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Women's Fashion

Part IV, Accessories

Forget about your butt; consider your jewelry. (You can change it a hell of a lot faster.) A look at the history of accessories.

It is new fancy rather than taste which produces so many fashions.
—Voltaire

A girlfriend of mine just went through a particularly hard year—divorce, career upheaval, the possibility of leaving her beloved bungalow. We were talking about New Year’s resolutions, and she said she was going easy on herself. Her only resolution was to accessorize better. Fuck the gym—this is a goal I can get behind.

Designers draw from the past, and so should you. The idea is to dress as an individual without drawing cringes from your peers. The oft-repeated rule is that styles are recycled every twenty years or so. Wearing something that was once all the rage but has since fallen out of style will make you seem fashionable without risking disasters.

This is my list of standbys from decades past. I skipped the ’90s because I just don’t have enough emotional distance to recommend that you bust out your shrugs again. Forgive me.

1910s

Full-Size Umbrellas: Why do we wear shoes that make our feet bleed, but won’t carry an umbrella that doesn’t tuck into our purse? Half the convenience, ten times the appeal, the full-size umbrella with a wooden hook handle is too charming to abandon. How forlorn to browse in a bookstore, sip a latte, or buy a paper on a rainy afternoon without one.

1920s

Fans: Aren’t fans sweet? They’re light, compact, and they drop right into your purse. If you live somewhere hot, or you like to go out dancing, it’s such a comfort to have a portable cooling system with you, and so much more attractive than fanning your sweaty neck with a magazine. If you live in a big city, head to the nearest Chinatown and pick one up for a buck or two. I’m a sucker for cherry blossoms.

1930s

Gloves: Without a decent pair of gloves, what do you suppose you’ll use to slap your offenders? White cotton gloves are a little too precious (and OCD indicative) for afternoon shopping trips nowadays, but dress gloves are so suave with an evening gown. I’m also in favor of colorful, soft, leather gloves for the winter. Try red with your black coat or a soft blue to offset your more muted ensembles. Leather gloves give such a satisfying thwack when defending one’s honor.

1940s

Back-Seam Stockings: You can wear them slutty, classy, or somewhere in between. Where else can you get that kind of versatility for ten bucks? Back-seam stockings lend ba-boom to the most mundane dress or shapeless skirt. Black is a classic choice. Please straighten your seam, or you’ll look as though you’ve just had a tryst in the broom closet.

Compacts: You’ll feel much smugger about powdering your nose when you have a monogrammed compact case. I know you’ve gotten one of these as a bridesmaid gift by now. Dust it off, and take it out on the town. You can smirk in the bathroom while the other girls are blotting their shiny faces with paper towels.

1950s

Vices: Cigarette smoking is a nasty habit. Don’t cigarette cases make it ever so much more attractive? Press the precise, silver button, and pop! A tidy row of cigarette soldiers waits to defend you against the evening chill. Offer one to a friend; give him a light with your shiny flip-top lighter. (Plink! Tiny flame. Plink! Pocket-ready.) And for god’s sake, get yourself a drink. Why do you think they call it a cocktail dress?

Brooches: No one wears brooches anymore, and that’s convenient for us, ladies. Brooches are nostalgic—out of favor, but not entirely forgotten. They’re just grandma enough to qualify as quirky, and a very simple outfit can look funky if you pick the right pin.

1960s

False Eyelashes: A kittenish sidelong glance is nothing without them. Buy a pack of individual lashes and some lash glue at the drugstore. Put a couple of lashes on the outside corner of each eye, and maybe one in the middle to even things out. Paint on some black liquid liner and give yourself a slow wink in the mirror. If you don’t want to have sex with your own reflection, you’re doing it wrong.

1970s

Pom-Pom Hats: The more interest you take in your wardrobe, the more you’ll realize that caring too much about what people think can be the kiss of death. When everyone is wearing their sleek little black watchmen’s caps, nothing says “piss off” like a ’70s-style pom-pom ski cap in Lifesaver colors. Orange and green stripes, or navy blue and white topped with a cherry-red pom—this is clothing that bobs when you walk! Right on.

Crocheted Beer Can Hats: Perhaps you’ve seen one of these at a thrift store. You cut beer cans into squares or ovals and then crochet them into a hat. Eh? Eh? I’m kidding. Take it off.

1980s

Studded Belts: You had to give up your side ponytail, but don’t let go of that studded leather belt. It’s the perfect device to keep your low-slung jeans from revealing your low-slung G-string. You may already have a black one for nights on the town, but have you considered white? White is more amusing—especially with the matching leather cuffs.

The Details

Every time you leave the house, you should be wearing, or carrying, one unique thing that makes you a happy kid. If you have an unusual accessory, you can throw on a black turtleneck and a ho-hum pair of jeans and still seem hip. The unexpected diverts attention from the mundane, and stocking up on wacky vintage brooches is a lot cheaper than buying an electric-green Cashmere coat. Also, electric green isn’t your color.