I devoured recent newspaper accounts of the “Goddess”-themed Costume Institute gala at the Met with an atavistic hunger. Such an event would be inconceivable here in L.A. It’s not that we lack for goddesses; according to my bedraggled Thomas Guide -the encyclopedic map you consult every time you need a carton of milk-there’s even an entire neighborhood called Mount Olympus. A couple of times a year, these deities put on expensive gowns and float down the red carpet. The rest of the time they look like homeless people, in Ugg boots and yoga togs. It’s dismal and shocking.
Los Angeles held its first official Fashion Week a month ago. It took place at the downtown Standard hotel, complete with $25 valet parking, vitamin water and the stray Hilton sister. There were plenty of creative designs, and I wished the whole operation well. But the very concept of a Fashion Week in Los Angeles seems, frankly, doomed. After all, the entire fashion system is predicated on the change of seasons-from “fall” to “spring” and back again and again.
In New York, the ever-changing weather is a challenge and an opportunity, demanding a wardrobe with depth and breadth-trench coats, boots, sweaters. Here, the minimal climate shifts are managed by men and women alike with something called a “hoodie”: a light, zippered, pocketed sweater with an attached hood. You take your hoodie everywhere; when the temperature drops, you burrow down into it, like a suckling infant in swaddling clothing. Occasionally a monsoon drenches the town (provoking two-inch headlines), but encased in the weatherproof capsule of your car, you need only occasionally pull your hoodie above your head in the 30-second dash from restaurant to carport. Looking like a criminal.
The car-centricness of L.A.-carcinogenic, ha ha-begets many other fashion “issues.” You can forget about spring’s much-touted miniskirts, unless you want to give every parking valet you encounter a glimpse of your crotch. You can forget about any coat longer than your hip. (There’s something almost 19th-century about this, like dressing for horseback riding.) You can forget those big Herve Chapelier bags you lugged around in New York with all of your work in them. Because, No. 1, you can always go back to the car for your stuff. And, No. 2, no one here is ever seen working.
The stuff that passes for footwear here-bedroom slippers, more like it-is horrifying. A contrary bicoastal acquaintance insisted that the West Coast is precisely the place to bust out the kitten-heeled Christian Louboutins. “You can wear unwearable shoes here,” she argued, “because you don’t have to walk anywhere.” But what if you don’t have a chauffeur? A week ago, bravely venturing out in the favorite brown three-inch Costume National heels that I nabbed at my dearly lamented Barneys warehouse sale (there is nothing like that here, nothing at all), I made a frantic lunge for the brake, missed and almost plowed my little silver coupe into a Hummer. In a city where your car is undoubtedly your most important accessory, this was not a good move.
I’m resigned to owning entire flights of shoes that will never again see daylight. Luckily, there is plenty of space for them here. There’s apparently a reason why New York’s premiere custom-cabinetry company is called “California Closets.” Since I wear the same thing every day-jeans and a hoodie-my spacious clothes room, with its sliding mirrored doors, has essentially become a museum, a miniature Costume Institute for one. And entire new wings are opening up! Los Angeles is one of the best places in the world to shop, especially if you are a fan of vintage clothes (me) and bargains (me again). A lot of old people come out here for the aforementioned consistent weather, many film-industry habitués with racks of glamorous, well-preserved silk smoking jackets, exquisitely beaded sweaters, glittering costume jewelry-and that’s just the men. When they die, there are estate sales in luscious, goddessy hangouts like Bel Air. Since much of the L.A. community bears a nouveau riche skepticism toward anything pre-owned, these garments tend to sell for far less than they do in New York, where luxury auction-house divisions devote entire divisions to vintage clothes. Even at the expensive boutiques like Lily et Cie in Beverly Hills, since I have New York tastes (tweeds) and a New York body (hips), the selection is that much greater.
But alas, there is no place to wear any of this bounty-nor any particular reason to wash one’s hair (see: Brad Pitt). “You used to look like a work of art,” said my husband, referring to the neurotic hour I used to spend every morning in New York selecting and matching accessories. “Now you look like an artist.” Meanwhile, he’s a happy kid again: shoving the button-down shirts to the back of the closet, ditching his Docksiders, tiptoeing through tulip-colored sneakers.
I miss the sight of powerful men in suits. A few weeks ago, we attended a Seder in the Valley and were jarred to see a male television writer (excuse the redundancy) dressed in one. Everyone agreed that he looked like an agent.
Except during award-ceremony season, when hordes of stylists descend to instruct formality-deprived actresses how to dress up, Hollywood entirely lacks a sense of occasion, of pomp (at that Seder, people sang Haggadah blessings set to show tunes). People show up to dinner parties poised to lounge by a hypothetical pool. Movie premieres are plentiful, hence casual. “You can get away with any sort of jeans and a great top and it’s no big deal,” said Jeanne Yang, who works with the Cloutier Agency outfitting celebrities on both coasts. If you’re a successful woman who is not an actress (that is, you’re a producer), you put on an Armani pantsuit and leave it at that, sucking sex out of the equation. Meanwhile, the supposedly more fashion-forward spend a mint to look bedraggled and deconstructed. The stock at the Saks Fifth Avenue here, where Winona Ryder was so famously busted, looks like the Manhattan stuff run through a shredder. There are no “grande dame” department stores. At Fred Segal, the ivy-encrusted upscale shopping mecca on Crescent Heights Boulevard, female shoppers prowl the grounds looking for all the world like they’re attending a luxury swap meet. ” I couldn’t imagine walking into Bergdorf or Bendel’s wearing a Juicy Couture velour track suit and flip-flops,” Ms. Yang said. “And in L.A., it’s totally acceptable.”
By all accounts, flip-flops are beginning to catch on in New York, but I implore you: Remain en garde against elastic waistbands! Brace yourself against the lazy slide into comfort clothing that has entirely enveloped your West Coast brethren! Dressing in New York is like dressing for the stage: “Comfy” should not be a consideration. L.A. is not a stage so much as a womb, with young starlets in slinky little things and scarves gestating under the courtyard heat lamps at the Chateau Marmont. “Everyone here pretends to be laid-back,” said my bicoastal friend. “But it’s a very calculated laid-back.”