Welcome to Outfit Anatomy, a series on Man Repeller that aims to break down what we wear by answering questions like: How much did that cost? Where did you find that? Why did you buy it in the first place? Today, Wall Street Journal deputy fashion director, Becky Malinsky breaks down the relatively simple outfit she recently wore to work.
I got this shirtdress from The RealReal on December 23, 2017, which I remember because it followed the December 22 announcement that Phoebe Philo would exit Celine. It’s from the Spring 2017 collection—I was at the show, and while waiting for it to start, Philo came out to greet the American Vogue editors who were sitting directly in front of me. She was in a pair of baggy yellow trousers and a charcoal cashmere three-quarter zip sweater zipped to the neck. She seemed at ease, excited. Her daughter was in the audience. At that moment, I really felt like she was the embodiment of creative, feminine success.
I studied her—the effortless placement of every strand of hair tucked behind her ear—and by the time the models started to come out, I was on such a high. The stream of colors and flowing fabric that followed really did prove to be the basis of one of my favorite collections of her tenure and the overall season. It was such a happy show. And usually, it takes me a while to catch up with her ideas. I have to process them. A lot of people who are interested in fashion are “Celine people” but it’s in pieces. You find what works for you so you’re not just blindly buying or letting the clothes wear you. I saw myself in a lot of that collection, though.
By nature, I’m obsessed with fashion—understanding and buying into the ideology of what makes something expensive. By trade, I am realistic. Working at a newspaper, my daily goal is to make the idea attainable, to explain what shapes to look for when you are on a budget, why stripes endure. My style is an amalgamation of these traits. I love fashion, but I want it to be real, to be useful. This dress is all of that to me. Unassuming, but powerful. Multipurpose. I can wear it to a fashion show and feel great. I can wear it to dinner with my college roommate, who is a third-grade teacher, and feel like the “me” she knows. Technically, I wear it backwards.
I saw it in the store in Paris when it was still full-price. I tried it on, proceeded to sit in the dressing room for 30 minutes and have a please-rationalize-my-purchase-text-chat with a friend/colleague, which is when I decided I could not stomach the price tag.
Later, I watched it closely on The RealReal, until it happened: she was leaving. My last chance at getting a wearable piece of this history was slipping through my fingers! Add to cart. Proceed to purchase. $824.13 including tax and shipping. I think my mother will be horrified when she reads this and finds out how much I paid.
The pendant was a recent purchase from a trip to Sorrento this past July. It’s the goddess Athena, with an owl stamped on the back. I’ve always been drawn to owls, maybe because they’re wise—a reminder to make wise decisions! I’m rational, even when it comes to jewelry. My husband forced me to practice negotiating for it, so I ended up paying 120 euro for what was originally priced at 150. I was proud of myself, though I’m not sure he was as impressed. According to Google’s currency converter, I paid $134.52. I’ve probably worn it about seven times, but I’ve only had it three weeks, so that’s something.
The bag is from Max Mara Weekend. It was $250. I’m incredibly particular about handbags for someone who doesn’t consider herself a “bag person.” I don’t feel an urge to get one each fall. I don’t fawn over new launches. I’m drawn to bags that aren’t overtly branded. It helps extend their fashion shelf life. I want you to look at my bag and think, maybe that’s a vintage Dior or maybe it was her grandma’s or maybe it’s from some new well-priced Danish brand I should know about.
That usually means my choice in handbag is relatively simple and falls away with an outfit, or is so flamboyant it subversively becomes practical because by not matching anything it can be worn unabashedly with everything. A well-proportioned outfit has multiple complementary statement items or an intentional lack of any statement items (which is what makes minimalism work as a whole). Gucci does the former well, The Row does the latter well. Both brands feel extreme in their cohesiveness, making it hard to wear just one piece. How does this relate to bags? If one item is too much eye-candy, the rest of the outfit falls out of balance. It becomes less about the composition and more about a single item.
I find this lack of balance happens most often with handbags. Someone puts together the total package, and then it’s either topped off or thrown-off. An it-bag usually segments the focus too much, so it throws it off. A plain black can do this too. It’s the handbag standard, so people think it requires less consideration, but to me, it can feel distractingly functional or harsh against a nice mix of colors. Hence this brown, raffia, old-fashioned-frame-clasp clutch. It would be hard to place if you didn’t already know who made it. It won’t feel old next season. It has just the right amount of texture and design-y elements to blend in with the rest of the colors I’m wearing, and shockingly fits two phones, a wallet, keys, chapstick, and a pashmina.
When I was in high school in the late 90s, my aunt came back from a trip to Italy with a Prada bag. A Prada bag! In the flesh! In the late 90s, this was a big deal. Miuccia was untouchable. (Still is if you ask me.) It was a cherry red leather doctor bag in my aunt’s signature color. She claims red is the only true neutral. It goes with everything. And I have to say, I have yet to find a situation in which she hasn’t been right. I take her logic to heart through my shoes often. This pair is from K. Jacques and I bought them two summers ago during a dark time in my personal footwear history. I had an ankle injury, was wearing New Balances exclusively, and on a flimsy-sandal buying spree as therapy to deal. I can’t remember what I paid, but a similar pair is listed online for $240. I feel about red shoes the way I feel about non-black-non-it-bag bags. The bright color weirdly allows blending and balancing, to not make one piece of your outfit look more weighted in thought than the others.
Lately, finding my perfect outfit balance has been more challenging. I’m five months pregnant and my waistline has expanded out of the majority of my closet. Getting dressed is something I love to do, love to think about. And it’s an unsettling new feeling to not wake up as eager as I usually am. I’m so thankful and superstitious and nervous and excited and humbled by my pregnancy that I don’t want to complain. But I do want to process these new thoughts.
Is it harder to get dressed because so much of my personal and professional identity has been built on what I wear? As I realize my identity is tied up in my wardrobe, I wonder if I’m okay with that fact.
Meanwhile, I’ve always loved the idea of a uniform—like, I campaigned for them in seventh grade. But now I’m finding myself frustrated by my lack of choice. Wearing a black dress from, say, The Row every day has always been #goals in theory, but now that it’s more of a mandate than a choice (conceptually, at least), I don’t want to wear it!
But back to the look at hand. I’ve always worn my clothes a little removed from my body. To me, roominess signifies ease, and I always aspire to look and feel unfussy. On my office birthday card last year, where my colleagues each penned a sweet little note, my editor a.k.a the high priest of succinct-yet-witty wordsmithing, told me to buy myself something “loose but chic” knowing my tendency towards the silhouette.
I like to think of that phrase—”loose but chic”—as my pregnancy style mantra. I hate that non-stretch denim is totally out of the equation for now but the corner of my closet filled with oversize dresses and men’s shirting is still up for the taking. And honestly, this outfit did fill me up with the familiar excitement of getting dressed.
As a rule, I’m trying to not buy too much (or purge my closet, which has been SO tempting) because who knows what my style is going to look like post-baby? Today I’m envisioning pleat-front white chinos, a Laura Ashley blouse and brown leather Belgian loafers. But tomorrow that could all change. As told to Leandra Medine
Feature graphic by Dasha Faires.