As difficult as this is for me (and for anyone who knows me) to believe, I have had multiple requests to expand on my Fashion Faux-ward post from last fall.
My qualifications for giving fashion advice? Well, I’ve been wearing clothes for more than half a century; does that give you confidence? And, if you think about it, there are all kinds of utterly unqualified people in high positions, so why shouldn’t I be one of them?
I was inspired me to do another fashion post while reading an article in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine entitled Their Time Is Now. The state of print journalism is apparently so dire that interviews are conducted in duos to draw readership, so fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg shared the spotlight here with American Hustle director David O. Russell. I was only mildly interested until Paragraph Two, wherein “the green and white wrap dress that Ms. von Furstenberg wore on the cover of Newsweek in 1976” was noted.
THAT dress! That’s MY dress! I was 22, marginally employed by a Washington, D.C. lobby group, making less money than one is probably paid to work in a fast-food restaurant today, and I spent what for me was a king’s ransom to buy that dress at Garfinckel’s department store. I grabbed that dress off the rack and I tried it on and I didn’t care what it cost. I knew it was a bargain at any price. The fit was divine. It was day-into-evening wearable. It was pack-able, non-wrinkle-able, it was -able in every way one could wish. And it was chic relief from any of the other fashions (remember jumpsuits?) on the floor. I LOVED that dress. And I wore it for years.
The point being, sometimes you just KNOW that you have found your fashion quarry the way a big game hunter stalks his rhino. You sniff around the racks, you retreat and return, you do all kinds of magical math with your bank balance and ultimately, you emerge triumphant with THE dress or shoes or coat that is your “investment piece”.
Acquiring an investment piece can be fraught with peril. The financial part of the equation can be difficult for significant others of the male persuasion to comprehend. I call it “fashion math”: you divide sticker shock by desire and end up with a negative in the discretionary income column, but it’s all good due to the amortization of how many years you will wear the item. It all evens out in the end!
Did that make perfect sense to you?
Yeah. Not to my husband, either.
Here is another example: back in the early 2000’s, my stepdaughter, Tina, was working in NYC as a buyer for Gucci. She would probably tell you that the experience was not as glamorous as it sounds (long hours and high stress!) but one of the perks was a retail discount. The CE and I were going through the racks of stratospherically priced Gucci clothing at their Fifth Avenue flagship store and ha-ha-ha-ing at the impossibility of provincials like ourselves purchasing anything there.
And then lightning struck! A fur-lined black leather jacket practically leaped off the hanger and attached itself to me. Or at least that’s how I remember it.
“Ha-ha…ha-ha…ohmygosh look at THIS!”
Husband’s face shifts from laughter to stern look.
“Wow. This is amazing! I would wear this forever!
Husband’s face shifts from stern look to panic.
“Look at this jacket! Now THIS is an investment piece! (Tina chimes in from the background, nodding enthusiastically in the affirmative. She gets it!)
Husband knows he is beaten. Husband surrenders credit card.
Actually, it didn’t happen quite like that. Since I happen to have the loveliest and most generous husband in the world, he actually championed the purchase. Thanks to the discount and the CE’s magnanimity, I’ve been wearing that jacket for well over a decade. Think of the amortization! I’ve never seen another one like it and I still get a thrill when I put it on. That has to be worth something, right?
My guidelines for investment pieces:
1) Keep it simple. This year’s to-die-for fashion may be dead as disco next season. Embellishments, ruffles, questionable hemlines and any kind of extreme will turn your momentary triumph into eventual humiliation. Those jersey harem pants that look so cute right now? Step away!
2. Keep it real. Haven’t we all fallen madly for someone who, in the long run, is just not good for us? Such a slippery slope! Know your weaknesses – one of mine is “This will be perfect when I lose ten pounds“. Nope. Nuh-uh. Do not buy it, or at least not until after you’ve lost the ten pounds. Do not buy it if the phrase “I think I can get away with this” so much as enters your mind.
3. Anything but white. For me, an investment piece will most likely be black, because I know I will never get tired of it. My other fashionable stepdaughter, Angela, is a stylist and she says that a classic pair of black pants is an investment at any price. Or maybe your go-to color is beige or taupe – it could even be red or blue or green. But – and this is a caveat for me – other than your wedding dress, an investment piece is unlikely be white. Regardless of the quality, anything white will eventually yellow and is so easily stained. Even the most beautiful white cashmere sweater can look like hell after a few years.
4. Quality and longevity trump all. Diane von Furstenberg is still making beautiful clothes, but I haven’t seen anything lately in her current line that I would call an investment piece. She seems to use a lot of synthetic fabrics and even her silk tops seem flimsy to me. Ask yourself if the item you’re considering will still be wearable in five or even ten years and whether you will still want to wear it then.
5. Call in reinforcements. Sometimes you’re too emotionally involved to trust yourself to pull the trigger. Show the object of your affection to someone you trust to a) tell you the truth and b) not to buy it out from under you. Then you can always blame them if you hate it six months later.
As for that last one, I probably won’t be the one on your fashion advice speed dial. I’m the same person who once talked my mother into buying me a very expensive leather vest with calf-length fringe and turquoise beads. What was I thinking? I was 14. Hopefully I can be forgiven.