Christmas comes in July in the media world, a weird calendar I’ve never gotten used to. Smack dab in the middle of summer, all the retailers and PR concerns trot out their holiday wares so that the magazine editors working on gift guides can meet their impossibly early deadlines (a schedule so last century, it is no wonder magazines now read like coffee table books, but that’s another story).
It was at one of these gatherings that I bumped into my dry-as-a-martini colleague, the esteemed fashion writer and editor David Livingstone. Both of us had rushed over in the city heat to the holiday preview, as it is called, in summer-weight attire. I recall David in a striped T-shirt, and I think I was wearing a crisp white blouse over a grey knee-length skirt, and we were admiring a collection of Pendleton blankets, when David remarked on my strappy leather sandals.
Fashion Goes to the Dogs
Feast-Cold Corn Soup
Just to fill you in, when fashion people remark on an item of clothing you might be wearing, what they really want to know, like the reporters from the red carpet, is its provenance: where did you get it, and who is it by?
Which is why I had to confess that they weren’t “important” in any way, I had just found them in the kind of nondescript street boutique in New York where they display the shoes they have for sale on a stack of the boxes they came in, but that I had been wearing them all summer because they had turned out to be perfect.
Then it occurred to me that this was the best definition I have ever come up with for what I am always searching for, and will guide me as I make my few seasonal purchases this fall: things that aren’t important, but are nonetheless perfect.
By “important,” I mean both costly, and bearing the stamp of a big-name designer label — qualities to my mind that have more to do with the kind of flash that is best avoided and less to do with an expression of personal style.
Beyond the typically inflated price tag, given that labels are no longer any guarantee of quality, the problem with “designer” clothing is that it is both too easy, and too often easily recognizable. Too easy, in the sense that all you have to do to look au courant is to wander sheeplike into the gilded flagship of some global brand and buy up everything for the season. You don’t have to demonstrate any particular taste or discernment in such a purchase, just shell out the cash.
What’s more, the usual result, with some exceptions for truly brilliant statement pieces like a well-cut coat or a terrific handbag that will smarten up the rest of your H&M and Zara wardrobe for seasons to come, is that designer clothing doesn’t really wear well beyond its season, as it is too readily identified as a piece from so-and-so’s “biker” or “rich-hippie” period. This is because fashion designers have been encouraged to create a coherent and media-accessible runway statement each and every season, as opposed to just creating good clothes.
I found this out the hard way with a chartreuse Prada coat from Miuccia’s ugly-chic collection that was way too much of its time to wear for years after I bought it (and of course I have now scrapped because it was taking up valuable closet space).
Which is not to say that all readily identifiable designer brand clothing is necessarily to be avoided. Logos may largely be a no go, but some timeless house pieces such as Gucci loafers and Hermès scarves manage to maintain their fashionability season after season. The trick, which can be acquired if one cares to hone it, is to be able to see into the designer offerings with some level of appreciation and connoisseurship. To have the confidence in one’s judgment and independence of taste without the designer brand guarantee is where actual style, rather than mere fashion, comes in.
Perhaps what I’m suggesting is that while the ad campaigns of major global brands may suggest otherwise, there is no easy route to style. Happily, for those of us who enjoy the true thrill of the hunt and the adventure of discovery, it still requires searching in unlikely places — maybe even absurdly out of season — for that unimportant, yet perfect, thing.
Karen von Hahn is a Toronto-based writer, trend observer and style commentator. Contact her at email@example.com .