Classic Style (Now and Forever)


My fragile heart has been injured, over and over again, by dated trends that left me feeling humiliated and alone.

Peach and country blue. The first time I was allowed to design my room as a youngster, I chose the color scheme of peach and country blue. I thought it was the coolest color pairing ever: pretty, pleasing and prairie cool. The year was 1988.

I was in sixth grade and my mom wallpapered my room with a peach and white striped paper. To update my bed, she found an iron headboard (curbside!) and spray-painted it in a tasteful ecru. (See where I get it from?) Then I picked out six bold floral chintzes that my long-suffering mother, (who years later confessed that she was “afraid” of me at the time) sewed into throw pillows to pile on my peach comforter-covered bed. I cut out magazine pictures of cute boys (Bon Jovi and Johnny Depp and Patrick Swayze) and made a “crush collage” wall shrine. And the piece de resistance? an oversized Pier 1 Oriental fan (in peach!) hung on the alcove wall above my bed.

Looking back, I still think that room was wonderful. Just like my decorating today it was full of Midwestern-pluck ingenuity, and a self-assured style. Even then, I knew my own aesthetic and my space turned into a personal haven of pleasing “cool” for my feisty soul. But as cool as that room was in 1988, I don’t think it would float in 2012. I am not embarrassed by that cool room, my first venture in interior design. But I am embarrassed by my couldn’t-cut-it-today taste. It was a dated exploit, country-stencilling 1980’s chic onto the design wall of time.

It was cool then. Regrettable now.

There is a grandma that I see every afternoon in the afterschool pick-up line. She is always sharply dressed in tailored tweed pants and smart wool sweaters. Her hair is perfectly coiffed in a chignon, with a black ribbon encircling the tidy mass of hair. She is always classic.

But never current.

And while I admire the panache of a woman who chooses a steady path of style, I don’t want to be a woman who is never in style. Many may argue that “classic,” is never out of style, but it is never really “in” either.

I look at the House of Chanel or Dior. These style makers continually reinvent high fashion, but are always classically stylish, too. How do they do it? I think the answer is more philosophical than practical. I think true style makers understand that their role is one of immutable style leadership. They are not following anyone else’s example, they are creating the example. Chanel and Dior are timeless because long ago, they established their brand of style.

And we follow. That’s how trends work: an inspired style source inspires imitation, and imitation again. True style happens when a style source (a designer or artist or craftsman) establishes their brand independently, without looking to other trend setters (or worse: the imitators).

So going back to my 1988 peach and country blue bedroom, what should I have done differently to make a classically stylish room (avoid the painful embarrassment I feel today)? I think enemy #1 is “peach and country blue.” A fussy color couple is often trend-chasing. I now know that I am a neutral color kind of girl. Ecru, taupe, sea glass, ochre and sandalwood: this is the palette that doesn’t go out of style for me. By changing the color of that Pier 1 fan from peach to golden taupe would make it indifferent to trend-and-fad. Then I’d have to change the chintz choosing for the pillows. Six floral pillows in chintz is dated. So it would have been more style-savvy to mix textiles and textures to make a collection that cohesively works together to ditch trend labels. (Barkcloth floral next to Indian paisley? Yup.) And lastly, I’d collect my boy-crush collage into an Indian carved teakwood frame. Then it’s art. Very adolescent art, but remember: I was 11.