Cathy Horyn on women's needs, and a few spring things

Just read it, already, if you have not: Cathy Horyn on the reality of grown women's choices, in an article titled "Sign of the Times/Slave No More".

(Sidebar: See also the insightful posts by Déjà Pseu of Une femme d'un certain age and Janice Riggs of The Vivienne Files on aspects of this article.)

For me, Horyn's standout statement was, "By now, I suspect, most people know that the purpose of runway shows is entertainment, and to create a feeling of desire. They understand that the main interest of high-fashion companies is economic rather than aesthetic."

There is a political stance in Horyn's piece (which bravely nips the hand that feeds her); she is subtly pointing to what happens when we refuse to be a mindless consumer, told we never have enough or look right. Those messages contribute to making women passive, insecure, and broke.

Last week, I dropped by a luxury store to admire the spring Céline collection, and can't remember when I saw such understated quality hanging on a rack. (From Horyn: "Probably no one defines the modern sense of comfort with more authority than Phoebe Philo of Céline.") 

Even while I reeled at the price tag, I could see buying these clothes, because the beauty did not mitigate the comfort, and vice versa. 

Instead, though, I took a fitted, lightweight down jacket by the French brand Gertrude, that I was happy to find on sale. Its pungent coral will look like spring while it's still chilly in Montréal. 

The piece comes squished into its stuff sack, useful for travel.

I'll wear it with straight-leg jeans, an off- white v-neck.  


My stylish, globetrotting friend Christine just bought two pairs of killer shoes (well, technically a shoe and a boot) whose material is red velvet! The heel of both is low, combining mad chic with walkability: she hit the Horyn sweet spot.

But they are not made for puddle-jumping, so I will be in purpley-blue Bogs "Harper" rain boots, a weather-friendly  version of what Horyn calls "an almost boyish uniform of slim-cut trousers, pullovers and flat shoes." 

For a little zhuzh, maybe those eccentric South Sea pearls, or a triple rope of greys with a vintage clasp and a big ring or two.

Christine thinks pearls are boring; actually I think she said "Pearls bore the tits off me", but we were having cocktails and besides, she's entitled to her opinion!


une femme said…
Horyn has retired to spend time with her partner who is ill, so perhaps she feels a bit freer to snap at that hand. ;-)

I'm still thinking it's the cosmetics/fragrances/accessories that are keeping a lot of the big fashion houses afloat.

Lovely jacket!! You seem to have access to some fabulous French brands there.
frugalscholar said…
Horyn's partner--who died at 87 a few days after this was published--was Art Ortenberg, husband and biz partner of the great Liz Claiborne. That company--in its early days--was the epitome of what women are looking for now: simple, decently made, reasonably priced clothing for working women. I remember my mother swooning with happiness over the early Liz lines.

Great jacket. I have one like that and I even travel with it in the summer. My daughter took it to Serbia and says it has been her salvation. She wears it under other jackets on really cold days.
Anonymous said…
She suffers from what I call "sinking to the muddy bottom", it's what happens when you are partnered with a person much older than yourself. Nothing will age you more mentally than that.

Fashion has no purpose really but beauty and change for no other reason than beauty and change. Everything you wear is pretty much pointless in the scheme of things but only older people try to turn it into a virtue.

Duchesse said…
Anonymous: I find it very hard to generalize about age difference of between partners and mental ageing of the caregiver, though from what I have observed it is a sad, difficult and demanding time in a relationship, regardless of who is older.

If you feel "everything you wear is pointless" I am wondering if you feel little enjoyment in beauty, comfort and pleasure.
materfamilias said…
Lively post to return with -- I love the observations AND the colour! We're in the middle of weather that demands practicality. 15 to 20 centimetres of very wet snow is currently freezing into layers of mudsicles all over our island. I'll be tromping about in a pair of Cougars black shiny boots, mid-calf, with a thick ribbed lining and Vibram-imitating soles. And swooning over your little coral jacket -- so perfect for the Montreal streets!
Anonymous said…
I came here to agree with your friend Christine about pearls , though my language is not quite so colourful - I'm not the type for pearls either but still enjoy your blog . However I was taken aback by the last poster & her sweeping ageist generalisations . So all older partners age you mentally ? Do older people turn fashion into a virtue ? As for fashion being about beauty & change - not a money making business then ? Have I misunderstood the comment due to poor punctuation ?
LPC said…
Don't you think that Horyn's in some ways actually dead in the center of fashion with her article? I mean, sneakers are The Thing in street style now, along with boyfriend jeans. We're all reacting similarly.

My theory is that much of this is caused by the Internet, and that same "street style." Hard to dress quiet and comfortable when the benchmark is standing out as much as possible.
Cornelia said…
It took me years to learn to shop with blinders on, but now there is no turning back. Of course, I live in hillbilly land, and temptations are many miles away. I like that jacket a lot. Coral is one of those colors that looks good with just about anything.
LauraH said…
Lovely to have you back. Your jacket is beautiful - coral is so energizing, perfect for spring after this endless winter.

I agree that comfort is key - question is how to combine comfort with some style and quality. Many manufacturers seem to ladle on the spandex rather than offer cuts that fit and flatter. Many of us need some structure to avoid looking like we're wearing a sack. It's no wonder that accessories are so huge right now, it's a lot easier to buy than clothes.
Love that coral jacket! I like the shape of the hem and the fact that it is packable is a bonus. I would love one of these for the boat this summer to cut the salty chill and breezy winds...
My lifestyle and bank balance does not, nor has it ever, allowed me to fall into the trap of haute couture.
My extravagant spending has been on Hermes scarves, pearls and diamonds which never seem to date.
Those Bogs would be great on the slushy streets, no danger of salt stains and a cheery shade to keep you hopping!
Madame Là-bas said…
That coral jacket is beautiful. It will certainly take you into spring.I really enjoy clothing that is attractive, practical and well-fitting. Haute couture is just not part of my life.
Duchesse said…
une femme: A life transition often flows into one's work, too.

frugal: I too loved those Liz clothes that I bought in the very early '70s- there was not a lot in the 'career' category then.

mater: Thanks, and rubber boots- Cougars or Bogs- are an integral part of a Canadian winter- and spring.

Wendy: Well, the thing is she •does• have the most beautifu necklace, a garland sprinkled with tiny pearls. But every woman has a right to be inconsistent.

Perhaps you two have been overexposed to the white wedding pearls, which I admit are not exciting. But can you ignore the more exotic varieties' astonishing orient and the way really good pearls light a woman's face? Or maybe you have not seen exceptional jewelry made with pearls? I see my work on this planet is not yet done.

LPC: That's her point: the designers are not catering to what women want and real women (and men) are now clear about their needs, rather than being old what they should buy.

Cornelia: Oh my I can do real damage pnline ;)

LauraH: So true about the loss of tailoring, even things like well-done hems and zips! I like a bit of stretch in my jeans but it is no substitute for an artful dart.

hostess and Mme. Là-bas:
Horyn is not writing about haute couture, she is criticizing designers of high-end ready-to-wear, the kind of thing you buy off the rack at Chanel or Holt Renfrew.

Couture, another level (and a mammoth jump in price from designer RTW) is usually supremely comfortable as it is made for your body alone.

Horyn mentions the success of Vince; I also like ca va de soie, who make high-quality, discreetly stylish cotton and wool knits.
sisty said…
I think it's funny that she's including a suede kilt among her classic items -- somehow I can't wrap my head around that image.

But "slim trousers, a pullover, and flat shoes" -- is there anything more luxurious and fashionable than that, when done impeccably? And notice that she follows this description with "very little makeup and natural hair." Now that's a head-to-toe "uniform" that I personally would never get tired of, with the exception of a couple of light and airy simple dresses for the summer.
Gretchen said…
I loved Cathy Horyn when she wrote here in DC, Land of The Boring Clothes, and now that she's departing the NYT, I wonder who will write with such adroitness (is that a possibility? A word, even?). Like Une Femme wrote, comfort IS a need, at least in my interpretation of Maslow's Ladder. Pearls, too, are a "need" for me, as I don't feel quite myself without them. I love both your new down jacket and those rain boots - I may need to find a pair of those, as wearing Hunters isn't always practical. Celine's clothes seem so terrific. There was a NYT piece about Bloomberg's amour several weeks ago, and I hazily remember she had much the same clothing on in a photo snap. Simple pullover, comfortable trousers, basic hair. Infinite possibilities within that basic construct. Or, perhaps I'm rationalizing today's outfit of navy Everlane cashmere crew, navy Everlane silk blouse, brown suede Tods loafers (they said it wouldn't snow. They lied), with a beg for spring in white Pink Tartan jeans. All rather uneventful brands, but sturdy and barely stylish...good for the long term.
I love la Duchesse's writings about pearls, it helps me "get" them. I've never been attracted to them; I prefer silver jewellery.

I have the higher Bogs, an older style, but also a pair of lands' end duck shoes (red!) that are comfy and not too clunky on the bicycle on those puddly days.

Trying to envision a suede kilt - when I was much, much younger, I had a suede wrap skirt, which I dearly loved. An actual kilt, with all the sewed-down pleating, would be very bulky indeed in suede.

Remember that slim trousers do require a certain body type... I never had the tiny rear, even when I was young and wasp-waisted.

Duchesse, was Céline at Holt's, Ogilvy, or somewhere else? Lovely light non-puffy puffer.
LPC said…
Gretchen, I think your outfit of today sounds beautiful.
Oops, sorry, I meant "Gertrude", not "Céline"...
Duchesse said…
sisty: A suede or leather skirt has long been one of my "desert island" staples, so I understand it but also assume the kilt does not have copious pleating.

Gretchen: I think your ensemble sounds entirely stylish- stylish as opposed to 'fashiony' or trendy.

lagatta: Down jacket is from Motion, a Toronto boutique; I have never seen the brand here.

Gretchen said…
Duchesse, you and Lisa are too kind. While my uniform works for me (considering how many versions I own of it, I should hope so!), it is definitely quiet. I have learned my lesson, however, and stay away from patterns and colors outside of summer wear. I feel too much in costume if I stray. But, it is so nice to live vicariously through others' choices! Another blogger, Muffy Aldrich, often speaks of the replacement versus fast fashion concept. Considering my wardrobe hasn't changed spectacularly since middle school (substituting La Garconne, Steven Alan, and Outlier pants for Lee cordoroys and fair isle sweaters), I've made more effort on upgrading quality, not radically changing style.
Ann G. said…
The Gertrude jacket is lovely. May I ask how you found the sizing? I am sometimes a U.S. 6, sometimes an 8, and was thinking I would need to "size up" in French.
Duchesse said…
Gretchen: I still have a soft for pattern (especially Fair Isle) so wear it as a muffler or scarf. And like you, choose the quiet yet admire the vibrant.

Ann g,: Mine is a "T4" which according to Gertrude's size guide corresponds to a US 10 and seems accurate to me. Sleeves run long on that style.
Guide is here:
sisty said…
Hey Gretchen! We should meet up sometime -- I'm in DC also. "Slim cut" trousers is definitely a loosely-defined term. WHile I won't wear skinny jeans because of the bowling pin look they give me, a pair of pants cut straight but narrow look great, provided I'm wearing the proper size. Also, wide legs can look really good, as can pants with pleats and a dropped crotch, which are coming back and look great, too, IMO. It's all in the cut and the quality of the fabric.

And yes, when I envisioned a kilt, I thought of stitched-down pleats, which seems awfully bulky in suede or leather. Didn't think of a wrap style, but it does sound nice.
Duchesse said…
sisty: I hope you two do meet sometime!

My rule is, if I have to force my pant leg up to put on knee socks, they are too tight :)
I forgot to tell you how very much I love those red velvet booties. I'd take the cycle chic award... one can dream.

The posts with the most