“Clothes Are Power, They Transform You”: LaTonya Yvette’s Outfit Anatomy

outfit anatomy graphic

Welcome to Outfit Anatomy, a series on Man Repeller of comprehensive style analyses that break down what we wear by answering questions like: How much did that cost? Where did you find that? Why did you buy it in the first place? Today, LaTonya Yvette describes the outfit she wore in September.

I wore this outfit on a recent September morning to drop off my kids at school, then head to work. (I joke that I sort of work from everywhere, which is to say, I work from home and bounce around to cafes, pop into my kids’ school, then go back home, or to a cafe.) After that, I went to the doctor (I had a cold). I actually think wearing lipstick helped me feel better. I intended, through all of this, to photograph this outfit for my lifestyle blog.

It turned out this was also the first round in a series of jeans tests—a week in which I would rediscover all my jeans and wear the heck out of them to decide which ones I don’t like anymore and will therefore purge vs. which ones I will keep.

I started this routine a few years ago: I spend an hour or so with my closet doors open, looking at my things, with the piles of jeans stacked and ready to try on. I own about 12 pairs of jeans (which is ridiculous to think about; I’ve done a lot of denim campaigns). There are a bunch that I know I’ll never get rid of, so they get put to the side. I am not religious at all about the process, and to be honest because I get gifted regularly, it’s a way to be conscious about what I’m taking in. I’m often overwhelmed by more stuff, so purging represents brain space. I don’t really buy “new” things (I’m more of a vintage shopper), but the jeans I’m wearing here are from The Gap.

The top I’m wearing, by Doen, is actually my sister’s. She left it here after babysitting my kids and I haven’t given it back. I think it retails for, like, $250?

LaTonya Yvette outfit anatomy
LaTonya Yvette

The scarf is from a vintage store. It had to be like $2. I loved the combination of the tone of blue and pastel yellow and the sort of pearly white—it makes it easy to wear and, for whatever reason, feel like an expensive silk scarf when it isn’t.

I have two hat boxes full of scarves because I wear them so often—I grew up with my mother and grandmother wearing simple triangle headscarves, so I guess the inclination is in my bones. You know what’s funny is that I’ve always worn it folded, but I opened it up recently and realized there’s a pretty grotesque cowboy scene on it; I’ll never unfold it again.

The hoops are vintage too. I got them in Berlin last summer— they were 5 euros. I spent so much of last year pinning old photos of women in dramatic, Brooklyn-style 80s gold hoops but was not satisfied by so many of the options because they were so heavy. These are light. And maintain all the drama.

The loafers were purchased on heavy markdown but I don’t remember for how much. My brain is awful and I’ve had them a while. They’re by Dieppa Restrepo—who no longer makes shoes. The soles need repatching because I think I wore nothing-but-them for two years straight. There’s something to be said about classic loafers. You can wear them with pretty much anything. The only reason I haven’t had them fixed is that I can’t give them up for the time it would take to fix them.

The vest is part of this large archive of vintage pieces I got after my grandmother passed away. She was an icon—every morning, every day, was a party. A reason to get dressed. Nothing was off-limits, and this, from someone who never left her Brooklyn neighborhood. She didn’t try to be stylish, she just was. And it wasn’t what she wore, really, but how she wore it and how that translated to her community involvement. She was soft and reserved, but there was a wild, burning power about her. She rallied for Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and worked at the local school. She really believed in the power of clothing, how they could transform you as a person.

There’s this one photo of her that I always think back to, she’s wearing a soft button-down, a vest, and a bow tie. She had long curly hair, and was part indigenous American and carried these highly feminine facial traits that stick out in my memory, but her fashion sense—the vests and trousers and flats—pushed against that energy and you could feel it bursting out of the photo. I knew her as a single woman most of my adult life, and in many ways, she has come to represent my definition of beauty as power.

I’m often told by family that the way we navigate community, style, and creativity is pretty similar. I’ve had this vest for 10 years. There are two or three that I have, which I’ll wear very frequently but the rest of them I try to save because I want to keep them in pristine condition. Maybe I’ll pass them on.

In sum, I think I spent about $87 on this entire outfit, the newest item, ironically, is probably one of the oldest items—the scarf. The oldest is no doubt the vest, and now that I think about it, having her stuff in my closet reminds me of the power of clothes, and I think because of that helps me to be discerning about what else I bring in. As told to Leandra Medine.

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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