Lessons of Feminine Fashion from Truman Capote
Did you ever read the book Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Maybe you saw the movie? They were two very different presentations of the world Truman Capote created, but they both had a very feminine rebel at their core in the form of Holly Golightly.
As I work through this month of pushing my fashion boundaries toward a more April in Paris-inspired feminine style, I’ve been thinking a lot about Holly Golightly and the actress who played her in the movie, Audrey Hepburn.
Granted, neither Holly Golightly nor Audrey Hepburn were French. The story itself is based in New York. But both women were icons of fashion’s femininity and they were women who pushed boundaries and challenged expectations. They blazed their own trails, for better or for worse. This speaks to me as I challenge my own notions about what it means to dress feminine, to be feminine, over 40.
Rebelling Against Myself
If I am to embrace their spirits, I have to be willing to be a little rebellious. In this case, I’m rebelling against my own expectations and perceptions.
For most of my life, I have equated feminine styles with itchy lace, cold zippers up the back, and pastels so light that my presence fades into the clouds. In other words, my perception of dressing feminine meant being uncomfortable and invisible at the same time. I totally forgot about those women, like Holly and Audrey, who stood out due in part because of their femininity.
As a result of my perceptions, my go-to colors, patterns, and fabrics have long been more masculine in character. They make me feel stronger, taken more seriously. I perceive these masculine styles as keeping me from being seen as “cute,” a four-letter word most petite women have heard their whole lives and hate. (Just ask Laura, a petite fashion blogger at Collecting Labels.)
So, these masculine colors and styles became my safe place and it’s hard to let go of that. Even in my first post of this series exploring feminine styles, I chose a top that was inspired by men in the French Navy and a pair of boyfriend jeans. To rebel against that, I had to embrace my inner Holly Golightly. I had to go against the grain and try feminine colors, patterns, and fabrics.
My first leap into this more feminine space was with the Fab Collab I did with Jodie of Jodie’s Touch of Style blog. We wrote personal stories about pearls and how they relate to four decades of women, from forty-plus to fifty-plus, sixty-plus, and on to seventy-plus. In writing my part of the collaboration, I had a revelation when I looked at the photo of my mother from when she was 16, clad from neck to knee in lace. My first thought was, “Boy, does that look itchy.”
Truth is, she looks beautiful. But, yes, I have a thing about lace and itchiness. More on that in a post to come.
This revelation, though, made me take stock of my notions about femininity. It forced me to face my addiction to black, tweed, and brogues. I had to ask myself what was so wrong with color and lace. And really, I had to ask myself what was so wrong with wanting to look like a woman.
Even with a desire to change, I had no idea where to start. My notions of femininity were so skewed that when I looked at things online, I became overwhelmed. So, I did what any good writer worth her salt would do — I consulted the experts.
When in doubt, bring in the experts
Elizabeth Podlesnik is a personal stylist at Nordstrom in downtown Seattle. I mentioned her last week when describing her rule of “The Third Piece.” When I met with her, I went in with an open mind, but since my mission was to find feminine styles, I was slightly terrified I might come out looking like somebody’s fairy godmother.
This was silly, of course. Prior to our meeting, Elizabeth emailed me with several questions about what I hoped to achieve and what my current style was like. When I arrived for my appointment, she had a dressing room waiting for me. It was filled with subtly feminine pieces that — gasp — I immediately fell in love with.
She picked out the outfit I’m wearing in these photos, though I added the shoes. Without expert attention from Elizabeth I might never have tried these baby blue ankle pants by NYDJ or paired it with that linen top by Eileen Fisher. I definitely would never have picked that blue floral(!) scarf! Look at me! I’m feminine! And, if you don’t mind my saying so, this outfit is so chic!
One of the things that struck me as I worked with Elizabeth was how simple elegant dressing can be. I’m so used to adding something — a vest here or a jacket there, a big chunky necklace or long scarf, etc.
The outfit Elizabeth created takes a page right out of Audrey Hepburn’s style book with a basic top, some close-cut ankle pants, and a pair of statement shoes. It has that exact sophisticated ease I’m looking for when I think about feminine fashion that embodies the April in Paris theme. Based on the photo comparison below, I could even remove the scarf and still come away looking polished.
Let’s talk about shoes
The real gauge of how far I’ve come with this little experiment is to check out my shoes. Besides lace, flats are another one of those things I’ve avoided my entire adult life. They have never seemed comfortable to me and I don’t need anything to make me appear smaller than I already am. But these flats from Cole Haan are pointy and ever so leg-lengthening. I will admit they are not the most comfortable shoes I own. I will never walk the dog in these, for example. The chic-factor, though, makes me want to protect them from the perils encountered when walking the dog. I want to save them for times when I’m out to dinner or lunch and for sit-down brunches or concerts. In other words, the positives outweigh the negatives and I fear I must admit yet again how wrong I was.
Looking at this outfit, I see classic femininity. There’s nothing frilly about it, but it is definitely feminine and it pushes me out of my original comfort zone. Even so, I am completely comfortable. I actually feel pretty great wearing this.
Next week I’ve got a special guest joining me. I’ll be chatting with Jacynth from The-Bias-Cut.com about her mission to help women over 40 go against the grain and embrace their signature style. I hope you’ll subscribe to the blog or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram so as not to miss a thing!
Shop This Look:
Soundtrack for April in Paris supplied by SoundCloud
When I do a photo shoot, I try to get more in the spirit of things by playing music from the era I’m showcasing. Below is a playlist from SoundCloud that I listened to while gearing up for my Audrey Hepburn photo shoot. Enjoy!
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