I’ll never forget those shoes: chunky black slip-on wedges, with jagged grooves carved into the rubber soles like bared teeth. Think a Mildred Pierce-era Joan Crawford gone punk. They were my perfect Fashion Week footwear: They made me taller by two inches and, with the Frankenstein platforms, I could sprint from my seat to the press room between shows to file runway reports. They were shoes made for clomping, for comfort, for quick getaways. Plus, they were cool.
Then, unexpectedly, those wedges and I were the subject of a disparaging blog post. The author snarked that I should be ashamed to call myself a fashion critic and show up in public—at Fashion Week, no less—wearing such shoes. To add further insult, the blogger was also the designer of a small (now defunct) Canadian-made lingerie brand that few of the local media had taken much notice of, let alone written about. I had been one of the few.
I laughed off the post with a shrug, or so I thought. I was surprised how the sting lingered, stabbing at insecurities I didn’t realize I had. Eventually, I did what I do for a living: analyzed what the incident meant within a larger context. I realized that what bothered me wasn’t the shoe snub—it was the expectation that I should dress a certain way because I cover fashion. At the national newspaper where I work, the culture of fashion is one of my beats. I also write about film, books, music and food. I no more expect a theatre critic to move me to tears reciting a monologue from Death of a Salesman than a restaurant critic to cook me a three- Michelin-star meal.
Fashion, though, is treated differently. Getting dressed means being conscious—and sometimes self-conscious—about how you look. It’s a tricky proposition: If I dress with too much care, I’m considered just a fashion girl; if I’m not careful, I end up wearing a chip on both shoulders.
Read more about how fashion journalist Nathalie Atkinson, embraced her personal style…
Ten years after that post, I’ve grown into my personal style: I dress to please myself. That long-ago insult made me figure out who I was at a time when the fashion ecosystem was about to get a lot more complicated. Today, emerging designers/writers/bloggers/stylists who haven’t achieved solvency, let alone global success, feel the pressure to convey the same air of jet-set glamour as billionaires like Michael Kors. How they dress is their brand. You can’t fault them—it’s the inevitable human extension of marketing in the street-style-plus-social-media world. But an It bag and statement shoes aren’t what give my words credibility.
Last fall, during the heat wave that swept the Milan collections, Cathy Horyn, then fashion critic at The New York Times, wore a pair of cut-off denim shorts in her front-row perch. I was heartened when, in response to queries about the deeper meaning behind her wardrobe choice, she pragmatically replied, “They’re comfortable, and I’m working.”
I’m grateful to have the luxury of focusing more on what’s between my ears than what’s on my feet. In a sea of soignée stylists, it has perhaps become too much of a point of pride lately. I’ve been wearing platform derbys by Junya Watanabe. Lumpy, bumpy and bone white like corrective orthopaedics, they’re so ugly that they’re downright intellectual.