How To Become a Fashion Eccentric

Hint: Get eyeglasses, or a pet.

Why are some women content to wear sweater sets and pearls, while others keep orangutans in their boudoirs and charge through life wearing avant-garde jump suits with pointy bits on the shoulders? What makes one gal head to the cotillion while another, teetering on shoes as high as the Chrysler Building, whips her hair into a cerise-hued tornado and drapes a dead lama fetus across her clavicles? What makes a lady choose to brave the slings and arrows of fashion eccentricity? The answer is simple: me.

For years I have recklessly advocated the unleashing of gobs of unfettered self-expression into one’s fashion choices. I even wrote a book about it. Screeching myself hoarse, I have hectored terrified groups of women, contrasting the horrors and miseries of bourgeois conformity with the joys of outrageous personal style, never imagining that anyone was actually listening, or that these impractical notions would ever catch on. Cut to: fall 2010. Lady Gaga takes wacky dressing to the masses. Eccentricity is in the air. Everyone wants to go cuckoo.

As a longtime proponent of revolutionary fashion, I feel a responsibility to provide some basic guidelines for you, the ordinary woman in the street. Before you catch the Gaga bug and plunge into the valley of the freaks, blowing what’s left of your 401(k) on the way, I beg you to read the following idiot-proof guide to budget-conscious eccentricity:

1. Pull a Peggy Guggenheim. Snag yourself a seriously deranged pair of sculptural spectacles. When in doubt, go for scale, a la Iris Apfel, who sports dinner-plate-sized owl frames. Who is Iris Apfel? The Met Costume Institute devoted an entire exhibit to her Queen Theodora-meets- Talitha Getty look in 2005. This week she will be honored with an Icon Award at the WGSN Global Style Awards. Her presenter? Yours truly, the go-to goblin for eccentric broads.

2. Go gaga, literally. Forget about high-priced stylists: Mentally unstable people provide an infinitely richer source of directional tips. I realized this at an early age when I saw my schizophrenic Uncle Ken walking around the house with Wellies on his hands. If you don’t have a batty relative like sweet Uncle Ken you always have Edie “Grey Gardens” Beale, the inventor of the upside-down skirt and the cardigan-as-head-wrap. (A shrink friend recently told me she is disgusted by my frequent callous references to Grey Gardens. Edie-style head wraps are, according to my pal, commonly adopted by her patients, in a desperate attempt to muffle “the voices.”)

3. Paint your wagon, to match your face. Louise Nevelson had her forest of lashes, Diana Vreeland had her rouged ears, and fashion writer du jour Lynn Yeager has her rosy, Russian doll cheeks: A bold signature maquillage is a low-cost way to telegraph your newly adopted unconventionality.

4. Homo is where the heart is. Surround yourself with inverts: They will cheer you on, and, most importantly, they will always understand the arcane sources of inspiration embedded in your “look,” as in, “J’adore your Nancy Cunard ivory bracelet situation!”

5. Follow the toffs. The reigning queen of fashion eccentricity is indisputably the Right Honorable Daphne Guinness. With her Cruella de Fabulous hair and her repertoire of how-can-she-possibly-walk-in-them-after-a-glass-or-two-of-sherry shoes, the heiress aristo has added lashings of extremist glamour to the NYC scene since moving here a couple of years back. In 2007, she made headlines when she purchased the entire fashion collection of the greatest fashion eccentric of all time, Isabella Blow.

Re Isabella: As further proof that taboo-busting flamboyance is in the air, this month saw the publication of two books about the deceased Mrs. Blow, one penned by ex-husband Detmar Blow and Tom Sykes, and a biography by Lauren Goldstein Crowe. Tuck either tome under your arm as a low-cost eccentric accessory.

6. A pangolin in the parlor. Nothing says “I’m an eccentric!” quite like the acquisition of some improbable and exotic pet. The Marquesa Casati kept leopards and gorillas in her pad, and, at the other end of the socio-economic spectrum, there’s my friend Spider, a textile expert and former designer for Claude Montana. She houses an extensive collection of reptiles and tarantula—her favorite serpent hails from the Mojave Desert and is named Glossy Flossy—in her chic little flat in the San Fernando Valley.

“Other than being attacked by my pet hyena, are there any potential drawbacks to a life of glamorous eccentricity?” I hear you ask, in a plaintive sort of way. Yes. Two.

The first involves your career: Eccentricity is anathema to the more rigorous professions. For those of you working in the medical or financial field, you need to face the fact that stylistic daring of any kind is a ruthless credibility destroyer. Nobody wants their estate planning orchestrated by a chick wearing Alexander McQueen armadillo shoes.

The other drawback concerns your sex life. Honesty compels me to admit that eccentricity will have a catastrophically diminishing effect on your perceived shagability. It’s a total hotness destroyer. However, there is a big consolation: Idiosyncratic dressing has no expiration date. You, the glamorous eccentric, have an enduring shtick that will carry you happily into old age. It’s those “housewives” with their fake boobs/hair/tans/nails/lips who are going to send us all screeching for the hills when they hit 70.


Click here to read a slide show on eccentric fashion.

Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.