Wearing Narrative: Why ‘Style Artifacts’ Matter to Me

DISCLAIMER: Let me just open by saying that the fancy phrase, ‘style artifacts,’ is a term I’ve come up with, a euphemism you could say, for old stuff. Kind of like ‘vegan leather’ is just a fancy way of saying fake leather, aka pleather…style artifact is a vintage item, something old, something used, something borrowed but probably not returned because you love it so much. Now we can get into it:

During my morning routine, I do a number of things to prepare myself each day. If I am being honest, my routine is not as set as I would like it to be, and things go differently each day – it is certainly not clockwork. However, there is one process that remains fairly constant (at least on weekdays anyways). Each day I choose my clothing, my jewelry, and choose to continue carrying the same bag or decide to switch it up a bit. It’s a delicate process, one for which I have developed a special formula.

When I go to choose outfits each day, I normally start with a basic. My blank canvas, so to speak, is typically a plain sweater, maybe, with a wool skirt, typically from a quality but affordable brand like say, LOFT, for example. But then comes the part that I find to be essential, the creative part – choosing the accessories, the extra, the things that make that outfit *POP* and *POW*. These are the things that add depth and character to my wardrobe. Now, accessories for me are not limited to jewels, hats, gloves, scarves, bags, and so on. My accessories are basically anything that punches up my outfit. For example, I might take a very basic tee with slacks and black flats (that would be the base), then I would build from there by adding quirky jewelry and a vintage blazer with a lot of attitude. I am not saying I am someone to take fashion advice from — certainly not. This is just the way I think about this aspect of each day.

So for this post I want to zero in for on those accessories, those pieces I add to a basic shell to give myself character and zest, because for me, many of these pieces are valuable and interesting for their connection to the past. In Women in Clothes (which I will probably integrate into posts for many months to come, get ready), the editors interview designer Mona Kowalska. She makes a keen observation through her experience with customers. She says,

People come in and they’ll say of a dress, ‘It reminds me of something my mother used to wear.’ That sense of finding yourself in something is important. That’s where the resonance comes from (32).

This quote struck me. I thought about it from my own experience in retail – with secondhand clothing and also in my own life. How have I found myself in clothing or in accessory items? In what ways have statement pieces shaped the way I see myself? The way I see the world? The way I connect with other women and women in my life? I collect vintage purses – though I am trying to stifle that habit, I also have a acquired a variety of vintage jewelry pieces, scarves, and items like blazers. I believe, truly, that my affinity for vintage stems from some early gifts I was given by my grandmother. She passed a floral, sterling silver medallion pendant and matching ring down to me, a gift her own grandmother had given to her. My mother has passed along her leather, vintage coach purse, and I’ve also collected the artifacts of others over the years – fragments of lives and experiences, stories I may never know.

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What I like about these pieces are their stories, their memories. When I wear items like these, I hope that a little bit of my mother, my grandmother, a librarian who channeled a South Western flare through her turquoise ring collection, a stylish model who could pull off oversized blazers with shoulder pads, or someone else, will walk around with me, will live in me, and through those stories, experiences, artifacts of style, I will find a little more of myself.

I can’t decide which I like more, the items with unknown histories – the blazer with a Barney’s receipt from 1970 still in the pocket, crinkled and yellowed, or the known ones – the sweater my mother wore every fall to the pumpkin patch and the apple orchard, to chaperone field trips, and to bake with me, a sweater that vividly reminds me of my own childhood. I am torn between the items saturated with memories of my past and of my people, and those which allow me to invent tiny lineages and detailed narratives that may never have actually existed. Either way, I love well worn items – accessories with stories.

I hope one day the clothes I live in will become a part of someone else’s story too.

x,

E

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