I remember going to Lisa E.’s house when I was 16. Lisa’s mother, Mrs. E. was the epitome of chic and flair. Her hair was tied back in a ponytail, she wore matte black stockings with black ballerina shoes and a long black skirt. It was the quintessential “you had to be there” if you had never met anyone wearing black stockings. It was radical.
I didn’t know Lisa well and was quite surprised when she invited me to her house. We had very little in common (she dated football players) so the friendship fizzled rather quickly. Luckily I got to meet her mother who turned my style world upside down.
Though Mrs. E. lived in a neighborhood where women went to the beauty parlor once a week to get their hair washed, set, and lacquered with hairspray, Mrs. E. answered to a different muse. She washed her own hair. She wore black stockings. She was a style renegade.
This is how you develop a personal style — you ring a door bell, your senses are jolted, and you fall in love with the mind-boggling concept of looking like no one else.
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Last weekend I was at a party. It was a nice party. I didn’t know everyone but who cares? I’m (somewhat) interested in “really, I mean really hot yoga.”
Each time someone said good-bye I stood up and either shook their hand or kissed their cheek. I noticed no one did that. The guests merely smiled or waved or said those three dreadful words “I’ll call you.”
I stood up two more times to say good-bye and by then everyone did it too. It’s these old-fashioned gestures that are memorable and yes, stylish. Perhaps my new friends will do it automatically because it’s a lovely gesture of respect and panache.
Style isn’t limited to wearing chunky hiking boots with an evening dress.Although that is a cool look.
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A recent article in The Atlantic Magazine discusses a study about the connection between confidence and clothes. I like psychological studies that have to do with clothes.
I remember the first day of high school like it was yesterday (and that is so very sad). I know I did not look fabulous. Girls who looked fabulous were asked to join one of the “secret” sororities.
When I realized I wasn’t invited, I was hurt, sad, and furious with my mother. Why didn’t she know you needed a cool outfit for the first day of school? Whatever confidence I had (not very much, frankly), went poof. Out the window. Gone.
When you’re confident you perform better. You take risks. You enjoy being you. And most importantly, you are resilient to mean girls who sometimes grow up to be mean women.
Now you know why I like to shop.
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Ten years ago I hired a professional coach. I wanted to switch careers and thought it would be useful for someone to help me play “professional tennis” — my metaphor for being the best at what you do.
I got the name of a coach in Philadelphia. Despite the fact her office was two hours away, I hired her. (Always work with the best even if the commute is a bummer. Especially brilliant psychotherapists.)
I arrived at her office and knocked. A very quiet knock. A mouse would probably make a louder knock. The woman opened the door and after a little chitchat she got right to the point.
“Ellen,” she said. “You have a very timid knock. That is not the knock of a confident woman.”
If I got anything from that first meeting it was the observation I wasn’t ready to play Centre Court Wimbledon.
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I made the mistake of telling a friend I was on a “wait list” for a handbag. She was (rightfully) incredulous.
It wasn’t an expensive bag but it had enormous cachet. In case you live outside of New York City you may be unfamiliar with the concept of a “wait list.” A “wait list” means the store has sold out the initial order and has re-ordered another shipment but the product will never hit the shelf. Only the people on the list will be able to buy it.
My friend lives in a darling town in Massachusetts. People who live there do not know about “wait lists.” My friend doesn’t know about “wait lists.” But I get possessed when it comes to style. I love the pursuit even more than I love the acquisition. The excitement heightens when it’s currently not available.
If only I felt ashamed…
On the “wait list.”
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The beautiful wedding invitations sit invitingly on my kitchen counter. The hand calligraphy on the envelopes is stunning. Of course I will wear my most glamorous clothes and then spend the evening saying “what?” to my table mates due to the unbearably loud music.
But I digress because this is not about the music but rather how to leave the party.
Following the serving of the wedding cake, please do not seek out the host or hostess to thank them for the evening. The moment you get up to say au revoir you are telling your hosts the party is over. And should someone see you holding your evening bag as you edge closer to the hosts you could start a deluge of exiting guests.
It is far nicer to unobtrusively slip out and write a note the next day expressing your compliments.
The “naked” wedding cakes (sans frosting) are so fabulous. Don’t you agree?
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There are times when I must look authoritative.
This morning I was a little low-spirited. I went to my closet to find my most authoritative clothes. A satin flouncy skirt. An ethnic blouse. Black knee socks with black patent leather Mary Jane shoes. A strand of enormous wood beads. I transformed myself into my high-spirited and confident self.
Whatever conveys your inner strength — an elegant pant suit, stiletto heels, a bow tie — wear it. You will accomplish more. You will lift your own spirits. You will be unstoppable. That’s the power of style.
I know from what I write.
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My first job in public relations was to identify vivacious rich women. I think I’m an A++ conversationalist because I know a lot of useless information about socialites.
My responsibilities included escorting a socialite to a corporation to see if she could be passionate about their product. Meat tenderizer or hairspray, for example. We convinced Martha Stewart to shill for Perrier Water. Martha Stewart showed up for the interview wearing pearls the size of robin’s eggs. (See what I mean about useless information?) The job was a blast.
Though I never got to meet socialite Anne Slater I became obsessed with her cobalt-blue tinted cat’s-eye glasses. They were her signature. She never stopped wearing them — day and night. She never changed her hairstyle. When you saw a photo you knew it was Anne Slater. (And she never seemed to get old.)
When you find something that makes you feel fabulous wear it a lot. My signature style is simple white shirts, colorful eyeglasses (I’m crushed those cobalt-blue frames were discontinued), and an armful of Bakelite bracelets.
It’s not boring to stick with something that works. It’s liberating.
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It doesn’t matter where you live — city or suburb — you will always spot “status quo style.”
Dressing a la “status quo” means you don’t want to offend. It’s safe, it’s of “good taste” (unless we can see your navel), and a coded message you’re a member of a specific community.
“Status quo” doesn’t work if you want to stretch and experiment with the way you present yourself. Do not reach for the predictable if you’re yearning to express your individuality. If you’re 50 plus, status quo will rarely give you the thrill of feeling powerful and gorgeous at a time when you may feel your time has come and gone.
Because your time hasn’t come and gone. It’s always your time. Always.
(I so adore overalls that I bought them — in polka dot — from Utility Canvas. Decidedly not status quo but major fabulous.)
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Isaac Mizrahi is a fashion and costume designer, TV presenter, actor, and currently the subject of an exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York City. He’s totally out there in the best sense of the word — smart, witty, and supremely confident.
I met him at a trunk show 20 years ago. I remember the day because it was a snowstorm and I wore big, clumsy boots. On my way into Bergdorf Goodman, two women stepped out of a limousine wearing sling-back pumps. It was one of those moments when you realize you’d like a limousine.
Isaac and I had a little chat on a couple of subjects I would like to share:
#1. Feel free about separating a suit. Wear the skirt with a sweater. Wear the pants with a shirt. Just make sure to dry clean them together.
#2. There are many shades of black and they don’t have to match.
#3. If you think “I could never wear that” you should try it on.
#4. Pink shoes mean you have plenty of black shoes in your closet.
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