A great pair of shoes can really knock you out. I nearly cracked my head open during a wedding ceremony in Brooklyn because of this one particular pair. Crystals were packed onto their short-stack heels while satin creeped upward and over the foot. They were Mary Janes. Navy. Definitely navy as opposed to black, which I could tell from six rows back, but I was not sure if they were Miu Miu or Rochas.
I leaned too far forward to check, slipped on my own slides and nearly fell flat on my face mid-vows. Luckily, a friend mom-armed me like a human seatbelt. A little noise was caused, the shoes remained a mystery, but all was good.
When I spotted them later they were on the dancing feet of a 5-foot-tall woman in a pair of printed pajamas: satin, paisley-printed pajamas buttoned up to the collar with striking red piping and fur cuffs.
So you know, I sartorially hit on her.
The woman in question was Gayle Spannaus, the women’s fashion director at J.Crew. What I found out is that she’s a self-proclaimed Man Repeller, a bonafide DIYer of the elevated degree (she had a tailor sew pieces of her grandmother’s vintage stole onto the pajama sleeves for her), and a leader in the art of SleepCorp: bed-wear that’s semi corporate-setting appropriate (but not really), perfect for black tie and, more importantly, a guaranteed blast to dance in.
Which is more or less exactly what the one and only Gayle Spannaus said and did.
“I either go big or go home,” she told me of her thought process while getting dressed. There is no in-between.”
She chalks up her personal style to survival. “Being 5-foot and loving clothes as much as I do presents somewhat of a challenge for me, but I embrace the challenge.” She remembers how a Japanese woman who opened a store in her hometown changed the way she thought about getting dressed entirely. “She would wear skirts to the floor with big jackets — it was an awakening. Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, Marni — this aesthetic shoe introduced showed me a new way to be stylish. It was irreverent. It didn’t play into the rules my mom taught me. Instead, I learned that if you’re small, you you play with scale.”
Spannaus did bring one piece of non-proportion-related advice from her mom to the wedding: “You can be a participator or an observer, and that’s a choice. But if you’re going to be an observer, then you’re going to watch a whole lot of people having fun.”
Guess what Gayle is not when it comes to the dance floor? An observer.
A woman after our own hearts, in a pair of shoes — Rochas, by the way — that nearly broke my nose.
Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis; runway images via Vogue Runway.