Armchair Fashionista

The book I’m writing–and with any luck, will finish in the next few weeks–is about fashion. If you saw me, that would probably surprise you. I have a small, mostly nondescript wardrobe. I rarely go shopping. I wear the same pair of shoes almost every day. Every once in a while I’ll shake things up with a metallic top that makes me look like a flapper, or my floor-length MaxMara coat, but on an everyday basis, I look like someone who doesn’t give a toss about clothes.

Yet I used to worship VOGUE. In the nineties, when I was a teenager, I knew what was going on at all the major fashion houses. I loved Prada’s deliberately ugly shoes, Louis Vuitton’s padded raincoats. I followed the careers of the top high-fashion models of the time: Shalom Harlow, Amber Valletta, Stella Tennant, and Kirsty Hume. I plastered my room with ads from Calvin Klein and Versace.

Some people are armchair travelers. I was an armchair fashionista.

At the time, there were a lot of things that prevented me from wearing the clothes I saw. I didn’t have a lot of money. I lived in small towns that didn’t have branches of the stores those magazine clothes came from, or even trendy knockoff stores. There were school dress codes, parental rules, and my own body (short, short legs, not skinny) to contend with. But wearing the clothes wasn’t really the point.

What I loved were the stories. Every runway collection, every fashion editorial, every ad was a story. A model could be a story, too: the character she took on in a particular photo shoot, the overall character she took on throughout her career. A particularly beautiful shot of, say, John Galliano’s latest collection for Christian Dior could conjure up an entire world, satisfying as any novel.

And, of course, the clothes were beautiful, too. They introduced me to new worlds of color and shape and texture. Or, because it was the nineties, they taught me that beauty didn’t always have to be beautiful: sometimes it could be frumpy, or stark, or even deliberately frightening.

Part of me still wants to have a fabulous wardrobe someday. Someday, I’ll spend entire weekends combing thrift stores for gorgeous bargains. Someday, I’ll dress like a punk one week, like a Victorian doll the next.

But there are many parts of fashion I know I’ll always admire only from a distance: high heels, tiny skirts, pixie haircuts. Those things just aren’t my style. Even if I someday expand my horizons to include other pairs of shoes and donning more than one piece of jewelry at a time, wearing high fashion isn’t really my style, either. What I love about fashion is the fantasy. For some people, that fantasy becomes a creative, fabulous part of reality. But for me, it’s a place I’d rather visit in magazines–or in books.

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