Simple isn't easy

Found on Amazon
Someone's blog had a comment about a book called "Simple Isn't Easy" by Olivia Goldsmith and Amy Fine Collins. Several people cited its wisdom, so I tracked down a cheap used copy and flipped through it in an evening.

Goldsmith wrote "The First Wives Club" and other novels; she died in 2004 during cosmetic surgery, as a result of complications from anaesthesia. (The book contains one unsettling line about the possibility of finding a cosmetic surgeon– "a good one".) 

Fine Collins, fashion and design writer, is very much with us, and adheres to her manifesto, maintaining a slightly-retro pixie-cut image over several decades. (I'd say she inspired Kate Spade.)

Amy Fine Collins today
The writing is flat, the advice direct as an Eastern European bra-fitter. To recap:
1. Find out what works on you.
(Try on everything in front of the mirror with a critical eye or better yet, with a stylist or image consultant.)
2. Develop a uniform
(Not one outfit, but "your look".)
3. Get rid of everything else
(You closet will be drastically pared. She quotes a French architect: “American closets shock me. So much, too much. No one can dress well with so many clothes.”)
4. Shop only for what you need, with a list
(Never shop for entertainment, therapy or as a reward.)
5. Be fastidious about fit and grooming.

That's it.

Over and over, I'm hearing 50+ women say they don't want so many possessions, including clothes. Goldsmith and Collins were a few decades early with their book.

The authors advise that you patronize one designer: "Find who makes the clothes that look best on you–and stick with him."  They cite Diana Vreeland, who wore only Mainbocher's suits; Goldsmith, who bonded to an (unnamed) boutique, and Fine Collins, then a YSL devotée.

This is my dream, too but where is my main-street Mainbocher?  

A strict nirvana
Ça va de soie are a contender. They make quiet, intelligent clothes in fabrics like Egyptian cotton crepe and Italian cashmere in nonstandard neutrals I crave. Problem is, they make mostly tops. (And a few dresses, too small and short for me, a "major minimalist".)

A now-defunct Belgian company, Anvers, was another, as is Dries van Noten, if I could ante up. Maybe I'll find The One in Montreal, home to Ça va de soie.

Here's a shot of the first purchase made in my new city, the Alain Weiz jean pencil skirt with studs, and if you don't think it takes guts to post your derriere, you try it! Weiz is a plus line (in France, that can begin at US 10.) Tant pis, it fits perfectly, length just at bottom of knee. Finding a designer who cuts for your body is as important as finding an aesthetic.
Dark denim and pyramid studs
Have you found the maker or designer whose clothes are 'you'? Please tell us who they are, even if it's a local source.


frugalscholar said…
Thanks for posting this! I always wanted to read that book (it's talked about with reverence by many writers).From what you say, I don't need to.

Your derriere looks great.
Susan said…
The closest I've found is the Worth Collection. You can see it here:

Click on "trunk show" for both spring and summer to see their latest.

I think the advice from the book is good. I DO have way too many clothes and part of that is indicative of the fact that I am still searching for the right look for me.
Good Morning, Duchesse! Your photo looks so flattering, I'm almost tempted to ask if there was some "fine tuning" at work! Seriously, you look willowy and well-rounded where it counts. The denim skirt looks and sounds fabulous. Coincidentally I purchased that book around the time it first came out, and appreciated it at the time. Now finding myself over 50, I also have discovered that less can indeed be "more", but there's still a lot of work ahead to get there.
Anonymous said…
For a while, that book was selling for over $200 on Amazon (!) I was lucky to find a $3 copy at my local secondhand book store. I've had it for almost 10 years now.

In my opinion, that little mass-market paperback is worth its weight in gold. (Actually, I think one of the Amazon reviewers described it just that way.) I read my copy at least once every couple of years, whenever I feel like my wardrobe is getting disorganized. (And yes, I remember reading that line about plastic surgeons in the book, shortly after Ms. Goldsmith passed away, and it was a bit unsettling.)

My copy of the book is starting to fall apart and I'm seriously considering getting it spiral-bound to preserve it.

As the book suggested, I have become very brand-loyal whenever I've found something that works for me. I've never been able to narrow my main wardrobe down to a single brand or designer, though.
coffeeaddict said…
First of all: Awesome skirt! Classic with a hint of rock and roll attitude.
After reading your post, I carefully considered your words. Though I absolutely agree with you, searching for a perfect wardrobe is a life long endeavour. And even then, having a uniform look, that one recognizable style that doesn't require tons of clothes in your closet, is pointless unless you can can somehow 'fill' the clothes with your personality. Otherwise it's just form without substance. I am fascinated by women who manage to stand out, even in a simple outfit. That rare elusive quality has nothing to do with the brand of the clothes or how great their figure is, it's always about character and attitude.
Susan B said…
Wow, you look great in that skirt!

I still haven't found "my" label yet, though both Eileen Fisher and Babette have some pieces that work with my body and my aesthetic.

Ms. Goldsmith's untimely demise, and then the sudden death of a friend of ours (in her 30's) immediately after cosmetic surgery, reinforced my vow to never go under the knife except for medically necessary reasons.
Anonymous said…
Great rear - Pippa Middleton watch out!!!
I think it's great advice, particularly for women over 50.
I pretty much wear very casual clothes, as I'm a painter, and I live in LA. J Brand jeans, Gap tee v-neck tee shirts in white, Armani or Piazza Siempone blazers fit me the best.
I vary a bit with sweaters, and will be ordering a few Eric Bombard ones when the winter selection is available.
I only wear neutrals (with the exception of a few summer dresses) - I bought two as we have a lot of weddings this summer to attend.
I also like Prada cardigans. They're pricey, but I don't buy much, and prefer to have something special - quality over quantity.
La Loca said…
How funny! I remember reading this book in 1999, when I was supposed to be scraping wallpaper in our new house. The statement about not being able to dress well with so many clothes really stuck with me over the years.

I have my summer "uniform" figured out, but am stumped about winter. My "sources" include REI (I own the Sun Goddess shirt in all three colors and it like much more than hiking garb), J.Jill (Wearever tanks) and my sewing machine.

And I agree with Kathy--you look great in that skirt!
I love Eileen Fisher and Elie Tahari.
Sympli and Gilmour are two the Canadian firms that I regularly buy garments from.

I would not wear one label exclusively probably because I seek variety within my basic wardrobe of black white and grey.

What a horrific way to die...that poor woman.
Gosh there is another reason not to mess with what mother nature has given us.

I have a couple of tops from ca va de soie...yummy fabrics!
Happy Hunting in Montreal!
dana said…
Your derriere looks fantastic and teeny! And your stomach -- my twins are 4.5 and I still have it, even with tons of working out, sigh. When does it go? Well, I don't have your height and my boys were 6 lb 10 oz and 6 p 11 oz. But they are worth it.
materfamilias said…
Fabulous skirt -- I'm impressed at how it manages to achieve both drama and restraint. And amazingly managed curves as can be seen in the horizontal lines of the studs. You've got a booty worth shaking on les trottoirs de Montréal!

I do have a few lines that I gravitate toward, but I'm so often reining in my natural eclecticism. . .
Mardel said…
The skirt is very chic. When you mentioned studs I worried a moment although I shouldn't have. And I too am impressed by that combination of drama and restraint. Great photo!

I have at various times had brands that mostly worked for me, but at the moment I am still working on that
Queen of She said…
I echo Susan - the Worth Collection is my "go-to" source. Excellent craftsmanship, fabric, detail, fit.

The cost of Worth garments helps me keep my wardrobe pared, as does my Worth sales consultant, who has an excellent eye and who tells me what works with what.
Unknown said…
If I could afford it I would choose Armani as I have a very narrow rib cage and the cut is perfect for me. I still have a couple which I bought when I was working. Now I tend to go to Zara who also cut a narrow waisted jacket that works well.
Unknown said…
PS. Will check out the book. Thought I had exhausted the Amazon collection of style books.
Susan Tiner said…
The skirt is fantastic!

It's too early for me to identify a label but I do like Eileen Fisher and Babette.
Duchesse said…
frugal: There is more exposition in the book, if you find it in a thrift, it's worth a buck or two.

Susan: Thank for the link, it's a wonderful thing to have a go-to designer.

C'estChic: I'm not willowy, I'm tall and big, with a definite tum and thighs.That's just a well-cut skirt.

Mrs. M.: The "buy less" message is worth a normal price but not $200. Like you, I find re-visiting books that resonated a worthwhile activity.

coffeeaddict: I agree you have to put yourself into the clothes. That being said, many North American women have bulging closets and still feel they have little to wear- or that they need a new outfit for any even minor occasion.

unefemme: I'd be liking the current EF if they fit my body better, but the patterns favour average or petite heights.

I too know somebody who died during a procedure (abdominoplasty) but am against it for other reasons, too: what's wrong with looking your age? Just another way to teach women to loathe themselves.

Kathy PecK: LOL, I could be her GM!
I too buy Bompard sweaters each winter, often at least one of a tried and true style. Don't care if it is recognized as "new" or not.

Jane W.: Could you shift your summer into winterweight fabrics? I wear colour in summer but in winter, black on bottom, sometimes on top, too and cashmere sweaters. After years of feeling uninventive I read this book and decided it's fine.

hostess: You clearly know what suits you, and I think that's more important than one brand. IMO surgery mishaps (short of death, just the mistakes and side effects) are under-reported; the media hypes surgery as no big deal.
Duchesse said…
dana: Girl, I am sucking it in; my boys were 5.5 band 6.5 lbs! I never got a flat stomach back!

materfamilias: Thanks, but remember we have seen one another half naked (in a dressing room, folks), and I'm not any thinner today.) The skirt is one of those figure-flattering garments.

Mardel: Sewing as you do, *you* can be your brand!

Chicatanyage: Armani is beautiful and definitely suits the long, narrow rib cage. Still so elegant and well-cut though I find the fabrics a little less luxe- but it may be me.

tsweeny: That's a fantastic way to stay minimal: buying very high quality and it forces most of us to really wear the garments we can afford.

Susan Tiner: I like Babette too (can't wear EF skirts or pants, too tall). Find Babettte blouses, mostly offered in poly, hot in summer and cold in winter. Like EF Babette doesn't cut pants for long inseams.
Susan said…
Figure flattering skirts are great! I want to warn you about one thing. I had a pair of very nice jeans with pyramid studs on the back pockets. They RIPPED the edge of my leather seats in my car! Truly! It was a new car and was a very expensive repair. Just a warning. If I had done that to someone else's car, I would have been mortified!

I like Worth, but it doesn't fulfill every need. I love the fact that they have many items that coordinate--season to season. They do have side zip pants that work for my body type. I also like Lafayette 148, but haven't tried their side zip pants yet. Front zips ALWAYS gape at the waist and need major tailoring.

I can't wear all of EF either. But I did mention a new dress (lantern skirt) that DOES work for me from EF. Hooray. I have your same issue of being tall --and not short waisted.
Duchesse said…
Susan: Thanks; I had, as parent of boys with riveted-stud jeans, long been aware of the lethality of studs against leather (or lacquer, or any number of finishes) but never thought of someone's car seats. I'd be mortified... and responsible for the repair.

Really like Lafayette 148 too, which fits me well.
rb said…
Your bod looks bangin'!
Susan said…
Speaking of Lafayette 148, here is my latest purchase. It fits me perfectly! I was encouraged to try it after Amid Privilege's post about shirt dresses. I am 5'8" tall and am somewhat of an hour glass figure. This fits my waist AND my hips! Hooray! It is ALSO below the knee which is a good proportion for me. I'm really beginning to think Lafayette 148 has my number. Go to their website and look around. I do not like everything they do--but do like many things.
Duchesse said…
Susan: Great dress with a Deneuve/YSL vibe! I've shown items from Lafayette 148 many times in the Passage, for that reason: cut for women's bodies. And I applaud any brand that makes Womens' (plus) sizes using the same good fabrics they use for Misses' sizing.

Also, they do leathers really well.
Glennis said…
Brava for posting your posterior!! It looks wonderful in that skirt.
AN said…
I love Lafayette 148, Brooks Bros & David Meister for work. Just discovered Rene Lezard in Munich.

'Posh' evening clothes from Tadashi Shoji.
Robin said…
The thing I keep hoping to find addressed and never do is, (at our age) the ability to find something suitable to wear to a funeral or memorial service. Everything dark either looks like you are going to a club to dance, or to a work interview. I know this isn't a fun subject, but it's true!
Susan said…
Like AN, I also like David Meister dresses. I have two of them and they fit very well. I've never bought anything from Brooks Brothers, but wandered into one of their stores to buy a shirt/tie for my husband during our trip to San Francisco and saw some lovely things for women. I was surprised! They had gorgeous scarves and some really pretty things.
JJP said…
First welcome in Montréal(I know I'm late here)! And with this skirt you're certainly a stylish asset on les trottoirs du Plateau ;-)
Susan said…
I've noticed for quite a few years now, that not everyone wears dark colors to funerals. I don't angst about what to wear to a funeral and wear something I would wear to church or to a meeting of my book club or a daytime luncheon.
Duchesse said…
Robin: I've got a few things I've worn over and over; one is a navy knit sheath (Eileen Tracy, god knows when) and the other is a navy pantsuit with a soft, unstructured jacket (Saks Real Clothes). With current shoes these have worked for the better part of a decade and since one does not, in most faith traditions, wear any significant jewelry to a funeral, I don't think about accessories much.

The general idea is quiet, restrained clothing- but occasionally I see somebody's obit in which they have asked friends to wear bright colours to their service. Have not attended one, though.

AN: Brooks Brothers is an idiom I understand well but do not wear as it does not suit me, but I've admired especially the seersucker shirtwaists on others in the summer.

JJP: Thank you, it's Grand Prix weekend and bands are rehearsing under my window.

Aunt Snow: OK, so now you will?

rb: At nearly 63 that is quite a compliment!

Susan: You could think of a funeral as a kind of book club meeting- we all know how the story ends, for everyone.
barbara said…
A very flattering skirt! And a small waist and an crisp butt so far as we can see.
About the danger with car seats: not only you can ruin them with studs, seats sometimes do the same to your wardrobe.
To avoid that those awful Smart seats ruin my cashmere sweaters furthermore, I bought a cozy sheepskin. It's really comfortable, even during summtertime. And it's washable.
You can forget the seat.
Duchesse said…
barbara: Any credit is due to yoga, but am not slim, by a long shot. Have never been in a Smart car, but cracked fake leather seats in taxis are also cashmere-eaters. Thanks for providing this warning!
lillyanne said…
I have only two words for you: Eileen, and Fisher.
Anonymous said…
Hell no, I barely know who I am on any given day.
Kathleen said…
"Gardeur" pants from Germany.
"Kaliyana" designs from Canada.
Reese said…
I hate shopping passionately, and it seems clothes get more and more ridiculous looking every season. I've given up on pretty much everyone except Ralph Lauren. Armani is not that good anymore, and Calvin Klein is pretty much over. Ralph solves my problems better than anyone (except that his trousers are often too short; I'm 5'10 1/2"). Tory Burch is also a good source. For kick around the house kind of attire, J. Crew does a decent job. Those are pretty much the only places I ever shop for clothes anymore.
Duchesse said…
Reese: I'm with you, disappointed about quality. Even when I get in the"I don't care what it costs,just show me something well made" as a size 14-16 that means a lot of contenders fade away. Ralph Lauren has some good classic things. Ah, what Calvin Klein used to be! He could put me in a swoon 30 years ago.
Duchesse said…
Kathleen: Gardeur pants are very well made, thanks for the mention. Kaliyana now have a web site and make their arty pieces in a wide size range. I've seen large women look really great in their dresses.
Your bottom looks fantastic!

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