These are a few of my beloved mother’s rules on fashion. She always dressed well and received compliments. She bought me the best outfits any daughter could have, and was a Liz Taylor lookalike in her youth. She would be the first to paraphrase George Orwell and say “break any of these rules before you wear something barbarous!” but she had the right idea when it came to style!
1. There is no outfit that couldn’t benefit from a nice piece of jewelry or two. The temptation to over accessorize is always there, especially with wonderful items everywhere. A simple gold chain with a small locket or pearl pendant goes with everything. A cameo pin, a la Anne Rice’s Blackwood Farm enhances any outfit. In fact, brooches and pins of all types make the outfit, as former Secretary of State Madeline Albright clearly knows. Just peruse her amazing book, “Read my Pins.” If real gold and silver are not in your budget, there are lovely, vintage costume pieces everywhere. Never underestimate yard sales or the estate jewelry sections of traditional jewelry stores. Even a small pair of studs, diamond or vintage cubic zirconia, light up an everyday outfit. Myself, I’m naked without a necklace. Like the Ancient Celts who wouldn’t be caught dead without their torcs, or traditional neck pieces that looked like a collar or choker that we wear, my necklaces are “me,” and symbolize my status as a free person. Outfits with no necklace don’t look finished to me, I’m just saying . . .
2. When in doubt, choose a skirt and blouse. I’ve seen a lot of antique costumes and vintage dresses that were really two pieces that made up a “dress.” Even if it isn’t a two-piece dress, a nice quality skirt for any season in a basic color will match anything. Good silk or a nice vintage pencil skirt paired with a cashmere sweater or a cotton cardigan set can go anywhere. Print blouses, even men’s shirts with novelty prints paired over a tank top are terrific on vacation, at work, for an evening out, if shoes, jewelry, and purses are paired appropriately. The simple skirt and tailored blouse are great for interviews, both if you are the interviewer or the interviewee.
3. Style reflects both fashion trends and your own, unique personality. Don’t be a fashion snob; my muse is Iris Apfel, fashionista extraordinaire, who gets her inspiration everywhere! She didn’t learn to be a fashionista from being a slave to fashion magazines and designer trends. Neither did our moms, who often put together a look comprised of favorite pieces, wise sale choices, heirloom jewelry, and hand-me-down things from their mom’s. Putting together an outfit requires the same sense of composition as a good piece of art. So, play dress-up with Mom’s things, with her permission, of course.
4. It’s better if it was on sale but it’s OK to splurge! Of course, we like to splurge once in a while. I did it once or twice on my Hermes vintage Africa print scarf, my Pendleton suit; my Frye distressed motorcycle boots, an antique cameo. These are key pieces in my wardrobe, and will always be part of my look. But, your horizons broaden, and you learn a lot about basic economics and even math [I can figure all kinds of percentages in my head!] if you buy on sale. Ruby Lane carries a vast array of vintage couture and luxury brand pieces that you would normally find at full price. If you love Gucci, Ferragamo, Liz Claiborne, Lauren, Fendi, Butte Knits, Gunne Sax, or any other labels like these, check out the Vintage Fashion Lane!
5. If the shoe fits, buy it in several colors! This rule might be harder where vintage items are concerned, but it can be done. Of course, I tend to archive my good shoes. About 25 years ago when I was still in school, I discovered Enzo loafers in a range of colors and styles, including my signature light avocado/lime green. I bought as many colors as I could, and still wear them. I’m happy to say they, and I, are now vintage. On Ruby Lane, purveyors of vintage shoes, like Vanity Flair Vintage and Antiques, often have more than one pair of vintage shoes that are a variation on a style, like pumps in different colors and designs that are still pumps. Shop Vintage Shoes on Ruby Lane
6. If you want it, buy it and strike when the iron’s hot! [Then, iron it if you need to!] While I don’t want to shatter anyone’s piggy bank [something else my family loves to collect!], I can’t stress the basic rule of all vintage, thrift shop, antique shop buys and search expeditions. If you can afford it, and you want it, don’t wait! It just may not be there. The worse thing that can happen is to see it walking out the door with someone just as you are going back to rescue it! This happened to me with a set of porcelain brooches based on P. Buckley Moss designs. Nowhere is the maxim that she who hesitates is lost truer than in vintage fashion shopping!
7. If you want the latest fads, wait till they start to go on sale. My mom was great about buying me clothes that I wanted, even if she didn’t understand them. “I’ll buy it for you if you promise never to wear it” was her mantra. Once she changed it because of a pair of red silk, Asian print platform sandals by Chinese Laundry. Another time, she “sang’ because of a pair of rubber rain boots printed all over with Victorian scraps. I still cherish both pairs and wear them. I learned to bide my time on super-expensive, handmade holiday sweaters when I wanted them, as well on designer suits and dresses. I checked outlets in person and online, and I got to know sales people who were willing to let me know when a coveted item was about to be discounted.
8. Everything old is new again. Retro is in now for good, no doubt. There are even great stores like Ragstock and Revival that specialize in Retro dressing. If you keep a few pieces of your favorite trendy clothes, you will fit right in. They do come back in style. I’ve seen charm bracelets, psychedelic 70s blouses, 50s sweater sets, sequins and rhinestones, animal prints, faux furs, and cowboy looks return at least three times since they first became hot. Archive yourself, and you will be fashion maven without even trying.
9. Take care of your clothes, and they will take care of you. Vintage clothes especially, have special needs. For example, do not let anyone “boot black” your distressed Frye boots! Use cotton thread to sew on loose beads or spangles, and carefully review care labels. Some things are better dry cleaned, and some are better hand washed. Take the plastic off your clothes when they come from the cleaners, and let the outfits “breathe.” Use padded hangers, and avoid wire. We’re all guilty of these “sins”, but fold sweaters, since hanging them can ruin their shape. Dry them flat. Use gentle soaps if you wash by hand, and don’t “agitate” your clothes. Cull your closets so your clothes are not squished together. You can donate to centers that help women get jobs by outfitting them in professional clothes. Goodwill and The Salvation Army are two charities sill in need of clothes, and you can always consign or have a yard sale if needed. Even celebrities go on eBay or have yard sales from time to time.
10. Smart women dress well: The late Sylvia Plath, a beautiful woman and talented writer who modeled at one point, was horrified by how some women in Academe dressed. She isn’t alone. As a woman of Academe myself, I shudder, sometimes, at what many of the great minds of the University wear to go to work. Sloppiness and frumpiness are not badges of honor. No one thinks you are sacrificing yourself for your art; everyone will simply see you as a lazy slob. My mother had the same terrible thought, and was always warning me about “letting myself go!” I must have done something right; I don’t claim to be Miss Universe, but each day, I get a compliment on something, sometimes from total strangers. My other discipline is law, and there, too, I’ve seen women run breathlessly into court, file in hand, “bed-head” standing at attention, shoes scuffed, briefcases scratched-up. They wanted the judge to think they had pulled an all-nighter just on her case. The sloppy look doesn’t do well in court, or at the office, either, it exudes disrespect for the premises, as well as for the self. Enough said.
About the Author: Ellen Tsagaris has collected dolls since she was three years old. She has made dolls, priced dolls, repaired, dressed, and studied dolls. Besides dolls, she has studied other antiques and collectibles at museums, antiques shows, auctions, and flea markets since she was in grade school. She has set up at craft shows and presented papers on dolls and their history at the Midwest Modern Language Association. She is the author of several articles on dolls that have appeared in Doll Reader, National Doll World, Doll Designs, International Doll World, Hope and Glory, Doll News, Adventures, and The Western Doll Collector. She is the author of two books about dolls, Bibliography of Doll and Toy Sources and With Love from Tin Lizzie; A History of Metal Heads, Metal Dolls, Mechanical Dolls, and Automatons. An active blogger, she features two blogs about dolls, Dr. E’s Doll Museum, and Doll Museum. She lectures on dolls for various organizations and has displayed part of her collection in museums.
“Dolls are among the oldest cultural artifacts, and perhaps are the oldest toys. My passion for dolls began when I was a toddler, and it has never stopped. Explore the wonderful world of all things ‘doll’ with me.”
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