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Shopping: Style and Fashion

Fashion and Style

Janet Bennett
washingtonpost.com Shopping Producer
Friday, December 5, 2003; 12:00 PM

Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys New York, talked to washingtonpost.com shopper producer Janet Bennett on the utter pointlessness of good taste, the insanity of age-appropriate dressing and other contentious style issues.

Doonan, style commentator with more than 30 years experience in fashion, is creative director of Barneys New York. He is best known for his sometimes-controversial windows, which have been a Barneys trademark since 1985, and for his provocative "Simon Says" column in the New York Observer. Author of the 1998 memoir, "Confessions of a Window Dresser," his latest book, "Wacky Chicks; Life Lessons From Fearlessly Inappropriate and Fabulously Eccentric Women," was published in April of 2003. In addition to his New York Observer column, Simon also writes regularly for various publications including Harpers Bazaar and NEST Magazine.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Janet Bennett: Hi, everyone. Welcome to today's discussion. Delighted to have Simon Doonan with us. Simon, I'm interested in your take on age-appropriate dressing. The slick fashion mags are obsessed with the subject; every time I pick one up there's a story on what to wear in your 20s, 30s, 40s, and up. What gives?


Bangalore, India: Can you tell what colors and style reign the fashion scenario in India or what according you is the "in thing"

Simon Doonan: Diana Vreeland -- the great fashion editor of the 20th Century said PINK IS THE NAVY BLUE OF INDIA --
so think pink!


Kingston, Va.: What do you think of tencel? Wonder fabric or cheap descendent of polyester?

Simon Doonan: re: technology, I'm an idiot. If it looks good wear it.


Chevy Chase, Md.: What is considered appropriate for women (particularly the under-30 crowd) for a "black tie" event. Would you weigh in on the required dress length, whether pants are acceptable, and tips for someone with a modest budget?

Simon Doonan: The whole concept of age-appropriate dressing is oppressive - especially now that we live in an age where there are no rules. Follow your gut and have fun with what you wear.


Fur fur wrap/shrug: Do you know where in this area I could find a cheap little faux fur wrap/shrug? It would be a great add-on to my simple cocktail dress!

Simon Doonan: How about e-bay?? If you are In NY you can go to the 26th street fleamarket. The are loads of good fake fur pieces and jackets to be had this season. also Dennis Basso - Liza's furrier - sells really good cheap fake stuff on HSN


Brooklyn, N.Y.: Can you recommend some simple styling tricks to "wack" up my conservative wardrobe?

Simon Doonan: accessories accessories accessories -- oversized fur hats, mukluk boots, cavalier hats.
Rent the Liz Taylor movie XYZ -- 1971 -- she has loads of great accessories.


Washington, D.C.: Are long, dangling chandelier earrings in or out?


Simon Doonan: They are still groovy - but they definitely got bigger -- don't be tentative -- dangle dangle dangle.


Washington, D.C.: I'm going to a birthday party next weekend at a hip downtown club in New York City. Can you give me any tips for something fun and funky to wear without looking like too much of a clueless Washington, D.C. dresser?

Simon Doonan: So many girls dress like hookers, I think you should keep your conservative style -- if anything you should exaggerate it. Preppy is the new slutty.


Long Island City, N.Y.: Hi Simon,I love your books and column! Do you think the era of young girls dressing sluttily is nearing an end? Personally, I'm tired of seeing navels everywhere I turn. Thoughts, please.

Simon Doonan: I think things are going to get a lot more cheesy. It will take women years to give up slutty style -- there are so many aspects of skank style which are reinforcing. THE ATTENTION, for example.


Washington, D.C.: I'd like to make a friendly call here to all Washington women to check the flap in the back of their coats and jackets, please. It's amazing the proportion of women (never men, I must say) who walk around with the loose stitches that manufacturers put at the bottom of the flap still on. Do people forget to take that piece of thread off or don't they even know it should be removed?? I feel bad about approaching them in the street and warning them about that, but I feel just as bad letting them walk around that way.

Certainly hope no one goes to a job interview or an important meeting like that.

Simon Doonan: I'm not quite sure what the issue is? Why are you staring at everyone's butt?


Harrisburg, Pa.: What is a tie, other than a status symbol? I could understand if it's used as a receptacle for things to fall on it so they wouldn't ruin a shirt, but, often, the tie costs more than the shirt.

Simon Doonan: Ties are the one area where straight men allow themselves a little self-expression -- so hands off!


Del Ray, Va.: If you don't have really slim legs, should you stay away from Ugg boots?

Simon Doonan: If you have chunky legs the best -- and only thing -- you can do is to pretend you have really thin legs. If you conduct yourself in an unapologetic way people don't tend to be so critical... within reason.


Des Moines, Iowa: Hi Simon, You're a gas! What's your take on the turban? I love to wear my old Pucci scarves as turbans, but the folks here look at me like I'm nuts. My hair is thinning on top and I find this an easier and much more comfortable alternative to those itchy wigs!

Simon Doonan: I'm MAD about turbans. I love riding in cabs with Sikh cab drivers who have massive orange turbans -- GORGEOUS!


Washington, D.C.: Simon, Thanks for joining us! I buy a lot of my winter coats at thrift stores and have amassed quite a collection of vintage coats in tons of colors. I am often embarrassed when someone compliments me on my coat and asks me where it's from. I'm happy to be anti-J. Crew/Gap/Banana set, but sometimes people associate thrift stores with homeless people. Is this silly? I should be proud of my fashion finds, right?

Simon Doonan: You are obviously a brilliant and assiduous thrifter -- tell them the TRUTH! Be proud!


Washington, D.C.: Whom would you consider today's biggest fashion icon?

Simon Doonan: Much as I hate the idea of celebs -- I have to admit it's Nicole Kidman -- she has the perfect bod for frocks, and she is very influential -- she started the dangly earring trend among others.


Washington, D.C.: Do current events play a role in style trends? Has the Middle East influenced Western fashion in the past few years?

Simon Doonan: Hard to say -- fashion is fragmented and deranged -- like our society. The only clear trend coming out of global conflict seems to be The Hummer.


Hollywood: I need a new look for the red carpet in March. Is there any designer you would suggest, either vintage or current, for a show-stopping entrance?

Simon Doonan: If you are thin -- then Narciso Rodriguez.
If you are normal then Dries Van Noten or Lanvin.


Washington, D.C.: Re: The whole concept of age-appropriate dressing is oppressive -- especially now that we live in an age where there are no rules. Follow your gut and have fun with what you wear.

Simon, would you provide this advice if this person were attending a formal, political event in D.C.? I think there are plenty of rules in the political arena and young people (like myself) need to avoid looking inexperienced, wild, or underdressed. It's fine to express your individual style, but completely throwing out the rules of black-tie are not going to earn you any respect in this town.

Simon Doonan: If you are going to a really uptight event then use it as an opportunity to splurge on a custom garment -- if you need to look anonymous then at least experience the joy of PERFECT FIT. Have a dress made to measure -- or a suit with the perfect jacket -- you will get plenty of use out of stuff which fits like a glove. Classic clothes are forever. Jackie O -- bonjour!


Can you explain what this means?: "Pink is the navy blue of India."


Simon Doonan: In the West navy blue is considered to be safe and ORDINARY -- in India, which is a magical and visual place -- bright pink is commonplace. THAT's how fabulous Indian clothes are. It's a compliment!!!


Toledo, Ohio: Hi, Mr. Doonan. I love your book! I am a curvy woman and I get annoyed that we are not represented in mainstream advertising. Do you think this will change anytime soon?

Simon Doonan: America is polarized -- obesity and anorexia -- in other cultures -- even the UK -- busty voluptuous broads are celebrated. As the populace swells the marketing may change -- I'm not sure.


Revisiting Thursday's Chat: Mr. Doonan,

What, to you, is the definition of black tie, particularly for woman under 30? Short dresses? Pants? Boas?

Simon Doonan: Pants and boas are great for black tie. But don't forget the dangly earrings.


Jacksonville, Fla.: I just finished your latest book "Wacky Chicks" and love love love it! I will be giving them out as Christmas gifts this year. When can we expect another a book from you and what will it be about?

Janet Bennett: How about something on the inappropriateness of age-appropriate dressing?

Simon Doonan: glad you liked it. Am working on a new book proposal as we speak -- an amatuerish deconstruction of porno-chic -- TACKY CHICKS!!!


Fairfax, Va.: A lot of ethnic designs seem to be the new fashion trend. What do you think and what are some trends to look out for.

Simon Doonan: Ethinic bohemian clothes are everywhere. I highly recommend kaftans and saris and Moroccan jewelry especially for older chicks who are not as thin as they used to be.


Preppy: I love it! Preppy is the new slutty!

You have made my day. Just say no to navels.

Simon Doonan: I am fascinated by how trampy girls dress today -- Paris Hilton etc. I am a prude -- like Charlotte in "Sex and the City" -- but most people seem to identify with Samantha.


Washington, D.C.: On the subject of scarves, I often take my Hermes scarves and use them as belts. Is it sacrilege to use such an expensive item around my waist?

Janet Bennett: Not in my book. Simon?

Simon Doonan: They make great belts. Wearing them as belts also softens them up -- then hand wash them -- they get better if you treat them a bit rough.
Wearing them round the shoulders looks mumsy.


Washington, D.C.: I'd like to branch out my look a little but not sure where to start, especially on a tight budget. Right now I'm stuck in the dark jeans/black pants rut and wouldn't mind something a little more fun. I don't own a single skirt! I'm 5'8" and 135 pounds, somewhat pear-shaped. Any thoughts? Thanks!

Simon Doonan: H and M and Anthropolgie have loads of groovy stuff for chicks on a budget -- and it's not all slutty.


New York, N.Y.: Are there any styling secrets for men who are not as thin as they used to be? I'm not referring to myself, of course.

Simon Doonan: I think the key is to dress more flamboyantly -- there are so many great shirts in bright stripes and checks -- wear with and without a tie. Even Tommy H has some great shirts this season -- people don't tend to focus on your size when you are wearing a garish shirt. BUT make sure you get the right color -- see Carol Jackson Color Me Beautiful -- it's corny but it's all true.
I'm an Autumn.


Norfolk, Va.: I have an ancient sable coat from my grandmother that looks very dated and want to remake it into something more youthful. Any ideas? I'm a young 40-something who works in opera fundraising.

Simon Doonan: Fur stoles are aging -- make it into pillows. Don't let the dog get near it.


Arlington, Va.: Simon, Welcome to Washington. We need your sense of style here very badly. Just wondered what you thought of the latest metrosexual trend of men wearing skirts. Seems a bit windy. Happy holidays.

Simon Doonan: If it continues men will begin to suffer from yeast infections.


Dangly Earrings: I can't wear dangly earrings because my one-year-old will pull them off, and you can imagine the damage that would cause. I won't stop carrying my one-year old in the name of fashion, either. What else is in?

Simon Doonan: Clip-ons!!!


Petersburg, Va.: My sister's wedding is in March and I'm a bridesmaid. The dress is so darn ugly -- purple tafetta with rhinestone trim. I simply refuse to wear it. What can I suggest to her as an alternative? Anything is better than this mess.

Simon Doonan: Wear the dress but plan on extorting some huge favor out of her and make a point getting your own back when you get married. Revenge is a dish best served cold.


Washington, D.C.: It seems that most celebrities are hiring professional stylists to dress them. Is the art of personal style dead in Hollywood?

Simon Doonan: Most celebs are clueless in the fashion dept. As long as they pay full retail (at Barneys) I don't mind who picks out the frocks.


Janet Bennett: Thanks, everyone, for joining on this perfectly miserable snowy day in town. Simon Doonan is an original, and I for one will take his comments on fashion to heart. A bientot.


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