My name is Maureen, and I am not a fashion person. Three years ago, I landed an editing job at a fashion magazine. But up until recently, I continued to regard the fashion world with the slightest disdain.
When asked what I did at FLARE, I always stressed that I was the words person—lest the inquisitor wonder why I was wearing a ratty pair of boots. I didn’t go to many events, telling myself it wasn’t part of my job, but really it was because I had nothing to wear.
My clothing-related anxiety escalated as I realized I actually enjoyed working at a fashion magazine. What type of message was I sending to my colleagues? I’d been welcomed into their world, ratty boots and all, and yet I seemingly refused to take much of an interest in it aside from what was mandated by my job description. Did they think I was “above” fashion? Did I? I’d often said I was proud to be employed by a magazine that could report on subjects such as topfreedom and model exploitation alongside intergalactic roller derby–inspired fashion shoots. So why did I continue to scoff at the idea of dressing like I worked at one?
While mulling this over, I became obsessed with the recently released Women in Clothes, a compendium of more than 600 women’s experiences with personal style. I was amazed at the thoughtfulness they put into dissecting their wardrobe choices—and doubted that I cared that much about my own. Then I realized my very resistance to fashion has actually occupied a significant portion of my headspace for the past three years.
One of my favourite passages in the book lists a woman’s 36 clothing purchases over a six-month period; I myself can often go six months without buying a single thing. Part of it has to do with the fact that I despise shopping. This wasn’t always the case; as a university student I frequented Urban Outfitters despite being flat broke. Now that I can afford nice things, however, I have less time and I don’t want to waste it at the mall—I’d rather be at the gym or with my husband. I’ve also never been truly happy with anything I’ve purchased online (the fit is always off). When I do shop, I don’t feel like I’m building toward a cohesive work wardrobe; instead, I’m just amassing random stuff. And so, I tend to give up.
But dressing well has become important to me; in my mind, upgrading my look will unlock the next level of my career. So I spent some time parsing my personal taste—and it turns out I do have some. I appreciate the sense of empowerment imparted by a killer blazer or a pair of over-the-knee boots. I love a good print, too, and thrill to a certain brand of boho (see early- to-mid-aughts Sienna Miller and all things Anthropologie) that I know, through experience, I can’t pull off. I decide that I can realistically aspire to a minimalist-chic look similar to that of the late Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, with the odd pop of colour, pattern or sparkle.
I work up the nerve to share my style woes with Truc Nguyen, FLARE’s inimitable senior style and market editor. Truc always looks like she works at a fashion magazine, and genuinely worries about the state of office dressing today. For the good of FLARE, she agrees to help me. And that’s how I find myself taking her through my closet as she perches on my bed alongside my goldendoodle.
“This is all you have?” she inquires sadly about what I now see is a rather limited inventory; my workwear consists of a motley crew of blazers, two OK-looking dresses and a pair of J Brand jeans that I wear to the office much too much. Even the dog, hanging her head, looks embarrassed.
Truc is especially appalled by my accessory situation. “It’s emergency level,” she says of my sole work-appropriate satchel and five pairs of shoes. (She herself has two dozen handbags and twice as many pairs of shoes.) I attempt to articulate the type of look I’m after—in spite of being the words person, I have trouble speaking fashion—so Truc suggests we put together a shopping list to fill the many gaps in my wardrobe. In addition to shoes (including brogues, tall boots and heels—my first ever) and bags (a structured purse, a flat-bottomed leather tote), I am in dire need of dark trousers, a few pencil skirts, a work-to-evening dress, leather something (pants, skirt or dress) and a straight-cut wool coat. Truc recommends I stick to a mix of 30 percent personality pieces (my colour, pattern and sparkle) and 70 percent wardrobe essentials, and then departs. I’m overwhelmed, but vow to start shopping, stat.
Two months pass. Truc has a baby. The deadline for this feature looms. I haven’t bought anything, despite regular emails from Truc alerting me to various sales. I eventually stop replying. Maybe it would be easier to … get a new job?
No, no, no, no. One day, I duck out of work early to swing by an event for Excel gum, at which Stacy London is the guest speaker. Afterward, I have a private audience with the What Not to Wear star. “Think of your wardrobe as a pie: you have solid neutrals, solid colours, prints and sparkle,” she tells me, suggesting I visit more expensive stores first, figure out what I like, buy what I can, then move down the fashion chain. “Focus, focus, focus,” she says in parting. Thusly steeled, I head to Hudson’s Bay, list in hand. There I purchase black suede Vince Camuto tall boots and grey suede Enzo Angiolini d’Orsay flats. I’m not sure what slice of Stacy’s pie these fall into, but I think Truc will approve.
Over the next month, I buy two shifts—a navy Marc by Marc Jacobs; a black Diane Von Furstenberg—black Zara Chelsea boots, a black Ela tote from Holt Renfrew and a silver Club Monaco top (personality!). In them, I immediately feel more confident; so much so I start saying yes to a few of the gazillion events I’m invited to each week. There’s still more to buy (see my ongoing list below), and it’s still overwhelming. But I’m now trying to view shopping in the same light as working out: I don’t always enjoy it, but I love the result—and it’s very helpful to have a goal to work toward. When Truc tells me I look good during the shoot for this piece, I feel anointed. My name is Maureen, and I’m starting to become a fashion person.
My Ongoing Shopping List