Moda Operandi’s Fashion Director on How New York Changed Her Style

In today’s edition of What to Wear This Week, Caitlin Burke, Fashion Director at Moda Operandi, breaks down the mechanics of what she wears and why.

What do you think about when you get dressed in the morning?
My day and what I have to do first and foremost, because my job can be super physical if I’m on set whereas I can look more polished if the next day is all meetings. I think about what I have to do and where I’ll be and go from there.

Before going out?
I hate to admit it, but I think about what will look best in photos. I don’t “go out” as much as I used to, so when I do it’s usually for an event or special occasion, where inevitably lots of photos will be taken. I think about tops and earrings first (as they’re seen most), along with what is most flattering.

Do you start from the shoes and then work your way up, or the clothes and then down?
Always shoes! If I’m shooting, which is most days, I might be on my feet for ten hours straight, so I always have to think about shoes and comfort first. Alternatively, when I’m not shooting, I seize the opportunity to wear all of my fun heels that usually don’t get to see the light of day.

How does living in NYC influence your style?
I grew up in New Jersey, where a perpetual orange glow, chunky highlights and French, acrylic tips were my go-tos, along with a fully maxed-out Express credit card. I thought I looked amazing — until I moved to NYC. My first boss at Cosmo pulled me aside and told me that I needed to “de-Jersify” myself (thank you, Keren). Needless to say, from that day on NYC has significantly influenced my style. Fashion was always a big part of my life, my references and access just changed.

Help! One transition-weather dressing tip:
Invest in a good trench. Surprisingly, most women I know don’t have one (myself included until six months ago) and it is such a game changer. People in New York don’t think they need one since it’s only spring for like a day, but you’ll use it more than you think. Also, I’m a big fan of styling summer dresses as shirts over pants.

What do you like your outfits to say about you?
I guess I like my outfits to convey authenticity, along with my current mood. I always want to feel like myself. Sometimes that is the life of the party, and sometimes that is someone who just wants to go about unnoticed.

What’s your foolproof styling trick?
I always try to add one unexpected element to my look, usually in the form of a quirky accessory or piece of statement jewelry. Another cool styling trick is using hair ties for a multitude of things. You can use them to hold pushed-up sleeves in place (hide it below one of the folds), or, my favorite, to create a ruched area to add interest or hide any sins. You gather a section of your shirt or skirt from the inside, then secure it with a hair tie. It sounds crazy, but adds expensive-looking draping instantly.

The one garment that never lets you down?
I live in my Brock jeans. They’re hands-down the best denim I’ve ever put on and I think every woman should own a pair. I also love any pair of high-waisted, wide-legged culottes. Even though Anna Wintour says only Karlie Kloss can pull them off, I always feel pretty great in them.

What item of clothing makes you feel most like yourself? Why?
I have an amazing Rodarte army jacket with netted, sequined paillette sleeves that is completely inappropriate for pretty much everywhere, but somehow feels so inherently me. Anytime I don’t know what to wear or I’m not feeling my outfit, I just throw it on and instantly feel better. It’s basically my style as a coat — masculine with touches of feminine charm, an element of surprise and at times, just a bit too much.

At what point in your life did you really start to come into your own in terms of personal style?
I remember having this “aha moment” a few years ago when I realized I was investing in all of these fancy pieces and things I loved as standalone items, but not necessarily things that worked for me and my lifestyle. I realized I was wearing the same clothing silhouettes and shoe styles on repeat, but not investing in those at all since I considered them more everyday basics. Focusing on shopping more for these and less for the occasional pieces has really changed my wardrobe for the better.

How do accessories change an outfit?
Accessories are an essential part of any outfit for me, especially since I gravitate towards clean, simple clothing. I use them a lot as the focal point of my looks. I love that they always fit, and they seem to withstand the test of time longer than my clothing purchases. I try to buy unique pieces that aren’t necessarily trendy or tied to a season, so they’ll always add that element of surprise and interest, regardless of what is on-trend at the moment.

How does working in fashion influence your daily style?
Surprisingly, I think working in fashion has had the opposite effect on my personal style than one might think. People assume working in fashion means always dressing on-trend and in the latest “it” items, but for me, and I think a lot of fashion people, it actually makes you develop more of a uniform. You’re exposed to so much that you really need to hone in on exactly what works for you in order to not go completely broke trying to buy every piece you fall in love with. For me, there are shoot clothes and there are my clothes, and it’s taken several years to discern between the two.

What are your favorite three places on the Internet to get inspired?
Instagram is obviously a favorite, I love the account @c__l__o, and especially love the new saved-folder feature. I reference it often for inspiration I’ve collected over the past few months. I also love looking at the latest works from my favorite photographers online; my current faves are Harley Weir, Charlotte Wales, Jens Ingvarsson and Juliette Cassidy.

What about three favorite places in the city (or the world) to get inspired?
I went to Georgia (the country) last year for Tbilisi Fashion Week, and it really made an impact on me. I love looking to emerging international fashion weeks for inspiration, they have so much young talent and a fresh perspective on design and styling. In New York, I like to walk the Chelsea gallery circuit on Saturdays to get my art fix. The third place is forever changing based on wherever I’m traveling to next. I love getting inspired by the destination and fully embracing the local style. Right now that place is Barcelona, where I’m heading tomorrow!

What’s the coolest thing you’ve learned in the last week?
I’m currently in Milan and just learned that you can actually “adopt” one of the gargoyles that decorates the Milan cathedral. It will set you back about 100,000 euros, but how cute to say you own a pet gargoyle that lives at the Duomo?

Best song to get dressed to?
Celine Dion at high volume. “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” really does something to me.

Follow Caitlin and Moda Operandi on Instagram @caitlinburkenyc and @modaoperandi. Photos by Edith Young. 

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman is the Features Director at Man Repeller.

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