Losing My Charlotte

January 17, 2011 § Leave a comment


Some years ago, before iPhones or Facebook, but during the apex of “Sex and the City”, a colleague of mine mentioned in passing that the character Charlotte’s clothes reminded her of my own. I was a little put off: was she saying that I dressed like an Upper East Side Priss? An adorable one, but still — me??  A Vogue subscriber from the tender age of twelve!?!

She tried to explain that this wasn’t what she meant, but whatever. We never discussed it (or much else) again. Yet now that I think about it, maybe she had a point: I did love an A-line skirt with a pair of kitten heels, which always seemed to magically match whatever handbag I was carrying.

A quick run though my closet today reveals that almost nothing from those days is still in residence, except for a Burberry trench (which I still wear) and my first pair of rather “Charlotte” Manolos (saved for posterity). This brings me to the actual point of this post.

I am fairly certain that every five years or so, one goes through — or at least should go through — a little style evolution that is in part about what’s current, but is mostly about one’s state of mind. Which, I might add, has nothing to do with that horrible concept of what is “age appropriate”. It is just about “you”, now.

Before you dismiss this as obvious, let me say that I am confident that the awareness of this concept  keeps us from hitting that “This Will Work” look. Which is, let’s face it, terribly aging and makes you a prime candidate for The Blahs.  And now I offer this little tidbit as a case-in-point:

There was a time when I was really into sweater sets.

Anyone who knows me now may find this laughable, but it is true. I was in my early twenties and also in my “I am going to marry some kind of Finance Guy and move to Rye or Greenwich” phase. This was exacerbated by my working in very conservative environments, where everyone was pretty much living somewhere on the Metro North line and was or was married to a Finance Guy. Monday through Friday,  it was all silk scarves, button earrings and Jones New York suits. Weekends and holidays: sweater sets galore.

The Vogue-reader in me was expressed though shoes and the pioneering of pant suits at my office. Oh, and sometimes I skipped hosiery. Yes, I was a renegade. In a “Charlotte” kind of way. Still, I was just in my twenties and dressing for the part in life that I thought I was headed for.

A few years and one terrible breakup later, things changed. I now worked at a place where everyone around me dressed as they pleased. Unshackled, except for my budget, I pretty much followed my bliss. By my late twenties, Kate Spade was the kudzu of my closet, and my shoe-to-bag matching skills neared Ninja level. Still, turtlenecks pervaded the wardrobe for reasons I still don’t fully understand. Perhaps somewhere deep down I felt like the Finance Guy/Rye thing still could have happened. Or maybe I was just cold. No matter: it was “me”, then.

At thirty, I married a very non-Finance Guy — the one and only Mr. H. — and we stayed in New York. (OK, in a terribly smug, very much mocked part of Brooklyn, but still, so not the Metro North scene.) It was around that time that the “Charlotte” comment was leveled at me. No immediate wardrobe changes were apparent. My A-line skirts and dainty heels were in full force. They seemed fun and pretty and that was what seemed right for a newly married girl in New York.

Shortly thereafter, though, I decided to work full-time with Mr. H, leaving what I knew and was trained to do for something decidedly off the expected path. Risky and surprising, but I was doing it. And like a Sartorial Angel from the Heavens, the voice of Andre Leon Tally went off in my head said “Honey, all bets are off”.

It started slowly, but but the time I hit 35, I had developed a taste for all things Japanese and Flemish, the sky-high heel, and whatever Mr. Elbaz had draped into existence (provided that I could make it wearable for day). And once I realized that there is rarely a definitive front or back to anything but the pants and coats on offer, I’ve been in a very close and merry relationship with Marni. True, almost nothing that I wear these days “matches”, but I never feel mismatched. Maybe some of you think that I am, though. It’s ok. I feel like me.

One could say this change stems from the freedom of working for myself in a creative environment. No doubt that is a part of it.  But I think the bigger part is this: Nothing in my life so far has turned out as I had imagined it. (Sound familiar? It didn’t even work for Charlotte, come to think of it.) And while it is kind of surprising, it is also kind of freeing. And the freedom in the clothing just kind of followed.

So how on earth is all this navel gazing relevant to you? Well, I guess this:  Every once in a while,  take stock of your closet and who you are today. Toss as needed and be unafraid of trying new things. Even if you are totally swamped, or feel like “now isn’t the time”.  If you like something, it probably likes you, too. (This is not to be confused with a specific garment looking good on you…I am talking about a total vibe.) And it is ok for it to be over between you and some garment that you spent a lot of money on and loved for so long. Say your “farewells” and pass it along to someone who will hopefully love it as much as you did.

And in the interest of full disclosure and to show that I can still be a soft on the Toss Mandate, the last piece of “Charlotte” that I added to my closet was an apple-green, silk crepe blouse from Chloe. It is more than five years old and certainly has some wear, but its lovely scalloped collar and pin-tucked short sleeves make it impossible for me to let it go. I am sure it will still make appearances from time to time, but these days, it mostly exists in my closet to be pretty and to remind me that everything changes, nothing is a given and anything is possible. And I think that is ok, too.


(Photo by Some Cozy Night.)

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