As I was trying on outfits the other day – for God knows what reason, I have nowhere on earth to go – a sweet memory surfaced – also from God knows where.
I attended a parochial grammar school, where I wore the typical Catholic school uniform. Navy jumper, white blouse, little navy bowtie. Oh so cute, but so boring.
I was ecstatic to enter high school so I could dress in real clothes. I had what I thought was an unparalleled sense of style. I knew I didn’t want The Patty Duke Show kind of boring. Or the Beverly Hillbillies’ “keep my pants held up with a piece of twine.” And that was pretty much the limit of this unparalleled style.
I had a sparse wardrobe, except for white blouses, of course. I also had a sparse budget. I had a couple of hand-me-downs from my sisters, but I was skinny, and although they were slim, they were not as slim as my skinny. Everything hung poorly on me. I was given some beautiful things from a family friend, who was gorgeous, skinny, and rich. But they were a little too grown-up for a 14-year-old. I didn’t really need tweed double-breasted blazers.
But I managed to get through my freshman year with two skirts, three sweaters, and all those white blouses.
My parents moved across town after that first year, and I switched to the rival high school. I wasn’t sad to leave the old school behind. I desperately wanted a new start. And a better wardrobe.
I had a little money saved up from babysitting, and I begged my Mom to take me shopping before the start of the new school year. She agreed to match my savings, which was fantastic. But there was a condition attached. She would reveal her terms at the store. And I had to agree beforehand. Doubling my money was worth the risk, given that my mother was quite stylish herself.
We went to a store that carried junior sizes. The clothes were stylish but not outlandish – of course, in 1966, ‘outlandish’ was pretty tame anyway. The store carried mostly A-line skirts and matching sweaters. That’s what most of the girls wore most of the time. The stylish girls just had better matching skirts and sweaters. Add a little Carnaby Street (think Beatlemania) and you can visualize the store.
My mother then gave me her condition:
Choose an outfit from a mannequin.
The whole outfit. Skirt, shirt, sweater, jewelry, even knee socks or tights, if the mannequin wore them.
Here was her rationale: I had one year of experience putting together an outfit. But this store was a chain department store – they had professional window-dressers. Real stylists.
“You can pick any display you like – so you still get to choose,” she said. “But you will also be certain that you are getting a terrific outfit. Experts chose it. And you are not an expert. So rely on someone who knows. Eventually you will develop your own sense of style, and you’ll be able to trust yourself.”
I chose a skirt in a heathered green wool, with a matching Fair Isle cardigan (you may not know what that is today, but they had a pattern along the yoke, and a pale yellow button-down shirt. And a charm bracelet.
I wore that outfit once a week for three years.
And used that shopping method for many more years than that.
There’s a point to this story that is more than fashion sense.
You are not an expert in everything.
And you do not have to be.
You are not a sheep if you listen to experts.
It can be a pretty smart move.