18 In Style

Movies & spring inspiration

I was in the dressing room with a client helping her find a bathing suit (we found three fabulous ones she couldn’t resist!) when she told me about a must-see movie. I made a point of seeing it the next chance I had and she joined Russ and I for a Saturday matinee. Everyone I’ve run into has heard me go on and on about this film and now you’re hearing it too!

Bill Cunningham New York is a documentary about him and his life and career in New York, photographing people on the street. His “On the Street” photo column appears every Sunday in the Fashion & Style section of the New York Times. It’s a half page collage of photos depicting one theme per week. You might see his street shots of people in trench coats, footwear, rain gear, men’s jackets, plaid, texture, color, etc. He’ll stand on the streets of New York waiting for interesting fashion to go by. He photographs it, organizes the photos in themes so we, the readers, can enjoy the spectacle just like he does. Oh, and he’s an octogenarian who bikes all around New York on his 29th bicycle (the last 28 were stolen). His passion is boundless. The mystery around what makes him tick is nearly as vast. This film could be playing in an art house near you. Check it out!

Quote from the movie

– photographer Bill Cunningham as quoted from the documentary, Bill Cunningham New York

Clothing as armor
In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about what he said about clothing being armor that we can’t do without. I may not call it armor but I do absolutely believe that what we wear helps us function in life with more confidence and ease than if we just wore one uniform our whole life – which actually, Bill Cunningham does! (Odd, I know, but that’s why you have to see the movie and join in on this conversation!)

Clothes give off strong vibes
To help you understand how I interpret this, I’ve got three examples for you. I know that when I need to or want to feel powerful in a situation, my clothes can help support me.
I’ll choose crisp fabrics, something with a collar, strong jewelry pieces. Perhaps I’ll wear contrast in my colors because that’s more powerful than soft, pastel colors. Sometimes when I walk into a room of strangers, I want to feel stronger. Or maybe when I give a presentation and really want someone’s attention, I’ll dress in a more formal, powerful way.

A power core of pieces
Symbols that help you look powerful, when maybe you could use some help include:

  1. Crisp fabrics
  2. Bold jewelry
  3. High contrast in colors
  4. Strong collars
  5. Military details like brass buttons and epalets
  6. High-heeled, closed-toe shoes

Put away the powerful and bring out the playful
So if you or I have a job where we have to wear our “powerful” faces Monday through Friday, we have to be able to tell our brains to knock it off on the weekend and go out and have some fun! By changing our clothes, we can change our thoughts and create a new experience. Clothes can help us relax.

Playful pieces encourage play
Some clothing options to encourage our brains to get out and have some fun include:

  1. Prints, especially polka dots, abstract prints, soft stripes, florals
  2. Open toed shoes
  3. Details like bows, or in the shirt above, tying the ends of the blouse together instead of tucking them in
  4. Floppy brimmed hats
  5. Softly structured bags, fabric bags

Clothes that comfort
Who doesn’t need cozy clothes? Sometimes when you come home from work you want to get out of your work clothes but it’s too early to slip into jammies. That’s when you need some clothes that sooth, comfort, and cradle you. This is a sub-group of people’s lifestyle that often does not get the attention it deserves. People resort to horrible, worn out items that have morphed into comfort clothes because they’ve been washed and dried a thousand times. But you couldn’t run out and pick up some ice cream wearing them. You may be used to them but the public could be appalled. Come on! ‘Fess up! You know it’s true! Give this important part of your life the respect and attention it deserves.

Cozy clothes doesn’t mean worn out or sloppy clothes
Symbols of clothes that give off a comforting vibe include:

  1. Soft, drapy, fluid pieces
  2. Fabrics are soft, never scratchy or stiff
  3. Knits make great comfy separates
  4. Shoes are easy to wear and aren’t full of detail
  5. Handbag has a slouchy shape and is in a soft leather
  6. No hard creases in pants

So tell me about your clothing armor! What you’re wearing to face the world? How does it make you feel?

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    May 11, 2011 at 9:04 am

    I do the best I can, I don’t have the type of income to purchase items on your site but I do try to find similar items that I can afford. I try to shy away from the t-shirt, jean and sneaker look by wearing clothes that are comfortable and yet stylish; denim slacks with nicer t-shirts or simple blouses with sandles or boat shoes if I want a sneaker look.
    However, if I go to a party or get together, I dress up as much as I can because I learned from an article from the now defunct Mode magazine (for plus size women) the importance of looking good when you go to a dinner party and such; I don’t remember it verbatim but it essentially said that by going to the dinner party looking nice, you show respect to the host and all the hard work she put in to have this party. I never forgot that and I even kep the article to remind me of that when I get lazy. Truer words were never spoken…

    • Reply
      May 15, 2011 at 7:48 am

      I so agree! And didn’t you just love Mode magazine? I actually presented them with an award for their great work on behalf of the Association of Image Consultants International. It was a “Bravo” award for the great work they did bringing positive attention to women over a size 12. We need more of that!

  • Reply
    May 11, 2011 at 9:27 am

    Another great column, Brenda. I love it when I see your newsletter pop up in my email.

    Clothes are indeed the armor with which we face the world. And can inform the world of so much – personality, attitude, etc. I’ve not seen the film, but it sounds fascinating.

    These days, I’m all about comfy clothes. I’ve been studying for the past three years – at home, and my outings are mainly grocery store and errands, church (casual) on Sunday, and sometimes dinner out with husband or friends. I’m so looking forward to completing my studies (August, if all goes as planned) and I’m beginning to think about the new clothes I need, for whatever job I obtain.

    Love your books. Keep up the great work.


    • Reply
      May 15, 2011 at 7:47 am

      Congrats, Lorrie on all your hard work! You’ll have to let me know what that first outfit will be after August.

  • Reply
    May 11, 2011 at 9:38 am

    I also loved the Bill Cunningham movie! He is truly a national treasure. I’ve been following his NYT pages for years. His attitudes toward life and work are inspirational. Love him!

    Clothes as armor: Yes, I wear power clothes when necessary, for an interview or a presentation. However, most of the time I wear cozy, comfortable clothes. Comfort rules! I wear beautiful knits almost everyday with pretty clogs (no high heels — too painful). Scarves are my daily accessory through which I express my mood and intention. The only sloppy clothes I wear are for yardwork or repainting a room. Nice clothes make me feel good, so I wear them everyday!

    About the woman in the head to toe spandex — my friends and I used to get dressed that way to go to Filene’s Basement in Boston because there were no dressing rooms. We were able to try anything on that way.

  • Reply
    May 11, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Hi Brenda, I liked what you said about comfy/cozy clothes–no sloppy allowed (except for yardwork & painting & handywoman stuff, of course)! I love the example of the comfy clothes you did show–great inspiration 🙂

    • Reply
      May 15, 2011 at 7:46 am

      Thanks, Sindy. I don’t know if this happens to you but I often find that the category of “yardwork, painting and handywoman” ends up growing like weeds in people’s closets! Mainly because it’s hard to throw things away so they default “old” jeans and t-shirts to that category.

  • Reply
    May 11, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Brenda: Help! Where did you find/what is that wonderful dress in the first group of clothes? What a great alternative that would be to a suit on a day when power clothes are required!

  • Reply
    Karen Finlayson
    May 12, 2011 at 1:01 am

    Hi Brenda, will look out for the Bill Cunningham film in the UK, he sounds great – old in years but never in attitude.

    Armour clothing resonates with me – my facial features are soft so I look for definition and edgy details in the clothes when the occasion requires it. I agree with Sindy, comfy/cozy doesn’t mean slobby and your examples are perfect.

    • Reply
      May 15, 2011 at 7:43 am

      Karen, thanks for making your point. I have clients with soft features and really soft coloring and we work at creating definition. It’s like being in a laboratory mixing up potions. I love it!

  • Reply
    May 12, 2011 at 3:00 am

    After expecting to spend a quite day in my office yesterday, my manager unexpectedly asked me to attend an off-site meeting with him. Though I was dressed in proper office attire, my outfit had soft, flowing lines and muted colours. I felt like I was missing my edge in this outfit, and would have preferred something with sharp lines, more structure, and definitely a colour that popped! Your post was so timely for this situation. I think I will have to stock an item or two in my desk in case this happens again!

    • Reply
      May 15, 2011 at 7:42 am

      Love this idea! And so true. Sometimes we really need that edge.

  • Reply
    Bonnie McManus
    May 12, 2011 at 10:28 am

    Hi Brenda, I always look forward to reading your “tips” and this one really resonated with me. As a “retired lady” I find myself gravitating more and more into the comfy/cozy style niche and I LOVED the examples that you showed. Any chance we can get some more? Sounds like more and more of us “baby boomers” now find ourselves living a more casual lifestyle but still want to stylish and age approriate . . . I for one would love to hear more.

    Now I have to look for Bill Cunninham’s film . . . it sounds like a hoot !!!

    Cheers . . . Bonnie

    • Reply
      May 15, 2011 at 7:42 am

      Love your enthusiasm! I’ll take your suggestion seriously about more looks. I love this category of dressing and it really is worth finding solutions for as more and more of us have more casual lifestyles. But STYLISH casual, right?

  • Reply
    May 14, 2011 at 11:53 am

    I look forward to seeing the Bill Cunningham movie, I’m a big fan of him! As to the “power” look, I think of a poster who commented that there is an an inverse relationship between the height of the heel and the woman’s IQ. I don’t know why women think a stlye that is painful and damaging to the body should be considered powerful.

    • Reply
      May 15, 2011 at 7:39 am

      I have clients who can wear high heel heights and dance the night away. That’s not me! I have about a 2 inch limit. But I have also discovered that it’s all about the angles, the pitch, where the shoe matches the arch of your foot — all individual of course. The most uncomfortable shoe I ever tried to wear is a Tory Burch flat. Ouch!!!!

  • Reply
    May 16, 2011 at 9:37 am

    LOVE your website!
    I have discovered that I love shoes! Okay, crazy, to learn this at age 53, but I have.
    For years I thought my feet were too big for pretty shoes. But what a difference shoes make to completing an outfit…and to how you feel.

    I just bought a pair of Born wedge high heeled sandals. I feel amazing in these shoes. Ridiculous? no!! I stand taller, and not just because they are 4″ heels. Definitely feel powerful as if I know a secret. Shoes CAN be comfortable and gorgeous at the same time. And, not once has anyone commented on the size of my feet. : )

    • Reply
      May 16, 2011 at 6:09 pm

      I want to see a picture!!!! I love your “secret” and your joy. Thanks for writing!

    Leave a Reply