Faux pas to first rate: Finding a style sense

Faux pas to first rate: Finding a style sense

Fashionista: A term used to define a woman with a penchant for shopping and a natural flair for combining both current and vintage fashionable trends.

– Urban Dictionary

My life collided with style on Easter morning, 1964.

I couldn’t wait to show off my hand-me-down dress – with its tulle skirt and satin ribbon – to the holiday gathering at my grandparents’ home in Nebraska.

While my cousin paraded her new white, patent-leather Mary Janes, Mom dug out my shoes from the suitcase.

Girl Scout oxfords.

They were brown. They were ugly. And I couldn’t imagine anything more wrong to accessorize my beautiful blue dress. But my scowl was tempered by just a hint of guilt. I knew deep down my parents, both graduate students, couldn’t afford much more.

We all have our own histories of fashion disasters, photos we’d rather forget and, sometimes, outright trauma. But are they truly disasters? Or could each miscue be just one more step toward finding our own sense of style? This issue of Maine Women explores those questions with some true “fashionistas.”

Luckily for me, life improved. By fifth grade, my Christmas dream of white go-go boots came true – oh, how I strutted my stuff to Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin.’”

Then sixth grade began in a forest green, paisley corduroy, hip-hugger skirt with a wide belt. Could Twiggy lip-gloss be far behind?

Each school term brought a trend and persona to try on: neon tights, clogs, elephant bells, a ruffled collar and plaid skirt. Was I mod or Victorian? Bold or shy?

Forty years later, I still search each day for the fashion backdrop that tells the world who I am and how I feel. Will today bring a tailored jacket, bright tights and high heels, or a slouchy cardigan, leggings and riding boots?

Antonia Medd of Portland appreciates the challenge.

“This morning I had on a little short dress and tights – I love my tights – and took Sadie, my little black Lab, for a walk. I said, ‘This is not me today, this is just not me.’”

She risked being late for an appointment, but she still finished the walk, bolted inside and changed.

Antonia (see profile on page 14) is a firm believer in dressing for the day. Now 77, she cuts a striking figure as she strides through the Old Port en route to work at Bliss boutique.

Just a few years ago, “jeans” meant the traditional blue Levis she wore in boarding school. Today, Antonia lives in designer denim. Ever the rebel, she pulled on her first pair only after a co-worker urged her to “just try them.”

She often encounters similar reluctance in customers afraid to leave their comfort zone.

They’ll insist, “I can’t wear that color.”

Counters Antonia, “Every day you’re someone different – and every day your color is different.”

In other words, break the rules.

By day, Lori Hammond of Portland gets up at 5 a.m. and heads from the shower to work with minutes to spare. Her work garb is easy and practical: jeans and a T-shirt for her job cooking at Bad Dog Deli in the South Portland Aetna building.

After work, Lori’s clothing reflects her after-hour passions: theater, antiques, music and art.

Her style, she says, is “classic and edgy” with a nod to draping fabrics and layered pieces: “As you get older, it covers more,” she says with a laugh.

“Sparkly,” Lori says, is her favorite color – a little ballerina and a touch of Glinda the good witch from the Land of Oz. She prefers a monochromatic palette she often accentuates with just a pop of color.

On one cold day recently she paired skinny jeans – a staple in her wardrobe – with a cream, black and gray wide-stripe cardigan over a gray v-neck jumper, sparkling gray turtleneck and textured near-black patterned scarf.

Her challenge isn’t choosing clothes – she shops everywhere from consignment shops and Goodwill to Forever 21 at the Maine Mall and Old Port boutiques – it’s finding the right size and avoiding a “Hannah Montana look.”

At 5 feet tall she wears size 51?2 shoes and size 3 on her self-described boyish figure; even petites, she says, are too large.

One of her earliest fashion memories is shopping with her mother, who has even smaller feet, for shoe samples in Lewiston, Portland and Boston. As a child Lori was the envy of school friends with her smocked dresses (she still remembers her favorite green frock with a flowered background) and matching ribbons for her curly hair.

She moved on to a plaid kilt with pins and thick, textured socks; palazzo pants in the 1970s; and, eventually, denim overalls.

Lori admits she hasn’t escaped the influence of fashion trends from television shows and magazines: “Ten years ago I was wearing hip jeans because everyone was wearing those and cap-sleeve tees,” she recalls. “I look back now and say, ‘Are you kidding?’”

But now, she thinks she’s hit her stride – in gray, lace-up boots with 5-inch heels and lug soles.

“I’m 50 and I don’t care,” she says. “It feels good.”

Denise Novotny (see profile on page 12) is the former owner of an Old Port boutique and a picture of sophisticated dressing.

The 59-year-old Cape Elizabeth woman says she’s true to herself when an outfit feels right, versus “this is a great style but looks ridiculous on me and I can’t wear it.”

“It doesn’t mean that you have to look like a super model,” says Denise. “I see plus-size women who have a lot of style.” And having style doesn’t have to cost a fortune either, she adds.

She’s learned from watching others that “most people have their own uniqueness. I’ve also observed what I don’t want to look like and I’ve also seen people who are willing to step outside and take a risk with fashion and pull it off.”

Style, she says, is “the whole package – it’s the hair, the skin, makeup, the outfit, accessories. It says ‘I care about the way I look,’ an expression of yourself, not ‘I care what other people think about the way I look.’

“Style is about expressing yourself in the way you look. That expression comes from within you.”

So that explains the daily mood checks, closet searches and self-assessments in front of the mirror – all necessary steps to find our face for the day.

And as for me, the gal in the ugly oxfords, go-go boots, rainbow platform flip-flops and stilettos … what’s my style?

Ask me tomorrow.

Andrea Nemitz is a longtime journalist and manager of ?Black
Parrot boutique in Portland’s Old Port.
At a family gathering, Andrea Nemitz, right, in her hand-me-down
dress with tulle skirt and satin ribbon and her dreaded, unstylish,
brown, oxford shoes.

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