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In honor of the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute's exhibition Schiaparelli And Prada: Impossible Conversations, two of the leading fashion mavens on either end of the generational divide—Tavi Gevinson, weighing in at 16, and Iris Apfel, at 90—came together to talk style. Specifically personal style and whether it matters. The panel, moderated by writer Judith Thurman, produced quite a few zingers from both sides, so check out their thoughts on style fear, fantasy, and dressing like a lumberjack after the jump.
Tavi on dressing weird: "In middle school it was weird because I probably had stranger style then and I was ostracized more for it, but I found a similar group of weirdos[...] I look back at some of the things that I wore and I don't really like them now but I like that I wore them and I think it's kind of cool that a bunch of adults, you know, appreciate it that a young person was trying to make a really bleak day in middle school more interesting.
Iris on vintage: "It was much more difficult then than now because I think you have much more freedom. And you have vintage shops. And it's not a shame to go to a thrift store. I mean even vintage clothes—there was no such thing when I was growing up. It was just old clothes or second-hand clothes or something like that. I know I used to have a terrible time with my husband when I first wanted to buy something someone else had worn. He'd say, 'That's ridiculous. I can afford to buy you new clothes.' It was a mindset that was terribly uptight. But personal style is something you have to evolve for yourself and it isn't an easy matter. And I think most people don't do it because it can be very, very stressful. And to find out who you are is like putting yourself on a psychiatric couch, but you have nobody to help you. Really it isn't easy. I was talking with my nephew this morning and he gave me one of the best quotes I've heard in years... 'Personal style is curiosity about oneself.'"
Tavi on fantasty: "Fashion is so much about fantasy and that’s why looking at runway collection or photo editorial can feel so isolating. But personal style is an opportunity to kind of create your own fantasy. And that can be—and this word is so overused—but empowering in a way, especially when you feel like you have to have a certain force field around you to the outside world.
Iris on fantasy: I think you have to have self-confidence, or you just can't pull it off. And fantasy is something that is so, so lacking in this world today. I think that's the reason that all of my museum shows were so successful. I mean, it just showed people that there was something other than just encasing yourself in fabric. Fantasy is powerful, powerful, powerful. And everybody can't handle it in big doses but you can try little bits at a time.
Tavi on confidence: "For me, I became confident once I pretended I was and forced myself into wearing something I was shy about."
Iris on blue jeans: In the '40s, I was probably the first woman to wear jeans. It was such a crazy story. I had transferred from NYU into the University of Wisconsin and all of a sudden I had a vision. I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I had a big gingham—This sounds crazy...it was—a big gingham turban and big hoop earring that I could wear with a nice, crisp shirt and blue jeans. And the vision was just compelling, so I said ‘I have to get a pair of jeans.’ Well, in Wisconsin in 1940, the only people who wore jeans were Paul Bunyan and a few lumberjacks. They were all oversized. And the only place you could buy such an article was in the local Army/Navy store. So I set off for this emporium and when I got there and stated my vision, I thought they were going to kill me. They said to me ‘Don’t you know young ladies do not wear jeans? What’s wrong with you?’ And I said ‘But I want a pair, I need a pair.’ ‘We’re very sorry but we can’t help you.’ I said ‘Oh surely you must have a pair that fit me.’ Well of course they couldn’t. So I said ‘I would be happy to pay for it. Could you possibly cut one down.’ Oh they were just so mean. They threw me out. But when I want something, I’m like a dog with a bone so I went back a couple of times. And finally, I guess in an effort to just get me off his back the owner called me on the telephone—oh it was maybe five or six weeks of really hard work on my part—he said he had mail ordered me a pair of boy’s jeans and they fit. So I put the outfit together and it was really smashing!"
If that's not enough inspiration for you, we'll leave you with this quote from Iris: "If you put something together and it doesn’t look so good, the fashion police are not going to come a take you away. And if they do, you might have some fun in jail."