No one has a keener antenna than Lynn Yaeger for what it means to latch on to a style that suits you and never let it go. I asked her to enlighten us. – Linda Fargo
“Excuse me! Miss! Miss!” cries the guy who has practically killed himself running across the Delta terminal to get to me. “I think you forgot to rub in your rouge this morning. I had to tell you.”
“It’s supposed to look like this,” I reply wearily.
“Oh. Um…well…okay. Anyway, it looks great, I guess?” he says, and skulks away.
Yes, I know the two flame dots on my cheeks, my dark flapper lips, the oddness of my clothes—I’m surprised the fellow didn’t also point out that my Junya Watanabe hem was unraveling—strike certain members of the public as a big mistake. But that’s what it’s like when you develop a strong personal style. For every fashion student who stops you on the street and gasps, “Lynn Yaeger! I love your look!” there are apparently legions who are not so sure.
Countless articles have been written about how to develop a style that’s right for you—no horizontal stripes if you’re chunky, wide belts are good if you’re tall, blah blah. But I am here to tell you that true individuality comes from a very deep place where no conventional laws apply. In my case, the heroines of ’20s silent films, the piquant faces of antique dolls and the skirts of dancers in Degas paintings spoke to me so loudly that I thought, at a fairly young age: Yes! That is how I want to look!
But enough about me. Everyone who embraces a fiercely individual look must be prepared to steel herself, to be impervious to insult. Do you think Katharine Hepburn cared if someone whispered, “Enough with the trousers—try some ruffles, Kate”? (By the way, how amazing would she have looked in The Row?) Would Jackie O have thrown on a gaudy paste necklace, just because a so-called friend suggested her classic look was just a bit too spare? And really, can you imagine if the iconic Frida Kahlo, who not only repurposed the peasant dresses of her native Mexico but embraced that outré conceit, the unibrow, had taken out the tweezers in response to a few titters in the streets of Mexico City?
But you don’t have to be famous to go your own way. My friend L insists on diamond chokers and leather trousers, turning her into a full-on goth goddess, and is in full regalia regardless of the occasion. She once applied for a job at an animal shelter, and when the interviewer raised an eyebrow (not a unibrow), L shrugged her black cashmere-covered shoulders and declared, “But I Iove animals! I guess I could wear…jeans?”
If L can sport a diamond tiara to clean out kennels, and I can stroll between the Pines and the Grove on Fire Island trailing a lavender tutu, why can’t you wear scarlet shoes to work every single day? And if someone at the next desk asks you why your feet are always ruby, just click your heels together and say, “There’s no thing like style.”
Lynn Yaeger is a contributing editor at Vogue and writes for many other publications.
Illustration by Sara Singh