First there was the balding lawyer who told me on our first (and only) date that I was wearing the wrong outfit. “You should have worn a short, tight dress,” he insisted. I had not asked him for his opinion. I thought I had done a pretty good job at it, even if it had taken me twice as long to get ready. But alas, I was not flaunting enough of my goods for that to be a successful outcome. Then there was Mark. To the best of my knowledge (and this knowledge is based on one kindly edited on-line dating profile and and a disturbing exchange of text messages) Mark was not a fan of vintage, nor me, so not nearly the right material to devote an entire post to. I had never even met the man in person. Yet, it is very possible that “The Hamptons Guy” is my biggest Muse to date. Anytime anyone commends me on my Tales, whether it’s in Australia, or Belgium, or at a fashion party, my ill-fated attempt at finding love in the Hamptons is the story everyone bookmarked. Mark has no idea how famous he is! He prompted all kinds of outrage and ridicule and worry. And though both catastrophic, those men inspired the editors at British Vogue to commission me to write down my thoughts on dating as a fashion girl. My two thousand words are finally in print in the December issue, and transcribed below. Enjoy!
I met Jeff online. I had found him in my “Daily Suggestions” and made him a “Favorite”, in hopes of him liking me back. Some would call that passive-aggressive. I call it casually curious. He looked cute: dark, healthy hair, kind eyes, preppy style, divorced banker, two kids and quirky in the way he presented himself. A few weeks later he made me a “Favorite” back, and we got to chatting. He wanted to meet. Unfortunately my schedule was a mess and, after a few back-and-forth emails, I dropped the ball. I was too busy with the re-launch of Tales of Endearment, my blog about girls who love vintage clothing. I was shooting, styling, writing and prepping for my big story about Diane von Furstenberg; I was the first person ever to have access to her vintage archives!
I forgot about dating, and Jeff, until I got a new message in my inbox: “Natalie, very nice coup (DVF) for you reported in The Wall Street Journal yesterday – red lips and all. You have been busy. Hope your summer is going well, Jeff.”
Drat. My cover was blown. I had never revealed my last name, nor what I do for a living. All he knew was that I work in fashion, live in Brooklyn and am lactose intolerant. How did he recognise me? He called me later that night – after I accidently emailed him my entire signature – and told how he had simply Googled “Natalie + Fashion + Brooklyn” and a few images of me had shown up. So, whether or not he had found The Wall Street Journal article, he already knew my entire background, had scrutinised my blog, followed me on Instagram and had no doubt read my occasional insights on the strange new world of internet dating. Mysterious no more…
Online dating offers the advantage of anonymity. You get to make up a name and present a perfectly edited profile. I don’t want potential guys to know about my silly poses and funny outfits before our first drink. I don’t want them to know how many followers I have online, or that I get photographed outside of fashion shows. Fashion is such a fickle, frivolous industry to begin with, I don’t want men to think that’s all I am. It’s too foreign, too absurd and too intimidating. Fashion girls have this stigma of being high maintenance and prissy. I’d rather be known as a Belgian girl with a flair for vintage dresses, who hates musicals and goatees. The rest of me can be apportioned out one drop at a time, until I’ve reeled him in.
I started internet dating earlier this year. I have been divorced for almost 10. My husband was Belgian; I met him at a New Year’s Eve party when I was visiting my parents and fell head over heels in love right there on the dancefloor. He moved to New York a month later. We had a great, stormy romance. He was my rock, the love of my life. But New York wasn’t the right place for him, and we failed miserably at making our life together a success. I soon fell out of love and kicked him to the curb. This all happened before my thirtieth birthday.
Work took over where my love life stalled. I quit my job as Craig McDean’s studio manager and started my own casting agency. Over the next 10 years I built up a nice roster of clients, such as Hugo Boss, Phillip Lim and Helmut Lang, and became an industry staple. While most of my work was behind the scenes, I soon got noticed and eventually landed a spot in the top five best-dressed girls on Style.com. In 2010 I launched my blog, and what started as a bundle of little stories and bad photography soon had a cult following of international fans.
Since my divorce I’ve only had two significant relationships. The first one was a skateboarder. He was hot, talented and taught me a valuable lesson: never date a skater. The other guy was one of my best friends. We had an intense romance for a few months – we discussed baby names and where we would live – until he got “scared”. Second lesson: never date a man just out of a long relationship. Not that my single status ever bothered me especially. The past three years have been a whirlwind of travelling and late-night assignments. I have barely had a social life. But this year I made a change. I turned 38. If I ever wanted to get remarried and have a kid, fashion would have to take a back seat. The search for a new husband yelled shotgun but beckoned a few questions: 1. Where to look?; and 2. What to wear?
I’m known for my idiosyncratic, eclectic style. Though “cute” and “colourful” are recurring key words, it’s all over the place. I dress in characters really. Sometimes I feel like a sexy secretary; other times I’m an English tomboy. Typically I’ll wear a dress or a skirt with a crazy print, a slouchy sweater or boxy T- shirt and high heels. But I’m not afraid of Birkenstocks, dungarees, Nineties crop-tops and cat’s-eye sunglasses either. It’s more about how I put things together at a moment’s notice. I love the styling element of getting dressed. It’s all about balance and how it visually works in front of the mirror. The proportions have to be correct. I even go as far as matching my lipstick to my shoes! I am invited to fashion parties and client dinners on a regular basis. Contrary to what you might think is the perfect social setting to meet Husband Number Two, I’m usually part of a large group of cackling women and flanked by at least a few gay men who know more about trends than I do. The odd straight man who does loiter the corridors of fashion chases models for sport. He is irrelevant. So, for years, I have dressed to accommodate myself and other girls. It’s become somewhat of a job actually. Most of the thought goes into whether the outfit is inspiring, unique and, well, Me. So when a date comes around I am left helpless. Everything and anything I put on is either too sexy or too fashionable. It takes me twice as long to get ready.
Men don’t like complicated outfits. They want simple, easy-access attire: some leg, a waist, a skirt, bare arms, perhaps a shoulder. Nothing too fancy like gold, chunky earrings, or overbearing like fur collars; nothing restricting like corseted belts, or slouchy like oversized jeans. It’s all about mild, instant gratification and comfort, words rarely applied to a fashion situation, and words with no relation to my usual explosion of retro prints and colours. At first I found it hard to marry the fashion girl in me with the one who goes on blind dates. Early on, one guy told me I was totally off-the-mark in my cropped MIH jeans and Peter Pilotto top; I should have worn a tight, short dress. He was not happy with the minimal amount of skin on show and complained, jokingly, until we left the restaurant. I didn’t call him for a second date, but his remarks got me asking what is the appropriate attire for a first date?
Dressing for straight men puts me in an entirely different mindset. I’ve created a new Natalie for these occasions. One that wears flirty Cavalli dresses with skinny Casadei heels and lets her tangled hair loose. Dating Natalie doesn’t wear lipstick or heavy jewellery or platforms. She’s relaxed, loves turquoise bracelets and wears black (which I never ordinarily do). I started to fine tune my sartorial formula as soon as I got active online and I think I’ve now found the perfect package: a black, tiered silk dress by Viviana Uchitel, worn with black lace Jimmy Choo slingback heels, my gold Joosy nameplate necklace, and 18-carat hoops. The dress plunges into a deep V in the front and back, but never gets uncomfortable, and shows the skin in the subtlest way. I’ve realised that I like this Natalie, even though she doesn’t dress, look or act like my fashion persona. More importantly, men dig this Natalie, too!
Yet, after six months of boring dates and disappointing men, I have come to the conclusion that although the web is a great way to meet people, it’s the worst place to find a real connection. I get about five messages per day on average but only one per cent of them deserve my attention. Are the strong men all taken? Or do all these forced meetings and make-believe outfits defy the purpose of finding true love? Shouldn’t I just sit back and wait until one man stands up and yells at the top of his lungs: “I love this girl with her sequined shorts and Mickey Mouse headscarf!”
My ex-husband once told me he’d never met anyone who dressed like me. And if he managed to fall in love with me regardless of what I was wearing, why should I change myself? Why is Dating Natalie a necessity? Has my style evolved so much over the years that it’s become a romantic handicap? As far as I can remember I have always dressed differently. I got detention at school because the principal didn’t like the flared pants I had my mom make me. So what’s the difference? Or should I ask: what’s different about my ex-husband and the men I meet now? Have I pressured myself to believe that doctors, investment bankers and all those guys with regular jobs I am trying to meet are the ticket to my future as an attached person?
All I have tried to do so far is make a good impression. To get a foot in the door; to please my man. To make an effort and show him I care. But when all is said and done, and I’ve got the right dress on, it still comes down to confidence. If you truly feel beautiful and happy with what you’re wearing, it only benefits the conversation. I may feel I’m making compromises on the outside, but it’s only temporary. My personality will do the rest of the talking.
Alas, Jeff turned out to be a sweater. And I don’t mean the wool kind. No, I’m talking profuse perspiration. Our second-date make-out was the stuff of Kristen Wiig movies. His hair got soaked and swooped across my face like a mop. I had to call time out just to put a towel down. Needless to say I did not call him again. Imagine the laundry!
Photo by Meredith Jenks.