My three eras of buying clothes

As I ease into semi-retirement, I'm reflecting on the three eras of my clothes-buying.

Era 1
When I was in my mid-20's through 30s, working in the financial district, I'd drop $600 on an Armani silk blouse, and who knows what on a suit. I liked Japanese designers, Maud Frizon heels.

I would graph my Visa bill, tape it to my refrigerator door, and force myself to get the slope running downward, but I don't think it was
ever entirely paid off.

On a business trip to London, I almost bought a $4,000 Claude Montana leather jacket with a red eagle on the back, till I realized I'd have to declare it and pay customs duty, thank god for that shred of sense.

Era 2
Late 30's to late 50's: Marriage and a family changed my habits; no longer willing to live on toast for a month to pay for a pair of turquoise suede boots. Became a "bridge" customer, with occasional splurges at the boutiques.

With the advent of business casual, let go of "fashiony" looks. At the same time, very important t
o me to avoid anything mumsy. I looked for simple shapes like the look at the left, and did not wear much colour.

In the last decade, found several local designers who are so talented they pass the "I'd Wear This in Paris" test.

Era 3

I'm in another state, not a return Era 1, but different from Era 2.

I think about
Holding Up the Side. I don't want to be that sad senior on the wrong (Never Cool) side of Sherrie Mathieson's "Forever Cool" book.

On the other end of the Senior Style Error continuum, I recently came across the term Fifteen-Fifty (fifteen from the back, fifty from the front) and cringed. Not that I could, even if I were tempted.

Thumbing through an old copy of Germaine Greer's "Menopause", I read her comment that Italian women my age drape themselves in gorgeous fabrics. I thought,
there's a plan: simple, current but not desperately trendy clothes in beautiful fabrics.

Finding these fabrics is not easy; the houses renowned for them (such as Etro, Missoni, Hermes) only rarely make something in my size and I get sticker shock. Even finding a white shirt in a fine Egyptian cotton is a challenge.

But now that
I know what I want, the hunt is on, with focus and reverence.

As you'd expect, my price point has flown up again. But this time I'm not in pursuit of the latest trend. The pieces should last longer, so I apply the time-honoured cost-per-wear formula.

Photo bottom:
Caroline Charles


Anonymous said…
We exchanged views on beautiful fabrics on The Thoughtful Dresser. If it's beautiful fabrics you are after then I would definitely recommend the following, all of whom I wear:

SHIRIN GUILD (cashmere, silk and paper mixes),
PRIVATSACHEN (crinkled silk dresses tulip shaped, loose and airy for summer, beautiful colours),
Issey Miyake PLEATS PLEASE (clothes with movement)
There are several German designers who really cater for the older unconventional woman, such as Elemente Clemente, Oska and Crea Concept.
And one of my most favourite shops in London is Egg in Kinnerton Street SW1. It is owned and run by Maureen Doherty who used to work in Japan for Issey Miyake. For several years she has designed and sold her clothes through her shop, but really she is selling a lifestyle fantasy as the shop is just an experience in itself. She has her clothes spun, woven and hand made on a cooperative in India - the white cotton summer collection is like gossamer and wearing it is one of the most sensual experiences ever. If you are ever in London I definitely recommend a visit.
Duchesse said…
Thanks, GP! Know some of these and look forward to searching for others.

A piece or two would be great, an entire ensemble too much 'art' for me.

Next week I'll post on a woman making clothes in the unlikeliest place, who has pretty much captured what I'd like. And she has a web business... isn't that a tease!
Anonymous said…
comme des garcons and yohji yamamoto - sign me up! add a pair of men's (or men's style) shoes and ... perfection!

fifteen-fifty is SUCH a common phenomenon in los angeles (where i'm originally from). i can't tell you how many times i'd be shocked to see the front of the back half.
15-50, ooh, yes I have seen a lot of this. And, it is a look I want to avoid at all costs.
I identify with Era 2. My wardrobe is not at all motivated by what is in-style. I don't wear much colour and I prefer simple shapes and classic styles without looking like I shop at Talbot's. And, like era 3, I am looking for the best I can afford in my price range so I can be sure that once I shell out $300 for a blouse that it will last longer than a few wearings.
Great post, as usual.:-)
Anonymous said…
Great post on a subject I've been thinking about a lot lately. I was barely scraping by in my 20s, and in my 30s I worked for a clothing retailer that gave a generous employee discount. It's only now that I'm really indulging my love of clothes.

Re Issey Miyake: Are you familiar with a San Francisco design label called Babette? Very similar concept to Miyake--the pleats, the interesting fabrics--but slightly less edgy and less expensive. J'adore Babette--I always feel elegant and get compliments when I wear her clothes. Not sure where they're sold in Canada: try the store locator at If you ever get to Manhattan, there's a Babette boutique in SoHo.
Duchesse said…
Belette: My primary love/hate relationship is Talbots- Fret about shopping there but not looking like it.

Nancy: Know Babette, like a lot of it. Pieces I saw this spring were poly, good poly, but still...poly. Can look great and also feels like I am wearing a plastic bag.
Anonymous said…
I agree with your 'too much art' concern regarding designers at the avant garde end of the scale. As with any designer the trick is to integrate pieces into your personal 'look' I think. Issey Miyake, in my opinion, is the master of this as he designs with that idea in mind. Some of my plainest clothes are from Japanese designers, not everything is weird.

Also, I think shoes and jewellery have a lot to do with an outfit and are probably the easiest way of making a garment your own. My black assymetric Pleats Please dress with pearls and black ballet pumps looks as classic as you can get, yet the same dress with jeans and trainers looks quite 'groovy'.

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