Recently I received a brochure from a company called Stitch Fix, which promised “Your Style Your Way.” This includes, according to the company brochure and website, “stylish service tailored to my taste, budget and lifestyle,” determined by what the company calls a “style profile” but is really an online questionnaire.
Based on my answers to this questionnaire, a personal stylist would choose outfits for me (including purses and shoes) that the company would mail to my doorstep. In giving a stranger the power to pick out your clothing and create your style, are you not giving away the keys to your identity? For me, the answer is yes.
Fashion is about much more than color, pattern, and fabric. It is about identity and expression. I don’t read fashion magazines. I wear what I like, regardless of what Vogue or The New York Times deems fashionable. The French fashion designer Paul Poiret wrote in the early 1900s, “The well dressed woman is the one who picks out her own gown, and adornments not because other people are wearing that style or because it will be palpable proof of her husband’s bank account.”
Poiret’s sentiment may be old-fashioned, but women owe him a great debt. The designer’s revolutionary designs dismissed the use of the corset and eliminated the need for petticoats. In the Internet age, his advice on creating your own style is now more relevant than ever.
Your Body And What You Put On It Matters
What I put on each day is an important part of my identity, not something to be surrendered to someone else online. Not following trends frees me from having to upgrade my closet every season, but still I love to shop. For me it is a sensual activity. How could I possibly tell from a computer screen if a sweater is warm chocolate with red undertones or a cold steely brown? Without running my hands across a pair of wool trousers, how could I discern if their fabric is soft or scratchy?
My closet presents a varied visual history. Every time I open it, I go on a journey back in time. Yesterday I came across my wedding dress from 30 years ago. Its tight bodice, tea-length hemline, and illusion-lace puffy skirt bring back that warm August day in Greenwich Village, one of my happiest. I resisted the well-meaning advice of friends and relatives to buy a conventional bridal gown. Listening to my own instincts, I bought the dress, elegant and untraditional, that I wanted to wear to my wedding.
During my vintage phase, I spent 20 years collecting clothing and accessories from the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s. I felt like a shrewd detective the day I discovered a hand-crafted pale green and ginger suit, with the label VOGUE COUTURE DESIGNS. My hunch was confirmed when the dry cleaner suggested that weights sewn into the lining of the jacket belied the suit’s high quality.
A long, black velvet dress, sleeveless with woven gold collar, that I found in Frederick, Maryland is the perfect black tie outfit. Like me, these vintage finds have a built-in originality. I know that whenever I wear them, I’ll be the only woman in the room with my style.
So I won’t be calling Stitch Fix any time soon. I welcome the opportunity to find garments and accessories on my own, to create my next new look. “When I get up, a sort of peacock instinct tells me what to put on,” the English poet Edith Sitwell told Harper’s Bazaar. “I wouldn’t dream of following fashion. How could one be a different person every three months?”