Style Stories

Piece Dressing

Making everyday outfits around your rarely-worns
by Leandra Medine Cohen
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Do you ever find that getting dressed helps you return to the present moment?

Last week I accumulated a laundry list of links from the shoppable internet that caught my attention —

The Row
Suede Leather Trim Crossbody Bag
$487 USD

This suede bag from The Row on The Real Real

Shell Bead Necklace
$26 USD

These beads on a leather cord

Veralli bow-detailed suede ballet flats
$725 USD

Suede Ballet Flats from Manolo Blahnik

Rick Owens
One-shoulder Jersey Top
$350 USD

A $350 one-shoulder t-shirt

Alleta Silk Organza Midi Skirt
$780 USD

This very sheer skirt

$595 USD

And red cowboy boots I've carted

Each item evoked a salient enough feeling in me that the overall dullness I have been experiencing ceded momentarily.

But I realized as I was unconsciously assembling this laundry list of purported fall wants that what I was doing here really was evading the present moment — anticipating a future I can’t know until it is here — and filling it up with things I probably won’t need, might not even want depending on where I end up.

The future holds no promise to me, bears no loyalty but makes a convincing case that it is a better place than here. A better time than now. I suspect this is a symptom of faith syndrome, which is not a real condition, but which I define as that thing where you buy so hard into your own sense of hope that you lose contact with yourself in reality. Evading the present, I have come to understand, is a surefire way to cut off from oneself. To lose contact with the voice of inner knowing.

Do we aim to evade the present moment when the voice tries to say something we don’t want to know?

To evacuate one’s person is to drift away from it, to float up into the delectable clouds. For some it can feel very safe there, wide open and soft and inviting. And the ritual can be valuable too, vital in fact at points in our lives.

Often I’ve used the drift through the delectable clouds as a way to justify my creative process — how I find the space to mate with an idea and let it impregnate me.

But I was thinking last week after I published my newsletter, a sort of lament on the dullness and a technical breakdown of the uniform I have been returning to, that maybe this summer, I’m trying too hard to connect to a depth — in my dressing and otherwise — that just isn’t here.

Subsequently, I found myself effortlessly dressed in a pair of blue denim cut-offs from Urban Outfitters that I have had since I was 20 years old, and a blue striped tank top I bought at a store that no longer exists, by a brand that no longer exists (one has no relation to other). There is nothing meaningful or valuable or salient about these clothes, but they make me feel invisible.

Invisible in the good way — the kind of invisible where you find your risk threshold higher because the weight of expectation is null and void. When you’re more compelled to take a chance, have a thought, do a thing you wouldn’t otherwise do. Where you can stretch out into the vast ocean of your most soulful desires and trigger them awake.

Rongle Havana-Green
$254 USD
Lapis Beads with Orange Shell and Kyanite
Marisa Klass
$2,800 USD
Apron Top in Zia
La Double J
$590 USD
Jersey Simple Pant
$134 USD
Double Buckle Sandal in Castagno
Jamie Haller
$465 USD

As it tends to go, once you actually surrender, the clogs in the drain start to open up. The water roaches roam free! In the instance of releasing the chokehold I’ve had on trying (struggling, really) to find depth in the lull and the dullness, the uniforms and so forth, in living future-wise instead of present-wise, an open window of breathing room gave me enough space to find myself dressed in the above.

Which somehow anchored me back in to the moment and made a good case to stay. I was inspired, in a way, because I liked what had happened: a pair of featherweight pajama pants found their way to a top with a lot of personality and when they got together, I felt less dull and I looked more alive but I was still so comfortable in my own skin.

What makes a striped shirt good remains an important feature of the literature on how to get dressed

What I mean, by the way, when I say that I “found myself” in an outfit is that I didn’t have a conscious thought about the outfit. I didn’t plan it or think it, I sort of let it find me. I’ve referred to these kinds of get-ups before as ”intuitive outfits,” the kind of clothes that you get dressed in from the gut. It’s hard to break down what makes them work because it’s a feeling more than anything else.

But the way I define what’s at play here — what’s inspiring me to deviate from the uniform — is what I’m gonna call “Piece Dressing.” Which is when you center the look around a dramatic piece and let your practical wardrobe workhorses take a backseat carriage ride.

Different people will have different interpretations of what makes a garment “a piece” but by my definition, it is any wearable (garment, accessory) that is so discerning, there is no use in trying to quiet it down by hiding it under another garment or trying to be too creative about how you wear it. It’s proud of what it looks like, it’s the main event. Something sequined, seemingly overwhelming for one’s day-to-day, a unique silhouette, or featuring an ambitious material you don’t often see on everyday clothes.

Most of us have them in our closets — they’re the festive or precious or memorable items you tend to keep in your closet because you like how they look in there, what they evoke, because something holds you back from getting rid of them. So the call is to try to incorporate them into an outfit that makes you feel the good kind of invisible.

Gabriel ForSach halter top (which can also be a sarong), and I love this from Mango as an alt for it, Old Celine drop crotch pants,Tibi leather flip-flops (comp 1, comp 2, and these for good measure!)

In this instance, my pants are actually the piece — they are old Celine and I have had them since at least 2017. I bought them at one of Barneys’ famous end-of-year sales and wore the hell out of them through that summer.

I don’t think I’d have even looked at them if it were not for a woman in the dressing room next to me trying them on for herself. Maybe that’s what makes them a piece in this instance — that they were an uncharacteristic choice that became such an anchor in my rotation for their season. There’s something really validating, I think, about being able to surprise yourself with unexpected or divergent taste tendencies.

I think Nili Lotan’s “Shon” pants would probably be a great alternative here

This example is less direct than the first one even though in format it is pretty similar (halter-style blouse with special hem) because each item pulls a little more weight.

From the realm of bottoms, some other examples of what could be considered pieces:

But if you’re more curious about how to style around a dress, you might try something like this:

Delarge sunglasses, Prada dress (from Re-see), Grenson fisherman shoes

It’s very simple, but that is kind of the point. I like a sundress in particular as the piece to work around because it’s the easiest to rebound off of with contrasts — circular frames, more masculine-style sunglasses, and same deal with shoes.

As far as the sunglasses: you can achieve the contrast with several kinds of sunglasses (most silhouettes that are not overly feminine like a cat eye or subtle bug eye) that conflict with your outfit. It seems to me that sheer lenses have become their own kind of thing of summer with the most prominent examples from Dries van Noten and Loewe. If you like them and do want to get a pair, my tip is to not omit men’s sale sections (and consignment) from your searches.

A back strap is helpful to conclude the look but I think more important is actually a wide sole to counterbalance the dainty dress. Suede is also a good contrast material for more formal or delicate fabrics.

Paola Sighinolfi pinky ring

Also very deliberate btw is the lack of jewelry save for the one oversize dome ring on my pinky. There’s an elegance about not overdoing it when you’re playing with mixing style archetypes but by specifically choosing your pinky finger to decorate with a piece that overwhelms it, you do create a new dynamic that is nuanced and speaks for itself in a way.

If your sun dress is more like a silk slip dress, I might instead recommend a 22-inch strand of beads to wear around your neck — almost like this:

And I think in the end, that’s all there is to it. Nothing deeper than that.

Signing off yours,