No matter the weather, no matter the season, no matter the occasion… there is nothing like a Novelty Top for an instant pick-me-up. I didn't realize that the NT wasn't a universal concept until I found myself explaining it to a group of girlfriends on the first of what would be several weekends away. (Girls Weekend… another 21st-century-America concept that merits capitalization!)
I was late to the game on the Girls Weekend. Though I made friends with other moms at all the parks and preschools over the years, I usually felt a bit like the outsider because we were always new in town. New to suburban Connecticut, then new to sunny California, new to wherever Sid's job took us. But I knew that the Girls Weekend was a thing that women of a certain age (and a certain economic status) were doing. Or at least they were in all the places we lived. They'd get their kids taken care of for a weekend and go away with girlfriends to someone's beach house, or a ski resort, or some spa I only knew to be somewhere vaguely in the Southwest. You can already tell I wasn't going on these weekends! I was at home leaning into the domestic era of my life… really and truly soaking it up. Most of the time, I relished my outsider status – in retrospect maybe it was a safe way of avoiding the hurt of not being included, or the fact that I couldn't actually AFFORD to participate in any of those getaways even if I had been invited. And I liked being at home with my own girls.
But my time would come. Years later, after we had been in Atlanta for a few years, I agreed to go on a friend's 50th birthday weekend. It was a friend of a friend, if I'm honest, and in fact I tried to cancel at the last minute due to cold feet. But then it became too late to flake out, and I found myself boarding a plane to East Hampton with six other women. As it turns out – I had no idea what fun I had been missing! It was especially nice for me, who got to hang a bit on the outskirts as the newest friend, and watch and listen just as much as I participated. During one of the exceedingly leisurely mornings hanging out with cup after cup after cup of coffee, I ended up explaining my background and my shop to some of the women I didn't know as well. "What do I sell? Hmm… A lot of jeans, St. James tees, K.Jacques sandals, cute underwear, Mason Pearson brushes… cool, practical basics from the viewpoint of a fashion editor, although I sell a TON of novelty tops." Blank stares. I went on. "You know… like 'jeans and a top' tops… like with a floral print or a fun color or something statement-y… those shirts you wear out on a date or to a party or something…?" Bingo. They got it immediately.
I guess a Novelty Top is the equivalent of all the little t-shirts and sweaters we wore in high school to a football game, or even one of the bulky Fairisle sweaters we paired with jeans in college to drink 3.2 beer at fraternity houses. Novelty on top. The concept transcends era and age group – I was visiting my youngest daughter at college last weekend and witnessed the "getting ready" ritual of 2020. Trying something on (a Novelty Top, of course)… running next door to get an opinion… taking a picture of herself and texting to a different friend for a second opinion… changing again… borrowing another option from a third friend… negotiating whose Novelty Tops were too similar or best for whatever minor event was on the agenda… wow. It looked like fun. The preening and posing might take place on more digital platforms than I remember, but it is a timeless GIRL ritual that is deeply familiar (and heavenly!) to me. When the group of women on that 50th birthday weekend descended the stairs before going "out" for the evening, it was the same. Mutual adoration and doling out compliments to each other. Again – what took me so long?
As much as I tout simplicity and my own uniform of classic, well-fitting, trendless pieces in my own closet… the WOW piece is fun. Something novel – that goes with a pair of basic jeans – is so satisfying, and instantly gratifying. If the basics I love and wear so often are bread with butter, or maybe a green salad, the Novelty Top is the frosting on the top of a plain cupcake. You can go for straight-up chocolate, or cream cheese, or you can add sprinkles… a flower… initials… or some other creative Martha-Stewart-worthy thing. A Novelty Top just makes it fun. It delivers when you buy it (because it's usually something you fall in love with on the spot.) It delivers when you grab it in your closet (because it is usually such a statement piece that you pair it with something basic like plain jeans or pants… impossible to mess up!) And it delivers when you wear it (because trust me… someone will comment on it.) And now more than ever is the time, because fashion-wise we are having a moment of Novelty Tops, in wild prints with special details, and even novelty dresses (even better… a one-and-done piece.)
This season, we have leaned into this and run our classic Icon Blouse in a bunch of fantastical printed silks from Liberty and Ratti. I just love that zing on the top. I have big plans to wear one with wide-legged jeans and chunky espadrilles or sandals. There is an amazing lemon print that reminds me of Capri, and a punchy pink and navy that leans very 70s which I adore. (Kind of reminds me of what guys wore in junior high, though theirs were made of Qiana… totally synonymous with the era.) I also think this bunny print would be incredible for Easter if you don't mind being a little on the nose. For a machine-washable Novelty Top, there is also a peasant-style blouse in a smaller-scale Liberty cotton that is so special and sweet. I never ever tire of this style. Again, it's a grown-up version of dressing up on Friday night… only now it's more like a low-key dinner at our favorite taco joint and not the big football game.
And the Layla Dress is totally amazing and easy. I have seen dozens and dozens of wedding weekends documented on Instagram, with beautiful girls in floral dresses mugging in the happiness of someone else's fun nuptials and an excuse to dress up. This dress is perfect for that – hip enough if you are in your 20s, but refined enough for mother of the bride! I like the idea of dressing it down a bit with flat sandals for daytime, too. Another great source for this kind of novelty is La DoubleJ. It's a line from this funny, charming American magazine editor who married an Italian guy and moved to Milan, where she ran a cool little website that sold vintage pieces. She eventually teamed up with Mantero (an old silk mill on Lake Como that we have used for our Sid ties forever) and created a line of new dresses using vintage prints pulled from the archive. Fun, retro pieces that struck just the right chord at just the right time. It is zany and wonderful and we love having the line in our stores… so much LIFE! Talk about novelty.
The downside of a print or a Novelty Top is that you can get sick of them easily. If you wore a particularly wild piece all spring and summer, you may need the fall and winter to give it a break before pulling it out the following year. On the other hand, when you do grab it again, it is a real memory-maker. I have one graphic dress that I wear over and over again to parties and dinners and whenever I am feeling festive. When my friends see me in it, they KNOW they are going to have a great time. Happy prints for happy times… you need a little novelty, I promise.