portraits of style: gina, 54
A friend once said "style is personal and political," and I love that concept: dressing for your expression of self, what you stand for, and not for the pleasure of others. Portraits of Style is a new feature, sharing the portraits and interviews of people who are over 40, and who define what it means to be stylish: focusing what happens when they throw away the fashion magazines, and instead choose what they wear based on what makes them feel great and what they want to express. This is style -- on their terms.
This week, I'm featuring my friend Gina Carroll. I met Gina years ago at a blogging conference (this wonderful one, I think). I liked her immediately, and not just because she's a former attorney, just like me. She's an author, with her latest book released just last month, inspiring readers to tell their own stories. And she has a warm smile and twinkling eyes and I don't see her nearly enough, considering that she lives right here in Houston. Still, over the years we keep running into each other, and every time -- I mean, every time -- I'm always stunned and how fashionable she is. So naturally, when I asked if she'd be willing to be featured here on Portraits of Style, I was elated that she agreed. (Now to convince her that we need to meet for margaritas.)
Here's what she had to say.
I want my clothes to reflect that I am a seeker -- someone who is still finding her way, and enjoying what she finds. And I'm trying to bring others along with me.
~ Gina Carroll
KW: Gina, I'm so thrilled that you met with me here today. It's been too long since we've gotten together.
GC: It really has!
KW: The thing is, we keep running into each other -- and I have to tell you, every time I see you, I marvel at what you're wearing. How do you do it?
GC: Thank you! You know, when I dress, it's for me. When I was young, it was for everyone else. But now, in my 50s -- you can take me seriously, or not, and I don't care so much anymore.
KW: Amen, sister. So, who was "everyone else"?
GC: Oh, you know ... my husband. My law firm. Everyone. Although ... I can't lie, I enjoyed dressing for the law firm. Do you remember the store Alcott & Andrews?
KW: I don't think so ...
GC: They were a store that specialized in the most beautiful suits for women, and they were surprisingly really reasonably priced. When I was working as a lawyer in the Bay Area, they had a shop in Union Square, and I lived in those suits. Unfortunately, they went out of business -- probably because they were too reasonably priced!
KW: Ha! So have you always been a suit person?
GC: You know, I went through sort of a "1-dress" phase -- I love a beautiful dress, and it's just so easy, you know -- one thing, and you're dressed. But a couple of weeks ago I attended a talk by Shantrelle Lewis at the Brooklyn Museum -- she's the creator behind The Dandy Lion Project, an homage to how we, black people, will take a thing like a suit, and make it our own, right? She is intrigued by and shares dandyism in the black diaspora. And during her talk, she mentioned how originally she focused on men, but then someone who identified as LGBT approached her, and said, "you know this isn't just about men, right?" And something clicked for her, so she broadened her project. And listening to her, she just blew my mind. I was just so inspired. So, now I'm all about suiting again.
KW: You know I love this, and I love that you brought this up: because you asked me to meet you today at the Houston Museum of African-American Culture. Do you find that your culture informs your style choices?
GC: Well ... I mean ... it informs everything, doesn't it? You know, I grew up in a predominantly white neighbourhood -- I went to a white school -- but I have a huge family, and most of them lived in South Central L.A. So even though during the week I would be in a white world, my family would get together all the time, and I was steeped in African-American culture. So I was always aware of two worlds, and which world I come from.
KW: And how does that inform your style?
GC: Well ... it's not like I wear African waxprints or anything -- I've never really liked them on me -- but I would say that my style is a little, you know, off. Not quite the mainstream. I like my colours to clash. I like vintage clothes, and clothes with a story ... a history. And I also wear a lot of my grandmother's clothes.
KW: Your grandmother's clothes? Seriously?
GC: Yes! My grandmother kept her clothes in pristine condition, and she had so many of them. My mom was trying to get her to pare down her wardrobe, and the only way she could convince my grandmother to do it is to tell her I wanted her clothes! And I wear them all the time. Still.
KW: Do you buy a lot of vintage clothes as well?
GC: Absolutely. All the time. All my kids do, too, and they're all adults now.
KW: So who are your fashion icons? Obviously, your grandmother is one ...
GC: Yes, my grandmother is definitely one -- she always had herself put together. And then also ... this is sort of embarrassing, because the character is such an awful person ... but I love Clair Underwood.
KW: Oh, man, she always looks so great ...
GC: ... doesn't she? She looks ... aerodynamic. I like to be aerodynamic. Also, I love Diane Keaton. I love that she chose that menswear look years ago, and just worked it over time. And Babs Watkins -- she was an interior designer here in Houston, and I only knew her when she was older, before she passed away -- I always loved her style. I want to be her in a few decades.
KW: So, do you have an item of clothing that is your go-to -- something that you know you'll always feel great in, no matter what?
GC: You know, it's funny: my husband is a shopper, with really great taste, and he went through a phase where he bought me dresses. A package would just show up in the mail with a dress in it...
KW: ... are you kidding me? Can he talk to my husband and inspire him?
GC: I know, right? He's just really good at it, and these dresses he bought fit me perfectly. They were just perfect. I have them in a section in my closet, and they're the kinds of dresses that I could just reach in blindfolded and pick one out, and know that I'm going to look great. He did really well.
KW: He doesn't do it anymore?
GC (laughing): No, I think he blew through his budget, so he stopped!
KW: So tell me: what advice would you give someone who wants to develop a style for themselves, but doesn't know where to begin?
GC: I suspect that people really know what they like -- it's just that over time, you have a hard time finding things that fit properly, and you give up. But I think you really know what you like. So own what doesn't work, and experiment with what works. Look around and see who you're inspired by -- I'm constantly looking for inspiration everywhere. And experiment.
KW: Great advice. And finally, what do you hope your style says about you?
GC: Well ... I hope that it says that I'm the seeker, someone who is still finding her way. And that I'm someone who is enjoying what she finds -- and that I'm trying to bring others along with me.
Thanks so much for sharing your style thoughts with me, Gina! To learn more about the eminently stylish Gina, please be sure to check out her website, as well as her wonderful new book. (And Gina -- let's talk about that margarita date soon, shall we?)