Style versus fashion – an even more contrarian view



When you see someone with great style displayed day after day, year after year, it’s often incomprehensible how they manage to nail it all the time.  Worse, ‘style’ is couched in mystery – something that she’s got and you don’t.  In the genes.  To decode – it’s not that difficult and I don’t think  natural – it’s the result of serious contemplation and thoughtful editing before each purchase and a consistent and strict set of parameters followed largely by habit that makes it work every single day.

Barack Obama has great style – famously, his is the result of wanting to limit the number of daily decisions.

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he told Vanity Fair in 2012 …. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

A white shirt, conservative though often bright tie (light blue!) and he’s done. Dress it down, take off the tie and put on a navy or light tan Harrington Jacket and he’s in weekend mode.   Yes it’s simple.  Maybe too simple, but that’s the essence of style.  Simplicity built around a clear vocabulary that work not just in one item but with just about every item in the closet,  and that delivers seemingly endless opportunities for variety.

The other thing you’ll notice about Barack Obama, or let’s find a female equivalent, Christine Lagarde of World Bank fame, as one example, is that nothing is too tight.  Tight clothes are not elegant, and elegance is at the heart of real style – if clothes are tight you might be perfectly comfortable with all that spandex or whatever is going on to allow you to breath, but you don’t look elegant and if you don’t look elegant then you can’t be stylish.  Sorry, that’s the unspoken law and you need to play be the rules here. Of course, Barack and Christine are both tall and super slim and so the average woman will decide that she can’t play that game because of her body type – the assumption is that the more curves you’ve got the tighter the clothes should be so as not to increase volume.  Wrong.  Look at Meryl Streep – an average smallish woman who look great in a loose-fitting suit.  If you believe that you’ve got fit the suit (pants, shirt) rather than the other way around – you have bought into the rhetoric of fashion and do yourself a disservice.  The more form-fitting your clothes, the more likely you are to have to replace them (or house multiple sizes in an expanding closet) because inevitably pounds come and go or at least shift location as one ages.  Equally irksome is that this again contributes to undermining a woman’s financial strength.  No – buy loose – buy so you can sit down comfortably after a delicious meal and not be distracted by an overwhelming desire to rip your clothes off because you’re so damn uncomfortable.  I suspect you can tell I am speaking from experience here.  Let your pants fall straight from your hip and if you can’t find women’s pants (and it will be hard) then go to the men’s department.  Trust me, their pants are designed to create a tall, slim silhouette and once you get used to not being in tight clothes you’ll realize the advantage they have here. Skirts should be aline, long enough so you don’t have to have your legs crossed all the time and the waistband loose enough to allow for a healthy digestion.  Eliminate all tight clothes from your wardrobe. Including jeans.

One of the lasting problems with internet images (despite fashion blogs by and for middle-age women) is that the women featured are 98% under 25 and the remaining 2% are former models or actors, like Tilda Swinton, who are uncommonly thin and gorgeous.  Examples of women with real-ish bodies are hard to find.   There is no better woman to look for inspiration regardless of your height, weight or age than Isabella Rossellini.  The poor woman is the poster-child for the unslim, ageing with graceful beauty, but it’s a burden she must bear.   And no better example exists to support my argument for loosening the ties that bind.  In addition, we also have the benefit of a woman whose face reflects our own – imperfect in its ageing though full to the brim with character and therefore beauty.

Whether in pants or suits (men’s suits by the way), or a dress the fabric falls from the shoulders and usually well past the hips.  I feel like she shares my aversion to displaying the butt in so many unnecessary ways.

You know something is brewing when both Target and Zara are launching genderless lines.  That’s all well and good – but I don’t want to miss out on the better quality and more affordable pricing in the men’s department.  Don’t let them kid you, like men’s haircuts, they pay less, often for more detailed work.

And so what would happen if we changed our ways and headed straight for the men’s department?  If we began buying our suits, pants, jeans and shirts in the men’s department?  Bought for years not the next season, had the luxury of a wardrobe that gave us authority and comfort while reducing our spend.  Would the fashion industry grind to a halt?  Would there be significant job losses?  Maybe – fast fashion and the pressure to keep up is making retailers a lot of money.  It’s providing work for developing economies, it’s having an impact on the environment, creating clothing that gets dumped back into emerging markets creating a non-sustainable cycle.  Let’s rethink the role women play in the cycle.  Let’s think about economic divides and how to close them, how to remove the shackles that bind and the rhetoric that keeps us shopping like a bunch of zombies instead of saving our money to secure financial strength.  A great woman will consider the folly and take decisive action.  Will you?


Vanity Fair 2012 – Obama’s way



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