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This is a story of freedom that begins with an honest confession: I was once the absolute worst kind of fashion victim.

Without a surplus of money or subscription to Vogue, I put together a handful of outfits and called myself pretty. Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t look dreadful. Once in a while, I even attracted a compliment or two. I knew what colors matched my pale complexion, set my dark eyes to shine. It was just that there was something lacking.

You see, I lived in a semi-urban neighborhood of Fairfield County, Connecticut, surrounded by wealth, privilege, and malls. Wearing scuffed shoes to Whole Foods was considered offensive. Wrinkled blouses were forbidden. It was best not to be caught wearing a scarf that did not match your stockings. Weekly manicures were a necessity for women, and chipped toenail polish was an indication of weak character.

I scurried along, attempting to keep up. Every season required a new clothing collection. I visited the chain stores to find inexpensive pieces that were up-to-date and flattering, that still exuded an illusionary air of uniqueness. I got by. While my nails were often uneven and colorless, I did not necessarily stand out in a crowd at the locals-only beach. Yet, on some days, I could not help but feel bored with my wardrobe and sufficiently inferior to the clean-cut fashionistas about me. I was forever scratching the leather of my Dansko clogs, and noticing behind reflective store windows purses and slacks and earrings I desired and could never afford. I had a look, but during certain dark dressing hours, it didn’t seem precisely my own.

With my move to the rural Ulster County hamlet of Willow, there came a great shift. Living and working in a cottage on the Old Beaverkill, I woke dazzled by the beauty of the mountains and went to bed inspired by the abundance of starlight. I spent my first few days there alone but for the gentle presence of my landlords; a painter and art dealer who lived on the exquisite four-acre property. The quiet was a balm.

My first experimentation with fashion involved pajamas and the donning of those casual, comfortable items well into a few juicy summer afternoons. “I’m a writer,” I assured the UPS guy when he showed up at my door, as I was eating a grape popsicle and wearing a 10-year-old, bleach-stained nightgown. He offered a polite smile in return. It occurred to me as he walked away—brown shorts and white tube socks stark against the bucolic landscape—he didn’t care what I was wearing. This was my first step toward fashion liberation. Recognizing that I could wear whatever I liked and no one would look at me askance, I gave myself the go-ahead to be bold.

When it came time for a trip into Woodstock, I opened my closet door. I peered into my jewelry box. In the spirit of my new life and permissive Hudson Valley locale, I selected a pink glass-beaded necklace, a sage-green top, a floppy straw hat, and a flowing black skirt. They were old wardrobe items, but I had never mixed and matched them before. I was to abandon my formulaic selection of attire in favor of a constantly changing, creative approach. I began to frequent privately-owned boutiques and to purchase original apparel and accessories because I thought they were super, not because they would fit some predetermined outfit in my mind. Experimenting with hairstyles became a source of entertainment. I trusted my own sense of style in a way I had never before, and I crossed pedicures off my monthly budget list. They were a luxury I could enjoy on occasion. The greater luxury came in taking charge of my fashion life. By God, I had choices! The Hudson Valley was teeming with retail stores ready to help in my transition from fashion victim to fashion star.

Pegaus Footwear Flair Will Take You Far

Pegasus Footwear bears an ultracompassionate motto: Love your feet. As someone who has never been able to squash my delicate toes into narrow compartments, I can think of no better premise from which to start a selection of footwear.

The Woodstock-based company came to life two decades ago, and a second store was opened eight years back in New Paltz. Winter Gnip has managed the New Paltz location for much of that time. She switched from accounting to shoe sales because she wanted a fun, direct way to help people. Gnip loves the ever-changing world of shoe fashion, and appreciates even more the open-minded, easy-going environment that she helps to maintain at Pegasus.

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