How Clothing Can Telegraph a Message: It May Not Make the Wo/Man, But it Sure Can Help
Discount designer shopping is a rarified skill. That’s particularly true now that the designers have caught on, so that a cotton shirt can cost more than 45 days of living overseas in a nice country. Two grand for a cotton shirt? Get a goddamned grip. What that extreme pricing does is guarantee that said designer still makes hundreds or more the times the cost of the garment even if it’s marked down to half price or even 70 % off on sites like Farfetch or Matches.com or TheOutnet.com.
In other words, a sale isn’t really a sale. It just means less gouging of our respective wallets. For a little insight (plus some questionable justification from the fashion industry), see https://thefrisky.com/the-secret-to-why-designer-clothes-are-so-expensive/)
However, there are still periodic fun finds. Gone are the days that I might find a $3000 Emmanuel Ungaro jacket for $150, which I did once, then promptly stuck a permanent marker into its delicate pink pocket. That was the end of that.
Although truly, who on earth determines that a simple silk jacket is actually worth $3K? That’s the real joke.
Fashion is forever two simple things: terrific material, and a fine cut. Um, that compliments. That doesn’t say you have to be slim to dress well. Not at all. It means find what works for your body, your style and personality, and above all, the work you plan to do. What you do on your own time, honey, all bets are off.
Frankly, there is a great deal out there that meets neither of these criteria of fine fabric and excellent cut. Folks buy it, though, and nobody really cares what I think. Nor should they. (Particularly given some of the butt-ugly crap I’ve worn over the years, but I digress)
Some years back when the mega discount malls were still such a huge thing, I was in Phoenix visiting a then-BF.
Back then, Neiman Marcus had a Last Call store anchoring one corner of the mall. I nailed a Givenchy runway jacket for barely $175. It was grey pinstripe, with a slightly silvery tone, with massive shoulder pads. Classic, yet clearly top-end designer.
If you’re female, you can understand that I was very glad I was wearing panty liners when I nabbed that off the rack. Girls get this.
I heard a woman comedian on an HBO special bring down the house when she said,
There isn’t a man in the world who can make a woman feel as good as a 75% off sale!
Boy those were the days, when N-M, or Nordstrom’s, or whoever actually had designer duds, and their stores didn’t look like the dumpster behind the Goodwill donation center.
There is no way in hell I could then, or now afford a jacket like that full price. Back then, N-M Last Call still got really good duds from the mother ship, if you will, which petered out as online stores grew.
I still have that jacket. It’s the one I wear for really big time national stages, speeches and workshops. In the true sense of a classic, I could wear it for the rest of my life and still look like a million. That’s real fashion, but then, that’s me. It’s also one of the work rivers I swim in, where classic clothing is part of the ticket to being successful.
At home and abroad, I live in Lycra and sneakers, hiking boots and Goretex. That’s my other work river, doing adventure travel for my clients and writing about it. Sucks, doesn’t it? I’ll live.
Here’s what fine clothing can do: years ago I was speaking at a women’s conference in New York City. The theme was about diversity. Lots of consultants showed up including one man who had authored some six very thoughtful books on the topic.
After I delivered my speech, he approached me with his card. I was wearing said Givenchy jacket. At the time I was barely making my mortgage, as it was early in my speaking career. That’s not what my jacket telegraphed.
Not long after that I got a huge box in the mail of all this man’s books. He was exhorting me to hire him. This guy probably made several hundred times what I was earning in a year. Yet his impression, because of my Givenchy jacket, was that I had most certainly made it, and could hire him as part of my practice. His rates were so high it took a few minutes to get my eyeballs back into their sockets.
Point taken. I guess I had learned to how dress and act in that environment. Worked for a long time and still does, for me at least.
In this article on dressing the part https://www.inc.com/molly-reynolds/research-shows-that-the-clothes-you-wear-actually-change-the-way-you-perform.html, writer Molly St. Louis points out that yes, how you dress does change both how you feel about yourself and most certainly, how others perceive you. Rightly or wrongly, it’s our society. And, thank you, others as well. Stay with me here.
I’ve been excoriated elsewhere for commenting that show we dress has a lot to do with how successful we are in a given environment. The person in question had the same aggressive, fuck-you-in-your-face stance that another person I talked to had about her dog, which she claimed she had the right to take anywhere she fucking pleased, no matter what. (That was despite the fact that it wasn’t a service dog, emotional support animal or any other damn thing. It was just that puerile, my needs are EVER so much more important than the kid over there who happens to be violently allergic to dog hair. That, of course, is the kid’s problem. I would like to jail such people with a pissed-off skunk for a few days and see how they feel about invasion of their precious fucking space. But I digress.)
Look. I have spent several retirement funds on fashion that I ended up dumping into consignment shops because I bought for a lifestyle I never lived. I’m a jock, and when I’m not a jock, I’m working in the F500. That means a certain look. I take liberties here and there with a crazy pin or insane earrings Or extraordinary indigenous clothing picked up in country and mixed with very staid pieces like a navy pencil skirt. My dear artist friend Jill finds ways to mix huge pieces of chunky turquoise jewelry with her more conservative clothing to express her artistic nature, without putting off her buttoned-down clients.
These days, I am as much informed by Georgia O’Keefe, who had her own vibrant style, as I am by what I see on the runways. The latter, meh. I prefer to see classics reinvented, but not so much so that they’re cartoonish.
Every so often — usually once a year- I give myself a confection of an insanely-designed white shirt (I have Caroline Herrera in my veins) which has all manner of quirks and twists and fluffs and pointy things. (yes, this: https://www.mytheresa.com/int_en/rokh-ruffled-cotton-shirt-1056320.html?rd=1int ). That ridiculous piece of movable art is in my closest and it was worth every penny (and yes I got it at 70% off and it was still too fucking expensive, but there you are). A big wide suede belt around it and that blouse rocks.
I stuff that under a stuffy navy blazer, then at night let the damned thing hang out with forty strands of heavy African beads. Against a staid navy skirt. It’s downright remarkable how much fun you can have conforming, without giving up your fashion sense.
About eighteen months ago I hired my close friend Sonja Motley (www.Clutterfreecloset.net) to come to my house, to help me deal with the inevitable orphans. Those are the pieces you will NOT give up to consignment bu there is nothing to go with them. In about twenty five seconds flat, Sonja had the perfect solution to every piece. Since then, I run my very few major purchases by her. It’s a wise move. Nobody knows women’s and men’s bodies like Sonya, nor does anyone understand fashion and how to hide flaws, celebrate curves or make a man look like a millionaire better than she does.
I’ve got great friends. Especially when they’re dedicated to keep me from making a fool out of myself. She’s not always successful, but there you are. Every so often I will get a What-the-hell-were-you-thinking piece, which causes us both hilarity later, but sometimes we can’t help ourselves. She’s done it too, like the time she bought a pair of $350 black leather opera gloves, lost one, and had to buy another pair. Nearly a grand for thin black opera gloves.
Sigh. The things we do for fashion.
But then, considering the jokes that are this year’s spring excrescences, (https://glowsly.com/spring-summer-2019-fashion-trends/#fringe), I’ll hang on to my Givenchy, thanks. But that’s just me. As the article above states, designers charge insane amounts because there are people stupid enough to pay it, and moronic enough to parade around in feathered clown suits thinking they’re hot.
They’re not. Like the pastel lace shorts and shirts (2016) that some fool designer created for a bunch of gangsta rappers. You missed that one? Here ya go: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/lace-shorts-for-men-pastel-see-through-cazwell-hologram-city-gucci-a7770861.html. Just what I expect JZ to sport on stage.
Despite what my aggressive little in-your-face friend says, you can conform, and in a thousand ways, you can play, be unique, be expressive without offending the holy shit out of your potential client base (or your employer, for that matter). The trick is learning how to be edgy without edging yourself out of a job or career opportunity.
Part of the art of fashion is knowing how much is too much, what constitutes class vs crass, and how to express ourselves in a world with sometimes rigid expectations. I don’t like ’em either, but if I want to pay the mortgage, hey. I can’t speak for anyone else but I like being employed. But if I can get away with a badass African necklace peeking out from underneath a blue banker’s blazer, why the hell not?