We are leaving for midnight mass in fifteen minutes, and I look like an utter idiot. Standing in front of the mirror in my childhood bedroom, I try to summon the enthusiasm I'd had fifteen minutes prior for what I was sure was the perfect ensemble for my delightfully WASPy old church -- conservative black silk dress, stacked patent heels and an old chiffon scarf of my mother's. As I stare my reflection, dress and heels are clearly on without incident, but the scarf is causing problems.
What had made me think I knew how to tie a scarf anyway? Lacking scarves of my own, I've never bothered to learn, but have admired the scarf and boater shirt look as much as the next francophile, and never imagined the prim yet louche knot at the neck exceedingly difficult to replicate -- somewhere, perhaps, in between tying shoelaces and tying actual sailing knots.
This is not the case, I learn, as I weave ends madly around each other. Having adopted the mantle of "fashion person" in a familial tribe of academics, I cannot very well go out and ask my mother how to tie a scarf, and my father, currently reading a massive library book on German foreign policy in the living room, clearly has no clue. As the clock counts down toward the departure hour, the scarf takes on a conflated importance in my mind. They won't know why, exactly, but I convince myself that I will make my parents see there isn't such a huge chasm between Harvard and fashion if I can just tie this bloody scarf.
Ten minutes to go. Things at my neck are going terribly. I clack away at my keyboard, googling "hermes scarf tie cannot" and several other nonsensical combinations, only to discover that the wireless has taken this exact moment to take a little silent night of its own. I try to knot the scarf in a prim, posh double knot midway down the front of my dress. I look like a girl who has no clue how to tie a silk scarf, trying to tie a silk scarf. Weird.
I hearken back to to my last encounter with non-jeweled neck ornamentation. Last spring, my friend Kwelina and I wandered into the austere, run down vaudeville of the Bastille to find a thrift store our solitary guide book promised would have scads of hundred euro Dior and Courreges for our consumption - Come on Eileen. After an agonizing hour in Come on Eileen, in which the scowling proprietress both point blank refused to sell me a tan Kelly bag that most explicitly was for sale, and snatched my hand away from a stack of old Paris Vogues, Kwelina emerged triumphant, with a mint condition Hermes Les Cles scarf, and knotted it expertly around her neck as an afterthought as the door clicked behind us on the way out.
I try to summon the spirit with seven minutes remaining. Let's see, I would be walking down Blvd. St. Germain, having just ingested my body weight in black coffee and ouefs at Deux Magots, and if I felt like it, I would insolently knot a scarf over my dress just like-- I scramble my fingers around in a blur to the left of my neck, and toss the resultant tail in what I hope is a rakish swoon over my left shoulder.
I look in the mirror, and almost gag. Somehow, all of this is looking exactly like what it actually is, instead of hitting that sweet sartorial spot that is stripes and florals and fur that shouldn't go together but do, or the red lip you smudge with the back of your hand haphazardly that comes out better than the red lip expertly applied.
"Never again," I said to myself, as I did the best I could with a generic double knot dead center that made me look like a wannabe-Parisian clerical worker circa 1983. "Never again." And if there is ever a time for resolutions, for swearing up and down that something will be "the last" the end of the year is certainly it. So in the spirit of timeliness, and also of "never again," some wardrobe-related resolutions from a very liberally, less practically, educated twenty-something "fashion person."
1. I will obviously learn how to tie a silk scarf.
2. Despite having heard everyone from Michael Kors to Tom Ford espouse the importance of tailoring, I have yet to truly acquaint myself with a tailor. The mounds of garments, brusqueness of the seemingly joint laundress/drycleaner/tailor at the window front stores in my neighborhood, and my dubiousness that such professions can coexist with any degree of quality in the quantity they appear have made me hesitant. However, if I can wear a stamp of a fringed miniskirt with riding boots and a man's sweater in broad daylight, I am probably brave enough to face a tailor.
3. The sales associates at the Ralph Lauren men's boutique on Madison Avenue sure do understand the importance of fine tailoring, and seemingly many other things I remain uninitiated in. A pre-holiday shopping trip with one of my closest male friends found me reduced to a cheerleader on the cashmere covered bench outside the dressing room while a saleswoman delved deep into the intricacies of cuff length and flat front, while I offered sad little "ooo!"s and "that looks good!"s from my perch. For while I can tell you that I like driving mocs and khakis on men, I become about as informed as a woman with a Coach purse when confronted with the difference between something as rudimentary as double breasted and single breasted suits, or the difference between French cuff links, and other kinds of cuff links. I've demoted myself to silent observer on my next trip, and resolve to get a clue this year.
4. After having lost my beloved signet ring somewhere during senior week (resolution 4.5 -- be more careful with prized possessions) my mother was good enough to replace my ring with a new one this Christmas. As I gleefully slid it on the ring finger of my left hand in front of the tree, my family let out a collective laugh. "Is that your engagement ring?" my brother asked. "People usually save that finger," my mother gently slid the ring off, and put it on my pinky. Irrational rage, again. Don't they know I can give them a presentation on Alber Elbaz right now that will move them to tears? In 2010, I will learn basic sartorial traditions and signifiers.
5. I will buy more vintage. I found an extraordinary thrift store near the Met the other day, and scooped up a very Jackie-in-India pink silk floor length dress with beading, as well as an incredible sequined skirt suit that I'm so excited to wear -- top with jeans and skirt with t-shirt -- that I've begun to question the health of my own devotion to my clothes. More, more, more.
Moving to New York this past year has taught me many things, chiefly, that there are a great number of things which I am blithely unaware of how to do. Curtains, for example, will not work with any old curtain rod, nor can you maybe hammer screws into a wall with a bottle of Fiji water in a pinch. No matter how simple it looks at Gagosian to mat and frame photographs, a DIYer like me will find herself, three hours after she has begun, on the floor trying to avoid the Exacto knife somewhere underneath a pile of matted shavings, sincerely contemplating a paper cutter for the apartment.
Style, perhaps, holds true to the same tenets. Better to have the spirit of a sartorial original than textbook scarf tying knowledge, but what good the sentiment without the wherewithal for execution? Blind faith that joie de vivre and an extensive knowledge of Talitha Getty's old looks from Ibiza is perhaps not enough to compensate for lack of hard facts in the fashion world, and it is to this that I dedicate my next, and perhaps least fun, fashion year.
Kate Moss once said, "To look cool, you have to be cool." If Ms. Moss means that some things simply cannot be faked, I'll stake an afternoon spent with an Hermes e-tutorial on a lifetime of knotted elan, and rest content that I earned every silky, Frenchy bit of it.
We’re basically your best friend… with better taste. Learn more