I have been known to copy. I mean, I wouldn’t call myself a cheater – I still feel guilty about forging my practice logs for my weekly oboe lessons back in 5th grade. I would write “0 minutes” in pencil for most of the 5 required days, get my mom to sign it at the end of the week, and then squeeze some number 3s in front of the 0s before handing it in to the teacher. 30 minutes of oboe. I would then have to erase the previous week’s 3s afterward so my mom wouldn’t catch on. Of course, she could see the smudge marks and knew exactly what was going on… but she was also smart enough to wait and let me fess up.
The fact that I’m still thinking about that should let you know that I have too much of a conscience for real cheating. But copying, when done in the right spirit, can be a really important part of defining your own style. Learning to observe. Watching others. Identifying something you admire in someone else and trying to translate it to your own way of dressing is a skill… and something that can be just as creative as coming up with something entirely new. Cheating is lifting something without adding anything of your own. It doesn’t feel like the compliment that it should be. Little by little we learn to make ourselves into ourselves. Let’s call it riffing, not copying. I do it all the time. Social media makes it easier than it has ever been, but magazine tear sheets were my first serious attempt at the work of sorting my own style out.
I still have dozens of bursting file folders labeled with Sharpie in younger-looking penmanship: “FAVORITES.” Pages torn from magazines for inspiration, interiors, stylish-looking women, recipes. Pinterest in analog form. There was absolutely no organization. I rifle through nearly every single one over and over again to find what I am looking for. Yes, I still use them. I am sure there is something I could do to digitize them but in a way that would take some of the magic out of them for me. Taking a day to SORT them would not be a bad idea, but I know it won’t happen. The disorganization and physicality of them is part of the experience. (Or maybe that is just a lie I tell myself to keep putting it off.) All those dog-eared corners make them feel like old friends I never tire of.
But here is a look that I am really feeling lately that is SO easy to copy: silk blouse + stretchy pencil skirt + heel.
This combination appears on quite a few tear sheets in my folders… some have even made it to the big mess of a mood board behind my desk. The queen of this look is Carine Roitfeld, who reigned as the Editor-in-Chief of French Vogue for a decade. (The New York Times just ran a piece on what she’s been up to lately.) Sexy, men’s-style shirt unbuttoned just so… tight pencil skirt just below the knee… and a heeled pump or sandal. Perfect every time. Her “I just threw this together” attitude speaks to me: simple, elegant, ladylike but edgy. You can achieve this even without the smudged eyeliner and French accent. (Trust me , there is no way you are going to re-create her unbelievable eyebrows... they are one of a kind.) Of those three, the silk blouse is the piece I am really craving right now. The sense of ‘grown-up-ness,’ ‘I have it all togetherness,’ and ladylike style of it is much needed. I have lots going on right now and this small symbol of steadiness is helpful. My life is chaotic, my clothes are not. Our latest version this season is called Hannah. We have done a classic button-up silhouette and a tie-neck silhouette in this luxurious, heavy silk crepe de chine for years and years. The patch-pocket version is something I have wanted for a long time. It is so chic. It reminds me of those old Equipment blouses that the editors would wear in the 80s. Coincidentally Equipment was originally owned by Carine Roitfeld’s husband, Christian Restoin. (it made a brief reentry into the market a dozen years or so ago and I sold it at my first tiny shop next to Sid’s. I loved the history of it! ) Maybe that is why she wears that look so well, or maybe it is a bit of a chicken-or-egg thing. In my twenties I would borrow Sid’s Brooks Brothers shirts and stuff them into cheap Lycra pencil skirts from Isaia. (The upgrade now is this ponte one that is SO easy to wear.) This was truly my work uniform 3 days a week, paired with Belgian shoes or ballet flats. These days, I have matured into the heels .
Is that enough of a tutorial? 3 easy pieces. There really isn’t any more to it. Luxe silk (or any one of our cotton menswear-style shirts,) stretchy skirt (you can scrunch the knit up and kind of pick your length) and a sexy heel. (You probably have your go-to already.) There you have it. I am a copycat. You can be one too. You need this look, I promise.