If Lynn Yaeger could change anything about Dec. 30, 2008, the day that she was abruptly laid off from The Village Voice—aside, of course, from not getting fired—it would be her outfit. In retrospect, Ms. Yaeger said she wished she hadn’t been wearing a bulky red crinoline dress with a black velvet skirt over it and silver tap shoes when given the news.
"I looked like a giant elf, a giant old elf," said Ms. Yaeger, who is known for her quirky yet high-end style, china-doll makeup, and flame-orange bob. (She declined to reveal her age.) "This was not the outfit you would pick if you thought you were getting fired. For me, a shredded Comme des Garçons look or a more sober gothic nun sort of thing would have been more appropriate. With advanced warning, I could have done an outfit!"
But like the other two Voice employees let go that day—including longtime columnist Nat Hentoff—Ms. Yaeger hadn’t anticipated the news.
"It was funny because even as I was the voice of gloom and kept saying, ‘Oh, we’re all going to get fired,’ I was totally shocked that it was me," said Ms. Yaeger, laughing at herself.
Ms. Yaeger had been at The Voice for 30 years, starting in the classifieds department while finishing a graduate degree in political economy at the New School. She made friends quickly. And when the paper learned of her interest in fashion writing, they encouraged her to pursue it.
Ms. Yaeger’s column, originally titled Elements of Style and later renamed Frock Star, had a witty, confident voice that accessibly dissected everything from couture fashion to Oprah. And its author, while being openly fond of innovative designs by threeASFOUR, Isabel Toledo, and Comme des Garçons, did not hype, as her peers at other magazines and newspapers often did, a certain designer or trend every season to please advertisers. Instead, she became known for her unapologetic frankness and for encouraging an individuality that many speak of but few practice in an industry that can seem overly self-important.
"I tried very hard to represent fashion in a more expansive way," she said. "That whole myth about fashion as an exclusive province for just a few skinny people with money—it was fun for me to sort of punch holes in that."
With this sort of attitude, Ms. Yaeger’s column gained fans inside and outside the fashion industry, many of whom filled her inbox with sympathetic emails within the few days following her firing. Ms. Yaeger was especially fond of a note sent by Barneys’ (and The Observer‘s) Simon Doonan, who wrote, "You are the only decent/bearable/lucid fashion writer on the planet. The VV was insane to let you slip away… Whatever!!!… Screw them! You’re fabulous! Love, SD."
The day she was let go, Ms. Yaeger went out to lunch, as she’s done every day for a decade, with her colleague and close friend Michael Musto. At Telephone Bar on Second Avenue, Ms. Yaeger, not having much of an appetite, ordered carrot soup.
"I was pretty stunned and upset, but we didn’t let it disrupt our lunch plans," said Ms. Yaeger. "It wasn’t one of our usual haunts, but every place seemed crowded and nothing seemed quite right."
Once the reality of being one of the newly unemployed began to set in few days later, the first thing Ms. Yaeger did was return $3,500 in recent purchases, including a $1,000 Lanvin bag from Barneys, on sale from $2,500, and some jewelry.
"You get laid off and you come home and you’re like, a $1,000 Lanvin bag? Like, why?" said Ms. Yaeger. "I might re-buy it, though, if my luck shifts.
"It’s sort of an exciting world out there despite the hideous economic situation," she continued, speaking as if she were a recent divorcée. "I don’t think I’m somebody that can go into an office in the morning and stay there all day. But certainly, I wouldn’t mind having a column."
In fact, the former fashion columnist’s luck may already be changing. Ms. Yaeger, who is an occasional contributor to Vogue and T magazine, has been taking lunch meetings with book editors and considering various writing offers. And she’ll blog for New York magazine during Fashion Week in February.
"I always say that I would rather spend a week at Rikers Island or the hospital than do Fashion Week. Don’t you think it’s like school? It’s sort of divided up into periods and it has mean girls and you go from one class to another. It’s the worst," said Ms. Yaeger. "I hate it, but the prospect of not being at Fashion Week didn’t make me happy, either. Do you think my seat will get better or worse? Maybe my currency in Fashion Week will go up, who knows."