“Best Dressed” & The Politics of Style

Lookonline has been doing a “New Best Dressed List” since 2013. We skipped last year and are skipping this year as well. With all that’s going on right now, who cares, except perhaps, those who make those lists! In addition, everything has become so politicized and polarized these days. No matter how careful you are, you’re bound to offend someone.

Marisa Berenson wearing YSL safari jacket and pendant
Photo: Berry Berenson

The notion of “Best Dressed” is subjective and personal. It means different things to different people. There are many ways to go. How does one even define it? Gone are the days when we’ve seen the likes of true style inspirations like Nancy Cunard, Tina Chow, Loulou de la Falaise, Diana Vreeland, Gloria Vanderbilt, Marisa Berenson, Elsa Peretti, et al. These women dressed for themselves, not for social media or the paparazzi.

Loulou de la Falaise
Photo: thatsnotmyage.com

What unifies them is their inherent good taste and understanding of cut, fit, and proportion while knowing what suits them best. Their clothing was always rather classic and basic, but accessories were always exceptional.

Gallerist Lauren Wittels
Photo: Courtesy Lauren Wittels

When I look at their iconic images from decades past, I’m always struck by how modern and updated they look today. One marvelous woman who fits that mold today is gallerist Lauren Wittels, the subject of my style profile, “The Artful Style of Lauren Wittels,” April 15, 2022. Lauren is the ultimate irreverent mix master. A rare bird indeed.

But let’s face it; like everything else these days, being on a “Best Dressed” List isn’t what it used to be. And I’m referring to all such lists, including the “granddaddy” of them all, The International Best Dressed List. When I congratulated a 2021/2022 IBDL inductee this past April, his/her joking response? “I wear the same thing every day!”

Even The New York Times is shying away from using the label “Best Dressed.” Their relatively new column that appears in the Sunday Styles section is ambitiously called “The Most Dressed,” and I would argue with many of the selections. Christie Brinkley in an uninspired little frilly frock leads off the Sunday, July 31st edition. “The Most Dressed”? Hmmm…I think not!

Where is Bill when we need him the most? I recently watched “Bill Cunningham New York,” 2010, on TCM and was reminded of what Bill’s discerning eye and his lens brought to the table. As Anna Wintour pronounced, “We all dress for Bill.” There’s no question that Bill raised the bar and upped our games.

If there was one chic or wonderfully dressed person at an event, on the street, or anywhere in the city, Bill would undoubtedly find him/her! And it would have nothing to do with celebrities or how many Instagram followers they had!

I have no interest in writing about stars and celebs who just borrow frocks regardless of how good they might look (yawn, yawn, yawn!). The Red Carpet has become ridiculous. Let media outlets and fashion websites obsess over the sartorial comings and goings of Julia Fox, Meghan Fox, Beyonce, Rihanna, the Kardashians, and the like. They don’t interest me one bit.

The Kardashians
Photo: theglobalcoverage.com

Plus, to decide who is really “best dressed,” you must factor in their daytime attire. Just relying on evening wear is such a false representation. This is one reason why I objected to the notion that Zendaya was a Fashion Icon, as decreed by the CFDA last year. Getting gussied up by a stylist does not a fashion icon make.

Amy Fine Collins dressed in Thom Browne
Photo by Marc Baptiste for Genlux Winter 2020-2021

It was not just Babe Paley’s appearances at evening galas that cemented her place as a fashion icon. It was the way Babe pulled herself together at all times. It’s been said that Paley “never had an un-chic day in her life.” Of course, you could say the same thing these days about Amy Fine Collins, who is always entirely and appropriately pulled together, day or night.

Polina Proshkina
Photo: guestofaguest.com

Knowing when and how to pare down is an art in and of itself, exemplified by International Best Dressed List Hall of Famers Deeda Blair and the late Gloria Guinness. Similarly, I am always impressed by Polina Proshkina’s inherent elegance, restraint, and consistency. Polina’s love of black and white and her embrace of pared-down minimalism remains the same through the years..

Polina Proshkina
Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

Polina does not go over the top just because others might as exemplified at the 2022 FLO Awards. As usual, she sticks to her guns and keeps them cool and minimal. This point is emphasized when Proshkina shows up at events with Di Mondo, who demands to be seen.

Pernille Teisbaek
Photo: on Instagram

There’s no question that Instagram star, Pernille Teisbaeck, has a cool way of putting herself together. The 38-year-old Danish influencer has 1.4 Million Instagram followers, and she gets paid nicely, reportedly making well into the 6 figures each year. Pay for Play!

Pernille is part of the original guard of influencers, the big league players who sit on the front rows, a star on magazine covers, and have the world’s big brands clamoring to work with them. While theirs wasn’t a warm welcome into fashion’s inner sanctum initially, a lot has changed.

The Pernille generation of influencers was born out of a genuine appreciation and enjoyment of fashion. It wasn’t about celebrity. Now, it couldn’t be more different. Google pulls up millions of articles on how to make influencing a career; it is arguably the big picture ambition for most reality TV contestants.

Lilly Pulitzer and her muses
Photographed by Slim Aarons

There were countless events here in New York this past spring and winter, but you could see that the guest list was depleted. There’s no question that social life had shifted from New York to Palm Beach. It was hardly the mythical and chic Slim Aaron Palm Beach of the glory days.

There were countless images of women showing up at events in droves, looking like boring clones in their short or long pastel frocks and shapeless caftans, whether or not the “uniform” suited them. Zimmerman is the new Lily Pulitzer, in case you didn’t know. No imagination!

Everything is so predictable, safe, homogenized, and boring. Too much emphasis on designer labels and status symbols. Where’s the fashion? The scene and many of the same people have now moved on to the Hamptons. And it’s pretty much the same group that is constantly being photographed. Unlike Palm Beach, which seems to be a fashion wasteland, the Hamptons scene, while still lacking in overall interest, is a bit more interesting because there is far more inclusivity.

There’s such a lack of flair and authentic personal style on display. I’m not saying stylish women don’t exist, but they must be entertaining at home and not going to endless parties and benefits. By the way, it seems that many women have used their time away from Manhattan to quietly have some “work” done. Looking at all these gals who can’t smile, their contorted faces frozen in time, I would say they’re having too much plastic surgery.

Iris Apfel
Photo: Instagram

It’s not about looking as young as you can, but looking your best. At 100+, Iris Apfel will undoubtedly be the coolest cat in any room, and she does not resort to mini dresses or puerile designs. Instead, Iris is beautifully covered up and adorned in the most spectacular statement-making accessories. That’s how you do it!

FYI, there’s no question that accessories can be completely transformative. This is why I was somewhat surprised that there was such a dearth of fabulous, statement-making accessories at the recent Accessories Council ACE Awards Gala at Cipriani.

“For real. Aging is a gift. I accept my quirks and imperfections, know where my life has taken me, and my face reveals the story. I love the story.”

Rory Gevis
Rory Gevis with her paintings.

Another one of my real style heroes is artist, painter, and MAC Cosmetics creative consultant Rory Gevis. I adore how Rory puts herself together, with just the right amount of panache and eccentricity to balance off the classic clothes she favors. Striped shirtings and Picasso-like Breton tops are a signature. It looks neither young nor old, just perfect, although perfection is not what she is after.

Rory Gevis

Also impressive is how Rory embraces her age and her so-called flaws, making them even more pronounced rather than hiding them! Kudos!

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Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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