The full time woman has, it seems to me, a life time to develop a signature look, a style sweet spot. I imagine that this is a gradual and glacial learning process, sedimentary layers of progress, a long slow bake of hits and misses. For women inclined to caring about style, the learning opportunities abound. Shopping in the company of friends, and talking about clothes is so much more a socially acceptable, indeed expectable behavior for the fairer sex than it is for the less fair.
Therefore I submit, dear friends, that those of us who come around to possession of a female wardrobe by, shall we say, less than conventional means, are desperately handicapped in the style sweepstakes. As with many things in life, overcoming a handicap takes thought, patience and determination, trial and error, and above all, practice, practice and more practice.
I practiced like quite the possessed young thing this past year. The practice has paid off in what I have to say is the signature achievement of the year for me. I have become consciously competent at knowing what to wear.
Patience is the primary virtue now, and patience pays off at the sales counter. I was impatient once this year. I responded to a swoon impulse and came home with a tunic I love, but dammit, I paid full retail, I still feel poorly about that. The sting diminishes when I consider the following Top Five steals, staples and statements, my best shopping moments of the year.
Up Top: I have a couple of silk shirts for guy wardrobe, and I have to confess that I always feel just a little suspect when wearing them, as though I am engaged in something unmanly, engaged in something unsavory. I don’t have any hang ups about unmanly, but unsavory catches rather in my throat. Rather a shame really, because I quite like the feel of silk. Here the life of Petra is a real bonus. A silk blouse is cool, it glides, no preening, all polish. Mine, from Ann Taylor at a 78% discount from a $90.00 full retail tag down to $20.00. Well made, it will last years and not date. I already have it down to $6.67 / wear. Couldn’t help going back out the next day to grab the purple one.
Down Below: More purple. Purple is a color that feels the same way in my drab wardrobe as silk does. I have purple, I just don’t feel like I fully own it, it is a color that takes dominion over my personality, and so guy me shies away from it. Again, rather a shame, because it is a gorgeous color and suits my complexion well. And again, Petra to the rescue, loving the whole regal vibe that comes along the color of Queens. I extended my license to wear purple to my feet this year, finding in late spring in the clearance racks at Macy’s a terrific, classic closed toe pump with a 3 1/2” stiletto (just my style) marked down to $20.00 from $70 for a 71% win.
‘Round the Middle. It is tough to pick a single bloom from the crowded garden. I am ashamed to admit that I own 18 skirts and all but two of them delight me. As a garment class, my average skirt retails for $82.00, and was purchased for $19.00. I think in hindsight that my first move away from the severely tailored, classic pencil cut into a more contemporary, clingy, knit style skirt was a big step for me. This was the garment that convinced me that I could and should dress young. This revelation broadened my horizons considerably, So hats off to the I.N.C. grey and black bandage skirt, retail $79.00, discounted 72% to $23.00.
On the Legs. It took me until November of last year to finally get around to trousers. This seems, in an odd way, to be a slightly seditious form of cross Cross Dressing. In any event, I wrote about the whole happy ordeal here if you missed it first time around. Having a couple of pairs of smart strides broadens my potential range considerably. Clearly it is not possible to practically and convincingly inhabit la Monde Féminine in skirts and dresses alone. Finding a pair of classic, low waisted, 5 pocket style stretch denims on my first attempt was a huge win. Finding them at $15.00 down from an original sticker of $69.00 was practically a heart stopper.
On the Town. It is fitting that my last transaction of the old year should be the most triumphant one. The first (real) Little Black Dress. This is a real threshold purchase, right up there with first knickers, first breast forms, first wig, and other big firsts. The LBD is a totemic item, it is bequeathed with social significance. Light as a feather, yet possessed of a power to stop people in their tracks. This frothy number certainly stopped me in my tracks in late December at Ann Taylor. A strapless cascade of tulle ribbons to mid-thigh, a luxurious merengue of femininity, originally listed at $250.00. For reasons that passeth understanding a small clutch of these beauties survived a seemingly endless series of markdowns, all the way to a mere, laughable $30.00. I happened upon my LBD on a +40% off day, and so picked it up for pennies under a practically insulting $18.00. I won’t have much on when I wear this to a gala evening at SCC later this year, but the dress is bound to be the least costly part of the ensemble. I am still shocked, and delighted to have had such good fortune on such a seminal first find. O, it feels like a million bucks, and I must say, looks rather fetching too. On the model too.
I will close with this thought: Shopping is, for most people, in and of itself, a pretty shallow undertaking. I think though, that shopping has the potential to be something of value and meaning to, well, the likes of we if we apply a little care to it. Each of these Five top moments in wardrobe building were executed in drab, but called upon every ounce of feminine intuition and aesthetic potential that I am capable of finding. It is good to be able to touch those parts of the self, and cater to them, on demand, without all the overhead that goes into actually presenting as Petra. Not quite the real thing, but it goes a long way in between full immersions, yes?
I hope you have great luck in the shops this year. Would love to hear of your best wins too. Comments welcomed always.