How to Dress: Being a Beauty or Having Fun?

I recently listened to an interview with author Patricia Volk, who wrote a book comparing her mother, a stunning beauty, with Elsa Schiaparella, the famous fashion designer who was Coco Chanel’s biggest rival.

I love thinking about what makes someone beautiful. Is it symmetrical features? That elusive hip-to-waist-to-bust ratio that both Kate Moss and Marilyn Monroe had? Or is it something else? An unconventional look, like Anouk Aimee? Exquisite bone structure, like Kerry Washington? Crazy awesome cheekbones like Lucy Liu? Being thin? I find as I get older that thinness, sadly, has become more important than any other factor when someone judges attractiveness. More so than someone’s face. YMMV. I live in a body-obsessed area. I HATE it.

The Beautiful Kerry Washington

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Volk’s mother’s currency was her looks: they were icy, unapproachable, like a statue. Her looks were so important to her that she got a facelift when she was 40. People routinely proclaimed her the world’s most beautiful woman. Heads turned wherever she went. Can you even imagine if that was your mother?! Volk looked instead to the woman who created her mother’s favorite perfume to create her own standard of beauty. Elsa Schiaparella was not a classic beauty by any of the standards I listed above. (Although she was thin.) She decided to use fashion as theater, and not as a way to enhance what you have. Outrageous clothes, like her famous lobster ballgown, became her signature. Fashion should be fun, and above all, artistic. Schiaparella often collaborated with giants in the art world, like Salvador Dali.

lobster

Beauty fades. We all know that. Women who are beautiful and don’t have anything else to back that up: well, that’s not a good place to be as you age.


The Way I Was

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Can I say some stuff that may sound stuck-up? It won’t later, I promise. I felt a pang of recognition in Volk’s description of her mother. No one ever proclaimed me the most beautiful woman ever, but I used to have icy, off-putting looks. I didn’t have the girl-next-door appeal of a Mila Kunis or a Katie Holmes. The looks were acknowledged, and some heads turned. But I was judged before I ever opened my mouth, and many people years later told me that I *looked* like a bitch, so they thought I was one. Now, I think I look much more approachable. People smile more at me. They treat me more like they did my mother when I was young. No one ever thought my mom was anything but a nice person: she has a very open face.

I think about trying to decrease my daughter’s dependence on her looks. I think she’s stunning in an unusual way. She’s very interested in fashion, but it seems her interest veers more in the direction of Elsa Schiaparella. She’s not interested in creating clothes that look like anything she’s seen before. She’ll only wear “new” looks. She has her own style. I’d call it Boho Romantic, although she would probably not like that. Her favorite book is “Classic French Fashions of the Twenties.” She falls asleep clutching it in her arms.

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Lately, I’ve felt the influence of my daughter more with my clothes. I’ve sought out more unique items of clothing, that are more whimsical or humorous. I enjoy wearing clothes that are FUN. Not necessarily beautiful, but fun.

60s Inspired Print Dress, Brooklyn Industries

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Landscape Printed Dress, Anthropologie

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Gatsby Dress, Vintage

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Interestingly, the Met Ball’s theme this year was the influence of punk on fashion. Some of the looks were out there, and I really enjoyed looking at the photos. This was my favorite look. Why? January Jones is an icy classic beauty but she looks weird and different here. She looks…free.

Jones

Do you think of fashion as being something that would enhance what you have or do you prefer to have fun and use fashion to celebrate your personal style?

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8 Comments

Filed under personal style

8 responses to “How to Dress: Being a Beauty or Having Fun?

  1. Fantastic post! Very thoughtful and insightful 🙂 I love fashion so much. But sometimes I have to remind myself that, for me at least, it’s a way of expressing my creativity, and I shouldn’t take it so seriously. So I would say, I think fashion as the latter…a fun way to celebrate my personal style.

  2. It’s so interesting you say that people thought you looked like a bitch. Many people have told me over the years that they thought I was a bitch when they first meant me but it wasn’t my looks but more my distracted attitude. I came off as being aloof and not caring when really I was just socially overwhelmed and incredibly distracted. Interesting.

    I think I’m kind of lucky (now at least) that I was heavier when I was younger. I feel I look generally better now, though the circles under my eyes keep getting darker and my melasma has ravaged my complection, which used to be near perfect (after the Accutane, of course). But I do think I look better now than I did in my early 20s. Who knows what my late 30s will bring. 😉

    Yay for “Clas­sic French Fash­ions of the Twenties”! I’m glad it’s still a favorite!

  3. Oh, and I meant to ask, what do you think changed about your face that made it more approachable? Do you think it’s just something about the way you look or is it more complicated than that?

    • I’m not sure! I’ve gained 10 pounds since my wedding, and maybe it has made my face less angular, more full? My hair is less blonde (or was, I just got highlights!)? Unsure…

  4. Ana

    I’ll be honest—your recent pics don’t look different from your “the way I was” pic. You are still classically gorgeous, and all those fun styles look amazing on you (I LOVE the 60s print dress!). So cool that you can share your passion for style with your daughter!
    I second Esparanza’s question—what do you think is different about your face—something physical, or just a change in the energy you project given all you’ve been through? People have often told me I looked/seemed rude—I’m just shy & awkward, in reality!

  5. I come off as aloof also though certainly not due to my features! Do you think that having the twins softened perceptions of you? I think that I appear less rigid and more flexible now.

    I think of fashion as mostly a tool to accentuate the positive, but I do like to have fun with socks, purses and the occasional shirt or skirt.

  6. I can remember walking into my dorm room just before classes were starting in my first year at university, & meeting my roommate for the first time. At first glance, I thought, “Oh dear, what am I in for?” because she was this cool, petite, willowy blonde who was sitting in her chair & painting her nails. And then she told me she was from Ontario & I was sure I’d wound up with this Eastern Ice Princess. I couldn’t have been more wrong. She actually had/has a very bawdy sense of humour, & while we did have our differences, we worked through them and had a really good time together that year. You simplyl can’t judge a book by its cover.

  7. I loooove the Gatsby dress. You look amazing in it!

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