Dressing for My Next Life

She used to be a couture-wearing fashion editor. Now she’s a suburban mom, taunted by a closet full of designer clothes.

By Lesley Jane Seymour

Farewell, FashionistaIf a Chanel blouse hangs in your closet but you no longer wear it, does it really exist? It’s not that the delicate little flower-print blouson I bought in the spring of 2005 isn’t still gorgeous; it is. And it’s not as if it didn’t serve its purpose. When I was editor-in-chief of a major fashion magazine, that blouse spent an entire season as my go-to look for high-powered business lunches. When I amortize that thousand-dollar (or more) blouse across all the times I wore it, it probably comes to about $10 a viewing — quite frugal in the high-fashion world.But last spring, I lost my job. While it was a deeply painful experience, it opened a door to a summer spent recuperating from international burnout. (I’d been out of the country 60 days a year.) It also gave me the chance to figure out, at 49, what I really want to do with the rest of my life. All summer long, that wisp of a Chanel blouse hung in my closet like some lonely, cast-off love, taunting me about my old corporate self every time I opened the door. "What are you going to do with me?" it sneered as I stood before it every morning with my just-washed hair (bliss: no more blow-drying) and bare face (super-bliss: no more makeup). "Are you going to move me into your ‘what-was-I-thinking closet’ next to that ghastly periwinkle blue shearling dress you bought at a sample sale? Or are you going to wear me again?"No wonder the first thing one of my friends said on hearing of my sudden lifestyle change was "But what about the clothes!" When I joined Vogue magazine as a lowly copywriter back in the 1980s, I always felt sartorially inadequate. I was the girl who had the perfect black outfit (shoulder pads and all), but the pantyhose were the wrong thickness or the shoes were too pedestrian. When I finally reached the top rung of the publishing business, I made it my goal to build the kind of professional wardrobe that could go anywhere in the world and look chic — and I did.So now what am I going to do with that closet full of empty suits?I know what the fashion gurus say: Just team that old Dolce & Gabbana jacket with a pair of your everyday jeans and voila: instant chic. But to make that work, you have to wear your tight, slenderizing jeans instead of your roomy, comfortable ones, and you have to add spike heels to give the look the right proportion; then you have to throw in the blown-dry hair and the makeup; then — well, you may as well be working full-time again. Plus, I honestly can’t see myself wearing my black leather Chanel motorcycle jacket with the multiple gold zippers to pick up a prescription. I’m fine with not being a fashion editor anymore, and I see no earthly reason to dress like one if I don’t have to. Been there, done that.Although I never thought it possible, it’s actually delightful to go from having more money than time to having more time than money. I love having this chance to reconnect with my kids. I even enjoy sitting in my yard watching the sun go down over the treetops. (I should have known I needed a change last March, when I sped down the Champs-Elysees in the back of a chauffeured car and never once looked up from my BlackBerry.) It’s a luxury to be able to say "yes" and not "hold on" when my daughter asks me to "com’ere" and see penguins dancing on some goofy Web site or to go shopping for yet another pair of shoes she doesn’t need. I’m relishing the beauty of the words last minute — a concept that had been expunged from my vocabulary (and my life) years ago. Last-minute lunches, last-minute beauty treatments, last-minute movies. And naps.So I’m calling this my gap year — you know, the one you’re supposed to take between college and work. I was such a type-A worker bee I threw myself onto Seventh Avenue the day after graduation and hammered away for 28 years, stopping only for two maternity leaves. Now I have the downtime I’ve always craved. How do I dress for that? It’s not like I’m never going to work again. When headhunters call and ask me what I’m looking for now, I say simply, "to have fun." And then I add: "I don’t want to get married again. I just want to date around." My private term for this is "project slut." And when I’m doing project work, my designer clothes will suit me just fine. But what do I wear during the 70 percent of the time I’m just hanging out with my husband and kids?New Life, New LookIn my previous life, I could only power shop. In Milan each season, just off the plane, I’d grab maybe 15 minutes at Prada and blow about $5,000: two pairs of those shoes, that sweater, that coat…next! My newest luxury is time to meander through the mall. But recently, when I spun myself around Gap and Banana Republic, I realized I was just a little too mature for those looks. What I needed was comfy chic.I remembered one time several years ago when I got fed up with the baggy T-shirts and shorts I’d been wearing on weekends and tossed them all into a bag for charity. Back then, I found peace and fashion happiness at the DKNY store. So I took myself back there once again, and I wasn’t disappointed.What I’ve always loved about Donna Karan’s approach to fashion is that she acts as if she were dressing a hippie artist in the Hamptons. Her looks are chic, individualistic — and comfortable. They’re dressed-up enough that you won’t be embarrassed if friends stop by and sexy enough that your husband won’t be turned off if he has to see you in them again and again. (Which he will.) For less than $500, I picked up an entire wardrobe: a long black A-line cowl neck sweater that I wear over jeans, sashed with a thick belt; a cute short black wrap sweater that I slip on over a long-sleeved white T-shirt that has tiny ruffles around the neck and sleeves; and a short-sleeved front-wrapped white sweater that’s long enough to wear over leggings.I mix all that up with jeans I already own, a great gold Prada belt, Jimmy Choo ankle boots or cowboy boots (always classic), a pair of Celine driving shoes I got on sale — and I think I’ve finally done it. Relaxed chic: the kind of undone (but done) look that it takes Los Angelenas years to master. The kind of style that says I want to look great in my new life, not like a silly poseur. And my Chanel blouse? During a renovation, I had to stash it in my what-was-I-thinking closet next to the periwinkle blue shearling disaster. Sometimes I think I hear the two of them cackling together: The blouse talks about all the crazy, outrageous fashion events it’s been to, like the Moschino show in Milan where Marilyn Manson walked right across the runway — between the models — to get to his seat. And the shearling dress talks about the time it kept slipping off my shoulders at the apres-film party I hosted for some B-list celebrity.The truth is, I’m not quite ready to stuff my Chanel blouse into the charity bin. Like Clark Kent, I want to keep my professional cape and tights ready just in case I happen to see the right phone booth. At the right moment. Because, hey, you never know.Lesley Jane Seymour was editor-in-chief of Marie Claire, Redbook, and YM.

First Published Mon, 2009-04-06 17:17

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