets from JCrew, Theory, BCBG. Merino wool sweaters things like that. Even when I no longer want them, I'm happy to sell/donate/give knowing someone else will benefit from having those kind of classic/professional items in their wardrobe.

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    3. it's hard to believe how in only ten years' time the fashion/retail world has so massively changed. i swear fashion time is like 3x accelerated version of 'real time'.

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  2. I'd be interested in taking these unwanted items off your hands! Can I ask what size you generally wear in these brands?

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  3. I love this post! Also, congrats on blogging for a decade--that's truly a milestone!

    I've also learned the lesson that I can appreciate things from afar, but I don't need to own them. There are plenty of dresses that I admire, but at the end of the day, I'm simply not a dress person, and it would be wasteful for me to own them.

    I'm also not sure I believe in 'buy it for life' or clothing as 'investments'. So I kind of worry when I see very young people buying expensive things when they haven't honed their style yet. Tastes change, bodies change, and so do priorities.

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    1. not quite a decade yet, but definitely a while, especially in Fashion Years ;)

      and i totally agree. the idea of the "investment bag" has got to be one of the great marketing inventions of the last few decades! not to mention it kind of insults the intelligence of women who actually have investment portfolios. "things that hold value" may be a more accurate descriptor. but i wrote at length about that whole notion here: http://www.lesantimodernes.com/2011/01/investment-purchases-and-investment.html

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  4. Great post as always. I'm really happy you're back to posting these days! Think of me as basically your twin (style, size, live in NYC) except my wardrobe is not nearly as refined as yours yet :)

    Guilty of owning more than an acceptable number of pairs of Alexander Wang stilettos and MM6 4-inch heel booties that have barely ever been worn, having lived in NYC for over a decade. Why I even buy them... ask my (slowly) recovering shopping problem. Slowly parting with some of them on Poshmark, but why is it so hard to get rid of beautiful shoes?

    We live in a tough era -- it seems impossible to keep the "wants" out of your sight, out of your head when it's being shoved in your face everywhere all the time. I agree -- it feels good and empowering when you can step back, overcome, and conquer that sense of urgency of needing to HAVE something. I've just recently begun to exercise this against my "wants" too, and it's definitely curbed my more frivolous spending. Can't lie though, it's really tough for me.

    If I've learned anything, I need to be better at returning things when I buy things that are just not practical, instead of hoping that they will magically work for me one day... simply because it makes me feel good to have it in my hands.

    Let us all have the will power to make rational shopping decisions.

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    1. hi Mai! so happy to have you as a longtime reader :)

      i think shoes are a little different, they inspire more emotion and fantasy than other accessories, no? i think we all can save a little space for those special/sentimental/wildcard items.

      i think it's difficult for most of us to try to stay focused and centered all the time amidst the noise of ads and celebrity influence and instagram etc. it's human!

      i don't feel like the goal should be to become an emotionless automaton; hopefully through trial and error, and a little bit of age and wisdom, we can find a balance that allows us to have fun with fashion while cultivating a lovely wardrobe that really works :)

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  5. glad to see this post, and also to reflect on my own style journey. i've noticed a couple of things over the years--my style has two essential peaks--ultra casual and avant-garde. sometimes i mix the two, and other times they are entirely divergent. i have a fair amount of basics and a lot of "special" pieces. this works for me. i agree entirely about not buying things that won't get any time in the rotation. it's a waste and i end up loathing the item if i can't move it, which has allowed me to practice more caution in terms of buying things. i think careful consideration is always the move, no matter the price point. what has happened is that i have a lot of seemingly divergent clothing that i love when i look at my closet, and that makes me feel good. my jewelry has seen me through all the phases. i haven't been tempted to flip a single fine jewelry item, and that makes all the difference. the idea of having pieces that move with me through fashion trends that i can later pass down makes it worthwhile. but, i agree that the 'gram, ads, magazines, etc. can make one feel like they're simply "not living" if they don't have a certain item. but, i think age and time and patience have allowed me to decide which things will enhance an already full life, and which ones will just crowd an already full closet.

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    1. i love your style spectrum! i think that's what makes it so personal about it. i think it's important to edit now and then but there are also those special, idiosyncratic pieces that we should also cherish.

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