An essential part of dressing for your own pleasure is swaddling yourself in a giant jacket, as if channelling an Arctic explorer.
I am not sure when I started wanting to dress like an eighty-five-year-old woman who is long past the point of caring what others think and who spends her afternoons swanning around the gift shop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, buying splashy scarves. But, sometime in the course of 2019, the idea of cultivating this purposeful eccentricity began to take over my mind—and then began to change my life. I came into this year pallid and depressive and worn down by the unrelenting ticker of terrible news. And then . . . I started wearing a giant yellow coat. Make no mistake: this coat is ridiculous. It’s faux fur, the color of butterscotch candies, as soft as a newborn’s fontanel, as large as a napping golden retriever. It gives off the crackly static energy of a plasma globe (it is constantly suctioning orphaned socks to its sleeves) and under no circumstances can it get wet. It is the gremlin of outerwear, cuddly and twee until it touches rain, at which point it becomes a deformed monster.
This deeply impractical, hatchling-fuzzy garment, which regularly makes me feel like a daffy escapee from “Grey Gardens,” allowed me to tiptoe into a new mind-set, one beyond fashion. This holiday season, my wish for you is that you begin to harness your inner maximalist and start wearing the wardrobe of an elegant, oddball octogenarian. Here are some of my favorite items that can help you—or your loved ones—indulge in willful, kooky glamour, which can be a kind of armor. Life is too short not to live like life has been very long already.
A statement bauble.
Earlier this year, I sat on a panel with the actress Miriam Shor, who plays the elegant publishing executive Diana Trout on TV Land’s “Younger,” and who has become something of a cult style icon for the chunky, oversized necklaces that she wears on the show. She told me that sometimes her door-knocker pendants are so heavy that she has to take them off between scenes to give her spine a break. No one is asking you to get whiplash for fashion, but it can be heartening to have at least one truly outrageous piece of neckwear in your arsenal. Lately, I’ve been returning to the Etsy shop of the Cincinnati jeweller Tara Lea Smith, whose maximalist creations contain a kitchen sink’s worth of ribbons and beads and found ephemera. Another great place to bulk up your jewelry box is the MOMA store, where you can find a variety of loud lavalieres, such as this sculptural red-rope piece, from the South African artist Katherine-Mary Pichulik.
A fluttery dress.
There has been a type of dress silhouette that has been reëmerging in recent years that I can only describe as “depressed Dusty Springfield,” and—at least until the new Springfield bio-pic, starring Gemma Arterton, emerges—these dresses are satisfying the part of me that longs to sway underneath a disco ball while wearing a bouffant and false eyelashes. Perhaps the most talked-about indie dressmaker of the year is Susie Cave, the designer behind The Vampire’s Wife (her husband is the musician Nick Cave). Her shiny, capricious flutter dresses have become the go-to for celebrities trying to channel a haute Lolita vibe. (Fans include Ruth Negga, Kate Moss, Margot Robbie, Laura Dern, Rachel Weisz, and, most recently, Kacey Musgraves, who wore a glittery silver gown from the brand during her Christmas special.) There is something slightly unhinged about these dresses—they look fancy but homemade, as if your kookiest aunt stayed up all night crafting you a prom dress—which is why I covet them.
An enormous faux-fur coat.
Let’s talk about this some more. In the new whodunnit romp “Knives Out,” which takes place in an ornate Gothic manse in midwinter, the great-grandmother of the family wears five coats on top of one another at any given time—and she looks chic as hell. Though this idiosyncratic wardrobe choice is too cumbersome to try at home, an essential part of dressing for your own pleasure is swaddling yourself in a giant jacket, as if channelling the Arctic explorer Peter Freuchen in that infamous Irving Penn photograph, in which he towers over his wife, Dagmar, while wearing a polar-bear pelt. These days, there is no reason to wear dead endangered animals to achieve this effect, thanks to a recent surge in fun fur innovations—the latest faux coats on the market are downy, slouchy, and come in as many colors as Jelly Bellies. Start at Apparis, a buzzy Parisian brand that makes ethical, fleecy outerwear (I’m drawn to the Chloe, a neon leopard bomber jacket), or visit the House of Fluff, a New York-based line that launched last year and sells a chocolate-colored faux-mink car coat that looks so much like the real thing that you can tell people that you swiped it from an Upper East Side estate sale. Then there’s this dove-gray Tibi coat, a cozy cross between a Gund koala and a bathrobe. For a total splurge, there’s this swirly Gucci stole that looks like a hand-me-down from a Romanov sister. You can also check out Faz Not Fur, a fairly new line from the former fashion buyer Nadja Axarlis that makes a lovely fake leopard piece, or Marei1998, another new house (the designer of which, Maya Reik, is only twenty-one years old), which specializes in hyper-realistic vegan fox fur and has become a favorite of celebrities like Ariana Grande. The plus-sized-clothes retailer Eloquii has also dived into the snuggly trend: this cropped coat is the color of funfetti cake and just as festive.
A jaunty beret.
You heard it here first: berets are back. They were all over the fall/winter runways this year, from Acne to House of Holland to Saint Laurent. They are in practically every store you walk into. And, if you wear it cantilevered at an angle, the beret adds a timeless addition to the eccentric’s look. Take J. Lo., who wore a black leather Zimmerman beret throughout the “Hustlers” press cycle this fall, pulling off a look that simultaneously screamed secret agent and Italian widow. If you are feeling traditional, you can get a classic Scottish-wool version at Toast or The Kooples. If you want to spice things up a bit, look to the British millennial milliner Emma Brewin, whose signature shaggy berets are just over-the-top enough.
A signature scent.
I have a ninety-five-year-old friend named Annette Green—we met earlier this year, when I wrote about her memoir—who ran the Fragrance Foundation for decades and is perhaps the most stylish Manhattanite on the island. (She matches a different bejewelled cane to her outfits every day.) Because she spent so long representing the perfume industry, she never stopped to choose a signature scent—until this year, when the perfumer Frank Voelkl, the nose behind the popular Santal 33, made a fragrance just for her. It’s called Annette’s Greenhouse. It smells like cold cucumber gazpacho, and you cannot buy it anywhere. There is an undeniable power to walking into any room and leaving a gumdrop trail of your aura behind. This year saw the launch of several interesting, distinctive perfumes that could start scenting your scarves: Zoologist’s Squid, a funky cocktail of black ink, musk, and sea brine that smells like high tide; Gucci’s Mémoire d’une Odeur, a genderless scent that relies on delicate Roman chamomile flowers; Y.S.L.’s Libre, a powdery lavender-and-neroli concoction that smells like a vintage vanity; and Byredo’s Sundazed, which smells like suntan lotion and cotton candy, redolent of a sticky beach boardwalk. Whatever you choose, make sure you can always have it with you in an atomizer.
A dressing gown.
2019 has been exhausting, so why not dress like you are always two steps away from a fainting couch? The gold standard of boudoir couture comes from the indie designer Catherine D’Lish, who makes her marabou confections on a small island off the coast of Washington State. These are melodramatic dressing gowns in the style of nineteen-forties film-star fashion, but they are perfectly suitable for flopping around the house or wearing to the bodega: your robe, your rules.
One thing I love about older women is their heavy hand with pearlescent eyeshadows, often in shades the color of peacock feathers and desert sunsets. The new Natasha Denona Metropolis palette and the Melt Cosmetics Amor Eterno palette are full of pigmented and super-rich colors—including lagoon blue, flamingo coral, and foiled sea foam—that take gumption and guile to pull off. But why not? The world is melting. Now is the time to paint with all the colors.
A menagerie of patterns.
Leopard print is the new beige; it goes with everything and anything. You can read up on the history of the motif in “Fierce,” the fashion historian Jo Weldon’s lively coffee-table book. And then you can go on a spree: the super-high-waisted Levi’s Ribcage jeans come in leopard now, the hip Danish brand Ganni (its first New York brick-and-mortar outpost opened this year, in SoHo) is making flowy feline party dresses, and you can even snag leopard bike shorts to go under minidresses. But why stop at leopard? There’s a whole zoo out there: zebra kitten heels, alligator-esque Jacquemus mini bags, tiger camisoles, or asymmetrical skirts inspired by cheetahs. The more animal prints you wear at once, the better—it’s power-clashing meets “Dr. Dolittle.”
The key to channelling octogenarian flair is to wear at least a few items that are recycled or passed down; vintage shopping is environmentally friendly and can more or less insure that you will have a few pieces in your closet that nobody else owns (except the ghosts that still inhabit them, obviously). A lot of vintage shopping has moved onto Instagram and to sites such as Depop or TheRealReal, and also to highly curated online shops such as The Break and Older Ghosts. And, if you are looking for one-of-a-kind plus-sized vintage steals, check out Berriez or Luvsick Plus.
The gift this year for the stylish older woman in your life—and that can be you!—is “Bill Cunningham: On the Street,” a stunning compendium of five decades of the late, great street-style photographer’s snaps from around New York City. The book’s cover is a shocking French blue, the same blue of the yeoman worker’s smocks that Cunningham would wear to shoot galas where some of the gowns cost more than a compact car. Cunningham had an impeccable eye for style; train yours by flipping the pages.