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
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.
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
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.
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
Landscape Printed Dress, Anthropologie
Gatsby Dress, Vintage
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.
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?