I do not care about my style looking concertedly “effortless” in the same way that I really do not care about the racket that is “no-makeup makeup.” The longer I’ve spent as a beauty writer doing horrifying and potentially dangerous things to my skin for a laugh (eyebrow microblading, Fillerinaing, cryotherapying like Yolanda Hadid), the more I’ve realized that that’s where the fun is. I love the idea of my clothes being the least stand out-y element of my physicality. My top knot can be a foot tall if it’s not competing with oversize ruffles or neon color; my dewy face can be dripping orange sweat like a Gatorade commercial if it isn’t in dialogue with, like, a bolo tie.
About a year ago, I became aware of a set of eight Eileen Fisher pieces called The System. The System is a modular wardrobe of highly elegant silhouettes that consists of four pant styles, two shells, a tank and a tank dress. (You know it’s elegant when it’s called a “pant” and not “pants.”) Uniform dressing was pretty hot about a year ago. And women my age — who love to complain about how tired they are — seem to be constantly fantasizing about dressing like an elder Diane Keaton in a Nancy Meyers movie. I’m never tired because I have a lot of free time, and my all-time-favorite Keaton look is when she wears like 35 costume pearl necklaces at once in Because I Said So, but still, I became obsessed with the idea of The System.
I want to make it clear here that I’m not chic. I’m not even well-dressed. But I was looking for a change. I’m usually wearing four too many layers, three too many neckerchiefs, two too many bras. I’m bogged down, and unsure of to whom clothes currently hitting fast-fashion stores are meant to appeal. Women actively proud of their clavicles who work in an office whose dress code necessitates the wearing of pinstripes?
The more I piled on, the more I realized I simply can’t be bothered to keep up. So I tagged out of the game entirely, focused my energies on moisturizing and rooted for everyone else still participating. Enter The System.
The System’s pricy, though (these pants, which are basically nothing on purpose, are $238, for example), so for a year I tried recreating it with Uniqlo to varying levels of accuracy and success. These $19.90 jersey cropped flare wide pants are essentially the same look, just as this $19.90 drape sleeveless blouse can stand in for the $178 Eileen Fisher boxy shell. But the material’s cheaper and I find that some Uniqlo pieces, particularly the brand’s tops, fit me strangely. For some reason, probably because I fetishize expensive things but have no idea how to make any money, I wanted the real thing.
I had a genius idea. What if I tried The System for Man Repeller? Luckily, my editor approved. Even more luckily, Eileen Fisher sent me the eight pieces. After a few touch-and-go moments (the large pants were a touch too large, and I feared that the medium would be a touch too medium), I got to the challenge. I love a self-imposed challenge. Within eight minutes, it stopped being a challenge.
For almost two months straight, I wore The System exclusively. (I guess this is also where I divulge I never washed anything because it’s dry-clean only and I simply can’t be bothered.) Most days, I didn’t even shake The System up. I wore the black Straight Cropped Pant and the black Boxy Shell at least three days a week, usually with my most matronly of Danskos or a pair of woven leather oxfords.
Nobody noticed, as was my plan. I wore The System to school, to my new part-time receptionist job that I am extremely bad at, to meetings and to the single time in that seven-week period that I went to “a bar” with “peers” instead of reading about Disney World secrets on internet forums alone in my bed for three hours at a time, which is my favorite hobby even though I’ve only been once in the last ten years. Guys, Walt’s cryogenically frozen body is not entombed there no matter what rumors you’ve heard!
I loved the look so much that I even considered buying all the pants in white, but decided against it as I have a bad history with period blood and salad dressing.
I’m going to anticipate your two questions here: 1) Did I ever feel a loss of personal identity? No, because I shook it up with varying controversial statement tote bags every couple days. My current favorite is an over-the-shoulder canvas tote from Flying Tiger that says MY ALL TIME FAVOURITE COLOUR IS DEFINITELY BLUE in red print. 2) Why am I endorsing The System when it functions the exact same as a knock-off version that retails at about ⅛ of the price? Because it’s not like Eileen Fisher holds a patent on “black pants” and “white shirt.”
I don’t have an answer to the last one, aside from the fact that sometimes, it’s nice to feel secretly sumptuous, even if nobody else knows. That there is the plain beauty of The System.
Graphic by Maria Jia Ling Pitt; iPhone photos by Claire Carusillo.