Living the life of a poor poet allows neither the time, money nor ambition to stroke the draperies of the high fashion catwalks. While poem rewrites might be in abundance, it's dress once in the morning for work and it darn well better work well into the evening whether you end up at a poetry reading in a darkened basement corner or find yourself perched on the second floor of a brightly lit bookstore sipping an expresso at the picture window.
As a child, I toured the Universal Pictures lot in Los Angeles with my parents. Our group eventually moved from the sound stages to the worktables of Edith Head, the great film costume designer. We learned that Ms. Head, an Academy Award winner known for her elaborate period costume designs rich in colors and textures, would personally wear simple clothes in three colors -- black, white and camel. At the time, I thought, "What a killjoy. The woman's left nothing for herself after all her brainstorming for others."
Today, I've changed my mind about both her and her attitude. I think she was the wisest dresser and an example to us all. I look at old photographs of her and she never looks out of style, never looks dated. Her elegant simplicity is perennial.
That's because taste, fit and line are what count. Your body is the strong foundation. The black, white and camel pieces are the elegant plaster walls, hardwood floors and cushy leather sofa of any look that can be dressed up or down. Last of all, accessories are the pieces that make the look your own as do lamps, bookshelves and paintings in your home.
The key is to replace your main clothing pieces every few years or so to keep your look current. Are you wearing high waisted, pleated pants with tapered legs? You've waited too long. A lowrider, boot cut is back, but not like the hip-hugger bellbottoms of the late 60s. That's really waiting too long. Though skinny pants of another breed seems to be coming back in. Nothing actually comes back into style completely, although vintage can be fun if you know what you're doing.
Here's the short list: A few pairs of pants, in black, brown, camel and a pair of jeans is sufficient. Always wear a belt if your pants have belt-loops. A feminine skirt in black or brown. A crisp white blouse, a perfect black t-shirt, a camel sweater are staples. Want to really save money? Never buy prints, only solids. Prints get dated as fast as lightning and are harder to mix-and-match. Solids never go out of style, although colors do. The hot pink and teal of yesterday may look awkward today, but as Edith Head emphasized, black, white and camel are classics. Ditto your shoes, although I frown on white shoes. Trying to attract flying saucers?
Before you get bored with your staple wardrobe, hit the costume jewelry display and sock counter and get wild and au courant with whatever strikes your fancy. You have the neutral pallete of black, white (perhaps brown) and camel as a backdrop for your madness. You don't have to spend much money, but update your accessories annually to give your classic look the cutting edge. Sometimes scarves are in and I love when they are, because they can be tied to dramatically alter an daytime outfit or create a posh evening look. And oh yes, scarves can and should be in the latest prints.
Anyone can start with these simple, clean-lined, inexpensive pieces, but it takes a poet to use one's imagination. A poor poet knows how to wear the most basic L.L. Bean button-down oxford shirt and make it look sexy.