This Old Dress

Talk about timeless; Priscilla Kjellman has styled this dress more than 30 different ways through three decades of holiday parties.

Priscilla Kjellman bought this dress at the Ralph Lauren outlet in Freeport about 30 years ago. It makes an appearance every holiday season. She has no plans to retire it. Photo by Amanda Whitegiver

As the holiday party season starts and women everywhere ask themselves, what am I going to wear to this thing? Priscilla Kjellman is all set. That’s because she has been wearing the same go-to holiday party dress for 30-plus years. This black velvet number, which came from the Ralph Lauren outlet in Freeport “back when factory stores were great places for bargains,” pre-dates her oldest child, who just turned 30. The classic shirtwaist is very forgiving and has “morphed over the years,” she says, including being shortened from its original mid-calf length. “I took it closer to my knee.” It’s been belted over three different baby bumps and accessorized with every kind of shoe. She never intended the dress to become a habit. “I only knew that I was buying something that had longevity,” Kjellman says. It grew into being essential. “It was just the dress that I dragged out every year because there was some function that it was perfect for, and then it became oh ‘How funny, I wear this every year.’” Now it’s her thrifty, pretty template for celebration.

The Freeport resident has always gravitated toward fashion. “I wanted in high school to do something with that but didn’t know how to pull that trigger.” As a young woman she worked for the Carroll Reed stores and catalogue and then took time off to raise her family, keeping her hand in by helping friends decorate or shop. When her youngest daughter got to high school, Kjellman went to work at J. Crew in Freeport. She worked there for about 10 years and occasionally helps out at busy times, but mostly she’s focused on health coaching.

Describe your style in one sentence.

I’ve always loved clean classic lines, without fussy detailing and pieces that grow and change as you wear them, kind of like a chameleon.

Is it “Maine” style? If so, how? If not, how does it deviate?
I definitely like to add a Maine vibe (think woodsy ski lodge) when I’m feeling it. I do not like to intentionally make the look (too contrived) but love when I naturally make the feeling happen.

First outfit you remember picking out and loving, feeling great in?
My mother was an amazing seamstress, for fun, not as a vocation, and we would spend time looking over patterns and fabric choosing something that always felt unique. I remember the sense of individuality that came from wearing something I helped design.

How old were you when you felt like you developed a style of your own?
College is when I remember thinking that I was creating a personality with my style choices. I was known by the nickname “prep” because of my clothing style, East Coast preppy with a dash of L.L.Bean.

Favorite bricks and mortar place to buy clothing in Maine?
I’m a J. Crew, Madewell, Zara, Anthropologie kind of shopper. But I’ve recently decided that throwing in a Target and H&M buy works great.

Best clothing shoes or accessory bargain of all time:
Handbag, a Coach, 25 years ago when I thought it was a crime to pay over $100 for a handbag. But I loved it and never grew tired of it.

Most you ever spent on something to wear?
I’m too much of a bargain hunter to go crazy.

What would you refuse to wear?
Probably nothing, I just wouldn’t wear it as it might have been intended to be worn.

Do you own Bean boots? If yes, how many pairs?
Yes; knee, mid calf and ankle.

What is your current “go to” outfit or item of clothing?
Jeans, leather jacket, boots or a leopard shoe are the easy uniform that never fails. And high waisted jeans, don’t get me started: I love them.

What is your go-to accessory?
I’ve worn my children’s gold circle charms on a gold chain for 25 years. (These are medallions shaped into profiles, engraved with her childrens’ names.) Sometimes it’s all I wear as an accessory.

What do you change into after a long day?
Athleisure wear with a cashmere sweater.

Amanda Whitegiver is a lifestyle family photographer who adores dark chocolate and singing with her two daughters.

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