Welcome to Outfit Anatomy, a series on Man Repeller of comprehensive style analyses that 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, Harling describes the outfit she wore to work one day in August.
The top is from Isabel Marant. I bought it from The Outnet for $236.25 in May 2014, with babysitting money I earned the previous summer. I used to comb The Outnet’s “Just In” section daily, and I recall being very excited about this find. Probably because it was during the heyday of Isabel Marant’s sneaker-wedge. I remembered the top from the runway show (look #3!), and I don’t know what it retailed for full-price, but I remember feeling satisfied that I was getting it discounted. Almost like it was a mistake. I love that I still love it years later, but hate that I have to wear a strapless bra with it.
The skirt is a Chanel hand-me-down from my mom. It was in the Spring 2004 collection, and there is a matching top that goes with it. I borrowed both years ago and still have them. I don’t remember being particularly conscious of my mom’s style when I was growing up, apart from the times when she would let me borrow something from her closet. She was always keen to loan me a piece if it was obvious–to both of us–that my outfit would be drastically improved as a result (the year my feet grew one size bigger than hers was devastating). Only in hindsight am I acutely aware that her personal style influenced mine—bit by bit, over years and years, an imperceptible osmosis occurred. Not in the sense that we have the same personal style, but we both possess the same degree of curiosity. We are both interested in telling stories with what we wear.
The way I style this skirt is actually a good example of how our fashion sensibilities diverge. She would always wear it with its matching top, together with black and white stilettos, but I tend to mix it with different items to make it less formal. I’ve worn the skirt with this Isabel Marant top a bunch of times. It’s a reliable go-to outfit that exemplifies the advice I give to people who ask me how to mix patterns without looking peanuts: just pick out clothes from the same color family and go from there.
The bag is another hand-me-down: old Bottega Veneta from my paternal grandmother who has since passed away. We had a complicated relationship when I was growing up because she could be very critical at times, frequently making remarks about my appearance—my hair, my outfits, my weight. I thought she had absolutely incredible taste, and therefore very high standards for style and beauty. I felt simultaneously in awe of this and perpetually unable to measure up. She loved wearing sequins and flowing silks, which together with her short, bright blonde hair made her seem like an old-timey movie star. I’m pretty sure my standard for true glamour is still a product of watching her get ready for a party.
Her compliments were the best compliments because she always meant them (she was very enthused the first time I got highlights), but her criticisms carried a lot of weight because of that unbridled honesty (she would frequently remark on how my sisters and I looked compared to one another—a toxic habit, to say the least). My desire to please her was also sometimes riddled with an undercurrent of rebellion, an impulse to show up to dinner in a shapeless housedress with unwashed hair. She mellowed out a lot as she entered her 90s and her mind became hazier. I actually ended up living with her for a few months after graduating from college to save money on rent when I moved back to New York. I have some sweet memories from that time, visiting her in her room and watching her favorite episode of Mad Men together over and over because she kept forgetting what happened.
I inherited the bag when she died. My mom put it aside for me when she was going through her things because she thought I would like it, and I really do. I’d forgotten how practical wristlets, a.k.a. essentially oversized wallets with a wrist-sized strap, are until I started wearing it. I love that it has a gigantic buckle, because there is something inherently tacky and therefore extremely fun about a giant buckle, right? I use it a lot, even though it’s kind of falling apart. The gold coating on the leather is peeling away, and the wrist loop has torn. The funny thing is that I don’t remember ever seeing my grandmother wear it, though it still smells faintly of the perfume she would spray on herself at the vanity near her closet. I do think about her when I wear it, though, and whether or not she would like the outfits I pair it with (either way, she would have let me know—ha).
The shoes are Tevas. I wore Tevas all summer, every summer when I was a kid and remember the ritual of going to buy a new pair every June because my feet had grown out of the previous pair. I’d obsessively mull over the pattern options and thought it was so cool that they were waterproof and I could—and was basically supposed to—splash in sprinklers and ponds and puddles. I still think it’s cool that they’re waterproof but now that’s because it’s truly tough to find shoes to wear when it’s 90 degrees and raining. The day this photo was taken was the first time I wore this pair, which is why they look so clean. They retail for $50, but I got them as a gift from the brand about a month ago—their PR reached out to me over email to ask if I wanted a pair. I always feel a little uncomfortable admitting I received something as a gift. I think because having access to free stuff can seem unfair, which makes me vulnerable to criticism. But that’s also why I see the value in trying to be transparent about it: I don’t want to paint an unrealistic portrait of why I am wearing new things on a consistent basis.
In sum, the oldest item is the Bottega Veneta wristlet, which I’ve kept for both the obvious sentimental reasons but also because I genuinely love it. The newest is the pair of Teva sandals. The total outfit cost me $236.25, a.k.a. the price of the top, which is the one thing I paid for myself since the other pieces were gifts or hand-me-downs. I recognize that being the recipient of these things is a real privilege, and one I value highly. I’m deeply appreciative of the pieces that women in my life have purchased and cared for before me, especially those owned by women who have shaped me in such powerful ways. Pieces that have withstood numerous tests of aging, purging, and moving and somehow still feel relevant. I like being able to compare how I style them to how their previous owners did or might have styled them; in a way, it’s tangible proof of their continued relevancy and the zing of rediscovery. Even though I definitely get a thrill from wearing new stuff, the satisfaction of wearing something imbued with memories holds a special kind of pleasure—the kind that lasts. As told to Leandra Medine
Feature graphic by Dasha Faires.