EVEN AFTER IT HAS BEEN carefully explained to me by one of my most stylish friends, I still don't understand why I can't wear a black-leather biker jacket with a tweed skirt and brown leather walking shoes.
"I don't get it," I tell her. "I saw Vogue editor Anna Wintour on TV this morning and she said black is in. She said leather is in. And she said biker jackets are in. So where did I go wrong?"
"By not accessorizing your jacket with a silver catsuit and panther-print platform pumps," my friend shot back in that annoying, know-it-all tone of voice used by people who, annoyingly, know it all.
Such are the realities of life, I guess. That one kind of person approaches the new fall fashion season with a sense of certainty and ongoing personal growth, while another sort of person approaches it cautiously.
Or to put it another way: Some people get their first glance of the "Terminatrice" look (think Linda Hamilton in a black T-shirt with cutoff sleeves, black chino pants, black boots) and immediately think, "Why not?"
Others get a gander at such an outfit and think, "Huh?"
Still others -- myself included -- greet each fashion change in much the same way that Dorothy Parker met all new events in life: by wearily and warily asking the rhetorical question, "What fresh hell is this?"
It is a question that was never far from my mind while leafing through a recent fashion magazine. How, I wondered, could I possibly incorporate into my existing wardrobe such items as a jacket flared at the hem to resemble the line of a hula hoop? Or thigh-high, patent leather boots with Lucite heels? Or a see-through, silver mesh blouse and beaded biker shorts?
(In all fairness I should point out that few women I know could successfully carry off that last look -- not even Martha Stewart, a woman who seems to be in complete control of the universe as we know it.)
In a scholarly paper I hope to write someday -- one which attempts to trace the influences in an individual's life which shape her, or his, fashion persona -- I plan to use my own life to illustrate my hypothesis. The following is a rough outline of the paper which I have titled simply: "Seven People Who Made Me What I Am Today -- Fashionwise."
1. Eileen down the street: As early as the age of 2, I recognized that my friend Eileen wore her sunsuits with a flair unachieved by anyone else in the sandbox. Very influential.
2. Miss Ford, my kindergarten teacher: A former WAC, she opened up the unlimited possibilities of khaki as a color. Pretty influential.
3. The O'Brien twins, Maureen and Mary, in the sixth grade: A classic and important scientific lesson in how genetics do not the fashion persona make. Although identical twins, Maureen was a fashion winner -- gold circle pin, cashmere sweater, pleated skirt -- and Mary a fashion disaster -- brown shoes with navy socks, unmatched barrettes, tartan skirt with striped blouse. Darn influential.
4. My paternal Aunt Claire: A woman who knew how to wear a fur coat with a corsage of violets. Huge but mostly symbolic fashion influence since I don't wear a fur coat and seldom get corsages.
5. Miss Lillian, a saleswoman in Hutzler's Better Hats Department: "You should never wear purple," Miss Lillian told me once when I was about 12 and tagging along with my mother on a shopping trip. "It will make your skin look blue." Very influential, particularly when applied in concert with the khaki-color tips from Miss Ford, my kindergarten teacher.
6. LaRue Martin, a cheerleader in my junior high school: From LaRue, who was two grades ahead of me, I learned the art of wearing the proper-sized sweater. Less, I learned, is more. Her influence lives on.
7. Yves Saint Laurent, the fashion designer: Interviewed him in 1985 and found his advice on fashion most helpful. "The best possible look," he said, "is a simple black blouse worn with a simple black skirt." At least I think that's what he said. Since he was speaking in French -- not my first language -- and I was wearing a black blouse and black skirt, I may have misunderstood. Still, he probably ties with the O'Brien twins (Maureen and Mary, remember?) for most influential.
I'm also planning to do a paper devoted to the analysis of my recurring fashion nightmare. The one in which my photo is featured in the National Enquirer under the headline: "Worst Dressed Celebrities at the Academy Awards." Featured along with me are Cher, Heather Locklear and, oh yes, the O'Brien twins.