One of the worst pictures I have ever taken was my senior portrait in high school. Or more accurately, the picture that I look at and ask, “is that really me?” It makes me feel a little better that Sid’s senior portrait is just as bad. When we would go visit his parents at the house where he grew up in Mississippi, the girls were totally bewildered by the framed picture at the end of the hall. “Who is that?” He is wearing a tuxedo with a fat velvet bow tie, which accentuates his angular face and strange hair (he claims that it was a perm in the growing-out phase… which totally tracks. Of course Sid had a perm.) He looks handsome, I guess, but completely unfamiliar.
I, on the other hand, look exactly like myself. Just not my best self. In it, my haircut is just as dated as Sid’s, with a regrettable Dorothy Hamill wedge cut. Round haircut, round face. I looked like a teenage Hummel figurine. There is lots to hate in the photo — the haircut, the insecurity — but I cannot blame what I’m wearing. The V-neck black drape. This was the thing for senior portraits. It still is, I think. My own daughters have reminded me that their portraits were styled in the exact same way (not that we did anything with them; I have famously never purchased a school photo in all the years that my girls were enrolled. I just tacked the watermarked sample photo on my bulletin board and called it a day.) You’d walk into the studio and get a drape. Black, often velvet, with a shallow V neckline. The universal flatterer. When I decided to write about the black Cydney sweater, this is where my mind went immediately. How did I not own this one yet? Cydney takes up a lot of space in my sweater drawer as we have been making it since 2018, and I first wrote about it in October of that year.
I have recently gotten back on my pre-pandemic travel schedule — Paris, Dallas, DC, Houston, NY, all in the last two months — and have packed a few of these sweaters every time. The navy crew, the grey V, the punchy yellow one from a few seasons ago. I wear them with long skinny Hermes scarves, short silk squares knotted at the neck, a beaded leather choker, or lately just a bare neck and big sparkly earrings. Yesterday, I even brought out the exact same matching pearl set of necklace and earrings that I wore in that embarrassing senior portrait. Retro! In each iteration I feel different, even in the same sweater.
I hate to pack as much as anyone, and the less time I have to spend on it, the better. This is my latest uniform and even as I am calling it that, it actually feels special in its uniformity . A ‘go-to’ that doesn’t feel boring – or at least it probably won’t until March, when everyone is sick of sweaters. All of the Cydneys are perfect for styling – a blank canvas for making things look different. Pink, grey, brown. Lovat green. Sky blue. They will all do the trick…but the black one. That one I am really feeling right now. Run a Google Image search for Grace Kelly and you will see dozens of pictures of her with a black V-neck, either a sweater or a full-on gown. (Does she have a yearbook photo, too?)
The point is this: it is easy. It is elegant. It is flattering. It is a backdrop for you. The ‘you’ you are at the time, anyway. The slightly chubby high school senior or the engaged young professional. I had my engagement portrait taken in a simple crewneck sweater with pearls. I could have cared less about even having an engagement portrait, but Grace — my friend and coworker at Glamour who had grown up on the Main Line in Philadelphia and was wonderfully kooky and cool and big on tradition — jumped in to make sure that my slapdash, planned-in-four-months wedding had all the proper things checked off the list. “This is what you do, Ann. We will have your portrait done, and let's walk over to Michael C. Fina to pick out a silver pattern. No one from Mississippi is going to buy you anything from Barney’s.” She came with me to the studio and adjusted my pearls (the perks of working at a magazine — we just took the photo at the end of a fashion shoot.) At the last minute, against her advice, I threw on a jacket over the simple sweater she had suggested… and I have to say, it kind of ruined the photo. The 80s shoulder pads date me just as much as the Dorothy Hamill haircut did back in high school. Grace was right about the gift registry – no one did go to Barney’s – and she was right about the outfit. I should have just stuck with the simple cashmere sweater. Timeless and perfect. You need it, I promise.