Monday, February 26, 2007

Fashionable vs. Chic

This Sunday's New York Times Magazine Style Supplement has a great article about, as author Zarah Crawford put it: Eccentric Ladyland. To wit--what makes makes a woman truly chic as opposed to merely fashionable?

Madama Crawford dismisses such style icons as Grace Kelly & Audrey Hepburn in favor of furiously chic ladies like Dame Edith Sitwell, Marchesa Luisa Casati, Elsie de Wolfe and--Mary-Kate Olsen. The former ladies were merely well dressed. But the latter ladies' "willingness to make complete and utter spectacles of themselves stands as a victory for female self-expression in the face of social expectation."

I'll have some of that, please.

None of these ladies citied were conventionally beautiful, at least not by the standards of their time. Mary-Kate Olsen is way too thin, even by pro-ana fashion standards. Edith Sitwell looked more like an Renaissance arch bishop than an It Girl. Marquesa Casati was a cat-like gothic queen in an era of ruddy cheeked Gibson Girls. Elsie De Wolfe was what is sometimes charitably described as "mannish." But instead of going to fashion, these ladies made fashion come to them. They dressed to please themselves with verve and wit, with blue hair and red lip rouge, and oriental robes. They dressed to shock and horrify, with blood-stained arms, and coal scuttle hats, and dead pigeon pendants.

Now perhaps the bloodstained arms and the dead pigeon necklaces are a bit much, but the meaning is clear. Madama Crawford points out what Udo and the Dainty Pirate already know, and what Flora is beginning to learn: clothes are merely a costume, a disguise, a way in which to outwardly manifest your inner creativity. So how can a Ranger not care about what she wears?

My favorite quote from the article, via fashion historian Meredith Etherington-Smith:

"...Outsider women have such a locomotive force on the development of fashion because they seek to express their own inner reality regardless of how the world regards their outer."

True chicness lies in being comfortable with yourself and how you look, and playing up the advantages you have, not agonizing over those you might be lacking. True chicness requires daring and trust in yourself, and an impenetrability to the opinions of others.

As Dame Edith said: "If one is a greyhound, why try to look like a Pekingese?"

Words to dress by. I think I'm going to go order that tricorn I've been coveting now.

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