On a recent trip to LA to visit a friend who decamped to Santa Monica during the pandemic, I was in the mood to explore and go on a retail safari. Some moons ago, I spent a lot of time in the City of Angels and always loved to shop there for that laid-back chic LA does so well. But now that we have all lounged for the last few years, did laid-back feel a bit lazy?
At the Malibu House in LA, the beachy chic outpost of Soho House, every woman was in a floppy hat and beaucoup beige. At the (very bougie) Brentwood Country Mart (where I lost count of celebrity sightings), the Jenni Kayne store was awash in neutral nothingness. A Shaker-knit crewneck, an eponymous hit for the brand, was offered in oatmeal, grey, and other sedate colors. For those unfamiliar, Jenni Kayne is a brand that tiptoed onto the scene, selling a version of privilege trending from Tribeca to Topanga Canyon. It’s a bit Earth mama, but for the Earth mamas who buy $50 bone broth at Erewhon. Let it be known that Jenni Kayne clothes are beautiful, and I thought a lot about that cocoon cardigan a few times until it hit me that I don’t call clothes “yummy” and have never cleansed my chakras, so I passed.
She also has a very beige home line and a skincare line called Oak Essentials, which repeatedly serve me ads that promise that, by using this balm or that serum, I’ll “never have to wear makeup again.” I can’t begin to tell you how offensive and unappealing that is. I love wearing makeup, blush, highlighters, and glittery eye shadow. No thanks, Jenni. Your version of life is nice but a bit too modern Stepford, and about as exciting as a damp Q-tip. (Anyone else see those hilarious Werner Herzog memes going around?)
But even though I’m dissing, I get the appeal.
My friend, a gorgeous and toned blonde, looks fab in these clothes, and the quality is very nice, as are the fabrics. I, on the other hand, look like washed-out mashed potatoes. Because I need a bit of drama and edge in my silhouettes, I’d go for the Row or vintage Phoebe Philo for Céline if I’m doing neutrals. Or perhaps something from Black Crane, which does the neutral/grown folk swaddling thing but with a bit of architectural aplomb.
The truth is, nothing says privilege like head-to-toe gloatmeal. So why are we dulling down our wardrobes this way? A reaction to the chaos of work/life or just a lackadaisical approach to luxury?
One of the best examples of this very vanilla trend was the much-talked-about wardrobe Naomi Watts wore in The Watcher. For those unfamiliar, the show centers around Watts and her family leaving life in New York City for the posh home of their dreams in New Jersey, where things get hellish very fast. Watts’ clothing telegraphed affluence, though she tended to add city cred by pairing head-to-toe white with a combat boot.
This quote from Bustle describes Watts’ character as “the artsy mom wore ivory from head to toe (no doubt to communicate her career as a potter) or textured layers of suburbanite gray. When she wasn’t cloaked in those dreary colorways, Nora was stealing her husband’s love of an all-camel ’fit. To quote another infuriated watcher (heh): ‘We get it, they’re white and rich.’ ”
Watts looks fabulous in her 50s, and I applaud all she is doing for the menopause mishpocha with her new brand, but this whitewashed wardrobing is way too country club and just not that cool. And besides those pure, chaste rich lady vibes, what about practicality?
My husband nicknamed me “pig pen” after the Charlie Brown character shortly after we met because I’m messy. Wearing all white and living/eating/walking in a big city has almost always required a wardrobe change. Thank goodness for black, and it’s up to us to make it not dull or basic.
Black is ballsy and dramatic, and black can go anywhere. And black is so easy to wear, and most of us look good and feel good in black. It’s more Kate Moss than Karen, and I am a lifelong fan. I am far too rebellious to do the all-white thing, though I spotted this woman downtown one day with a white bob, white tee, and white jeans, and it was so chic because it had a Kim Gordon edge and was anything but vanilla.
As I get older, I’m less about the uniform and more about having fun. I have written about Trinny Woodall here, but she’s a great example of someone who is having a damn good time dresssing up. Sequins on top of sequins. Bright and bold colors. It speaks to me and says, “Are you there, fun? It’s me, Sheri.”
The fact is, I’ve always been too subversive to dress for the suburbs. So why would I start now? Bret Easton Ellis said it best when referring to the alienation and isolation of the LA “good life.” “Disappear Here” is what this vapid vanillafication feels like — an opportunity to disappear in a sea of expensive same and fret about the future. I’m sure one could argue the other way and say we’re too old to care about standing out and let us just cocoon in camel and eat kale salad in peace. I, for one, am not going out like that. Literally.
After all, I’m a woman who will buy a party dress with nowhere to wear it. Because inevitably, an occasion will arrive, and that purple sequin dress will be ready for its close-up.
And that coastal grandmother trend that was all over your feed this summer? No, thank you. I’m not a linen palazzo pant type of girl. And though I’m approaching grandmom age and live on a coast, my style and soul want nothing to do with it. Life is simply too short (and messy) to dress this way. Why not take laid-back luxe to the next level and go for vibrant silk PJs or, my favorite, something sparkly and vintage, or make like Jane Birkin and make all-white just right? Bye, vanilla. Find your flavor and live a little, won’t you?