Fashion is creativity. Fashion is self-expression. Each season the fashion world evolves more than it disrupts. (Though there is some of that, too. See: Alexander McQueen.) Our clothes are a reflection of who we are, even—and especially—if we don’t care about them.
I wore a uniform to school from the time I was in fourth grade until I graduated from high school. Perhaps it was because I am creative or simply because I had a few formative years of dressing myself, but my uniforms always seemed to chafe. The sailor collar and tie of the midi of my first uniform did not allow much room for modification. Later, when I changed schools and my uniform became white blouses and plaid, pleated skirts for what was the whole of my adolescence, I had a little more flexibility.
I began to coordinate my extensive collection of hair accessories with ribbons that I tied in bows at the first button of my shirt. Pins adorned my chest and collar and I usually wore a delicate, gold butterfly ring that my mother had given me.
In high school our uniform blazer was a snappy Buckingham Palace-guard red, but the sweater was a very depressing and dreary burgundy. I couldn’t bear it.
This was the early ’80s, which was the last resurgence of the popularity of monograms. (That era, too, was heavy on labels and identifying what’s “mine.”) I had probably a dozen sweaters with “POD” stitched in coordinating threads in block letters or cursive, the scale just right—medium. (Now, if I were to monogram something—stationery or a linen—I would scale up or scale down.)
At the start of nearly every day I wore a non-regulation sweater. Pale blue cable with a navy script. Oatmeal with brown letters and a strawberry vine cartouche. The bright red V-neck merino was the closest thing to uniform. Every day a stern Christian Brother or our gruff football coach would grab my elbow in the hall and say, “O’Dell. Locker.” And I would roll my eyes and stuff my sweater on top of the jumble of books.
College provided untold freedom of dress and decorum. But it’s amusing that since I’ve had the opportunity to wear whatever I wanted, I rely heavily on white shirts. It’s notable, too, how often I reach for skirts. It is still in accessories where I make my mark and announce who I am: the clink of my bracelets, the weight of my rings, the individuality of my bags. While I don’t think it was the intent, the structure of those uniforms helped me find my own voice.
My interiors mirror my wardrobe in a lot of ways. For major purchases, I rely on classics. Just as I dress in solids and accentuate with jewelry, at home, the “snap” comes from accessories. It has less to do with expense, as the pieces that pop are not necessarily cheap, but creating a story.
You have to have a lot of ka-ching to start going crazy with upholstery. Good sofas and chairs can be very dear (and investing in good upholstery is universally considered smart), so it’s a good idea to stick with classic shapes. English sofas with a tight back and rolled arm are always a good bet and the boxy tuxedo sofa is all that its name implies: sleek, classic, timeless. Club chairs are irresistible because they are so comfortable, but a well proportioned tub chair—back high enough to provide support, arms sloping just enough so that your elbows and wrists can relax—are excellent answers to tight spaces. These are my decorating equivalents of white blouse and jeans.
Next comes stuff. The nearest equivalent of scarves, shoes and jewelry. I can’t tell people how to buy stuff and I’m wary of decorators who buy stuff for their clients. For me, the stuff just comes. Porcelain bowls, strings of large beads, art. Like thick silver bracelets or a vintage crocodile bag or your grandfather’s pocket watch worn on a red ribbon around your neck, these are the things that say something about who you are. It won’t matter in the least if the rug is sisal and the furniture slipcovered hand-me-downs if the stuff in your home is true to your heart. It’s the bits and bobs that make the whole thing sing.
I like to spice things up with lighting. It’s not that lamps and fixtures are inexpensive, but they do provide a nice opportunity to enhance without overwhelming. Modern and contemporary lighting can add a bit of an edge. It’s here that I choose an interesting shape or add the gleam and glint of metal.