Monday, October 17, 2011

The Ultimate Style Mystery

This is the view from where I'm sitting...

Even though I'm 47 days into my year-long shopping fast, I'm not unaware of stores, catalogs, and clothing websites.  If anything, since I've started blogging, and looking for perfect wardrobes for you, I see even MORE clothing than I ever saw before!  And while there's a fair amount of dreck being marketed to women under the guise of clothing (or shoes - what STUPID shoes there are in this world), most of what I see is beautiful.  At every price point, there are stacks of lovely clothes available - far more clothing than any of us need, or should want.

So the mystery is this - WHAT HAPPENS TO ALL OF THIS CLOTHING?  Because I do NOT see that many women who look really well-dressed.  And as you can tell from the above photograph, any time I walk out of my building (well, out of my apartment, even) I see literally thousands of people.  

I first observed this years ago when I was working in retail: the women who shopped on a daily basis (yes, we had customers who came into the store every day) and who bought the most clothing were NEVER the best dressed.  Ever.  They knew our markdown schedule, they could calculate (better than we could) exactly when a garment would go on sale, and to what percentage off, but they could NOT dress themselves well.  They wouldn't take our advice, and most of the time they refused to pay full price for the items that were best-suited to them.

Conversely, we had a few customers who only came into the store 2 or 3 times a year.  But when they came in, they bought quite a bit - probably 5 or 6 garments, on average.  Everything went together, everything was compatible with what they already owned, everything fit perfectly (or was altered to a T), and they weren't obsessed with the markdown status of what they bought.

I remember one woman in particular, who shopped twice a year: April and October.  She bought a HAUL each time - maybe 18 or 20 items.  But only twice a year.  And then she went on to do things more important than shop.  She is a terribly important local executive, and she always looks amazingly attractive.

There's a lesson there...


  1. I love your blog, I love this post. So much truth and wisdom. I am trying to be more like the second lady you describe and have made big steps in that direction. You are such an inspiration. Thank you so much.

  2. I used to be a frequent shopper - always looking for a bargain. I would sacrifice fit in order to score the deal. Hence, the garment would sit in my closet, collecting dust because it didn't look good on me. A total waste of money.

    Now, I rarely shop and take my time deciding what it is I want. Sometimes I wait too long and the item I was considering sells out. That is the chance I have to take and soon after I've forgotten about it anyway.

    Next week, I am going to San Francisco with a wad of cash I've been saving to buy a few items I want to supplement my fall/winter wardrobe. I have a list compiled and will mostly stick to it. I am sure I will find items not on my list - but will make sure I am buying what fits and what looks right on me, not what price I like.

    Wonderful post - I will need to reread it before my trip next week. Thank you!

  3. This is how men shop. It's why men's clothing is better quality. They only really buy clothes once a year, but when they do, they buy a large quantity of clothes that fit well. I used to work in men's retail. Men aren't embarassed to ask for a larger size and comfort is *key* to them.

  4. I work in a clothes shop too. Yes I agree, you very rarely see a well dressed / individually dressed women in the day time. I guess if you make the effort to dress up, you stand out from the crowd and that takes guts.

  5. It's a great question Vivienne. I've wondered about it a lot. The simply chic, well-put-together woman, stands out like a siren in a sea of style misses. I've learned a lot of lessons about this through my own misses, and am still learning.

    I think our epidemic of disappointing looks on the street has so many causes. I think the biggest ones are:

    - Nibbly spending as sport, habit, or emotional need instead of investment spending as a means to looking great on a daily basis, as Adrienne described above. These are shopping and spending for entirely different purposes, even though it looks like the same thing.

    - Believing and studying the fast-fashion, never-wear-anything-twice hype. It's harder and less-glitzy to find out what does and doesn't look really great on you, and what actually suits your lifestyle and environment, and then only buy and wear those things. I think a lot of women don't even know there's a different choice to make. It's the herd mentality, the fashionista treadmill, and a general lack of experience with the style benefits of a little focus and discipline in shopping and dressing (doesn't that sound so non-glamorous?).

    -Wearing unattractive or fashion-victim clothes even when you have nice, flattering ones in the closet. There are lots of reasons, like believing looking good is uncomfortable; or good clothes should be saved for later; or you don't feel like you deserve--or just don't have the habit--to look great every day. Maybe a woman thinks she's too old, fat, or whatever and while she can buy nice things, she doesn't wear them to avoid calling attention to herself. It's a mis-match between self-image and what's in the closet. Some women need to hide their attractiveness, or don't want to be mocked for looking better than their pals or mate, or they don't know how to put those nice things together in a look that works, or it feels like too much effort to launder and maintain nice clothes if you actually wear them, or they have had failed attempts to look stylish in the past and are now gun-shy.

    One day I was at an outlet mall with my nieces, and noticed a woman who looked great. I had to analyze her.

    She carried herself well. She had a fresh, simple haircut and shiny, healthy hair, and nice makeup that didn't scream but that looked polished. She wore quality, interesting, but not eye-popping shoes.

    But she just wore jeans and a knit top. And yet she made me look twice, and to think about her for some time.

    Her jeans were stylishly dark in a flattering cut and perfect fit. The top was a gorgeous green for her, and though simply cut, it had a couple of subtle details that set it apart. I don't remember what they were now--maybe the set of the sleeve, the placement of a button, a subtly interesting type of knit. It wasn't pattern, ruffle, sequin, or any of the other magpie details that stand out and make us grab them in the store. It was subtle but sure quality in design and fabric. It just said, simply, quality and style.(Like the great pieces you put in your wardrobes on this blog, Vivienne!)

    She wasn't wearing high designer pieces, and she wasn't wearing cheap crap. Nothing she wore or did shouted "look at me" or whispered "ignore me, I'm not really here." She had spent some money, not a wad, probably not more than a would be spent in a a handful of emotional swipes at the sale racks, but enough to step up and stand out. I'm certain she was not a women who stalked the clearance racks for a steal or a retail hit as often as she could get into a store.

    A street style photographer would probably notice her but pass her by, looking for that look-at-me statement photograph. Yet that woman comes clearly to mind a few years after passing her casually on a sidewalk. Isn't that interesting?

  6. I agree with "Simply Me" that most women don't want to stand out. You do get noticed for dressing nicely and so you need to have confidence in yourself and your style to handle the attention.

    Dressing nicely is all about fit. I have dresses that I purchased on ebay and I have had the tailor tweak them a few times so they fit just right.

  7. You preach the truth!!! The gospel according to the Vivienne it and live it.

  8. I see the best dressed women in certain airports and in museums. Often these women have various iconic pieces--such as the woman I saw with a Hermes bag--opened just so--and a Chanel jacket--and an aura of confidence (de Young Museum, San Francisco). Others are not wearing recognizable clothing. BUT THEY ARE wearing outfits--things that look good together. Just like my mother told me. Your blog is really a help in teh quest for an OUTFIT.

  9. Great post Viviene. I seem to move between these 2 extremes. I want to shop a few great quality items per year but then my cravings come into the picture and I make yet again poor choices .At the moment I try to upscale what I have and save to buy something great