The Simple Wardrobe, Part VI: Accessories


Watch, wedding ring. Secondhand pumps 

I don't have a diamond wedding ring. We got married without rings, in fact, and waited almost a year before getting ours. While hardcore minimalists say the wedding ring is an unnecessary relic, I think it's a useful symbol. Nobody believed I was married until I started wearing one!

I've never been much for jewelry, except a cluster of rings worn in college and some silly earrings from high school. One by one, they disappeared, including a trendy "Oui" ring my cat Bull may or may not have eaten. That jewelry didn't mean anything to me, so I didn't take care of it the way I should have.

Accessories are the most expressive part of an ensemble. Shoes speak volumes about you, from occupation to physical abilities and cultural background. A woman's purse, I think, is a reflection of her state of mind. Jewelry shows aspects of one's personality the public may never glimpse otherwise.

Because it's such a personal thing, it's impossible to say what accessories should be worn with which outfits. But that doesn't mean people won't try. After I got married, everyone asked, "Where's the ring?" When we finally chose ours, everyone asked, "Where's the diamond?" Though I dreamt of a giant, two to three carat monster as a little girl, my tastes changed with time. Apart from the arbitrary value of diamonds mined at the price of enormous human suffering, or the barbarous manufacturing of gold (my ring is nevertheless gold), I had no desire for one. They didn't look beautiful to me.

Admittedly, when my husband broached the subject of a Trinity ring- created in 1924, made famous by Jean Cocteau- I felt a twinge of disappointment. "It's what all elegant ladies wear," he assured me, and he was right. The French women I admire and look up to, including half my friends' moms, wear it; so does the mean blond girl at Shakespeare and Company who went crazy when BJ Novak tried flirting with my sister. "You're lucky you get any ring at all, having a German husband," my friend Claudine said, noting the practical cultural custom of not giving an engagement ring. Married women in many lands, I noticed, don't even wear wedding bands. "I think it's an Anglo thing," explained my Kazakh friend Ulyana.

All the misgivings about my husband's choice- timeless, intertwined in a halo symbolizing love, fidelity, and friendship, like a threefold cord- dissipated when I tried it on. It was perfect! Light, pretty, and practical for my love of travel, or my tendency to garden and wash dishes without gloves on. It suited me in a way a diamond never could. Though I never imagined myself wearing gold, the rose, white, and yellow tones flattered my skin. My hands (and feet) are essentially portraits of Dorian Gray, aging precipitously while the rest of me looks the same, and this glowing, rolling band turned back the clock, somehow.

In Paris, most women don't wear engagement rings, so the only time I ever felt bad about mine- I'm over it now- was when I visited Cleveland and people just could not accept its lack of diamond. Only my mom comforted me. "Your ring is so cool. It's unique," she'd say, whenever rude women made me insecure. Hers is secondhand, a giant, sparkly cut in an Art Deco puzzle setting, free from the usual ethical implications, imbued with the history of previous owners. Still, even she said, after a few weeks in Europe, "You were right! I didn't quite believe you until now, but women here really don't wear diamonds!"

If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing, except buy secondhand. My two pieces of jewelry are easy to care for- most designs are- with a little savon de marseille and a soft, dry cloth. According to Cartier, ammonia, alcohol, dishwashing soap, Windex, and chlorine should never be used on metals or gems, although vinegar is okay on most things except pearls. Toothbrushes aren't recommended, and pearls must be worn to maintain luster.

My other accessories don't match, but they coordinate, and they're all comfortable. I have one set of lined leather gloves and five pairs shoes, mostly secondhand. They're perfect for rain and have sturdy soles for uneven Paris streets. Patent leather is especially durable and easy to clean. I use a linen scarf as a shawl and tie the silk scarf in my hair- my dresses look best when nothing obscures the neckline. I also have the same secondhand nylon bag everyone else carries in Paris. A Macbook, an extra pair of shoes, and a zero-waste lunch fit in mine, the smallest model (I previously stated it was a medium- I've since been corrected!). When it gets dirty, throw in the wash with other laundry and hang to dry. When the corners unravel, take to a Longchamp shop to fix for free. Nothing is lighter or easier to carry around all day if you don't have a car!

As for my sunglasses, they're so old and past season, Dior had to special order a part when a stem fell off. I MacGyvered a paper clip to fasten it back on in the interim, which worked so well, I did that again when the other side followed suit. They're the only sunglasses big enough to fit my giant face, they match all my clothes, and I'm still not sick of them- it's hard finding sunglasses that don't make me look like an alien, so I'd like to keep these as long as possible. You can see all of my clothing and accessories here, with information on their social and ecological manufacturing costs here.


Read the rest of the simple wardrobe series:

Paris to Go

23 comments:

  1. I didn't know that everyone in America wears diamonds, but I remember a very interesting article about how Cartier aggressively marketed diamonds as a symbol of love, commitment and status -- and even created the blood-diamond myth to kill competition. Also, whereas gold is a beautiful metal that doesn't oxidise and has interesting meanings in different cultures (see Ayurveda for example), diamonds are just hype, with artificially inflated prices.

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    1. Ah, I'd love to read that article! I remember reading one about the Oppenheimers- who owned De Beers- and coming away feeling sick to my stomach. A diamond really is a love symbol, for the love of money! The stuff they did in India, South Africa and Brazil is outrageous.

      I didn't know gold had that meaning in Ayurveda, thank you for sharing! I'm going to research that, it's really interesting. I always learn something new from you and your blog!

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  2. My original ring was a ridiculously priced designer ring made of platinum and lots of sparkly stones. Thought it was something I "needed". My fingers never shrunk back into it after having kids so I didn't wear a ring for a few years. Finally for Christmas last year I asked my husband for a simple gold band - $80, inscribed with a line from "our song". I absolutely adore it and I never have to take off for fear of damaging it. So wish I would have just bought a simple, $80 ring in the first place.

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    1. Hi Kristy! Ok, you took the words out of my mouth. In the suburban US they make it seem like if you don't have a diamond ring with an outrageous markup your hand will shrivel up and fall off. How sweet that your ring is personal and like a real part of you now. I never take my ring off either, which I notice my friends with diamonds have to do on a daily basis. I feel naked without it!

      From reading your blog, you and your husband don't need a diamond to symbolize your commitment to each other! Post more Airstream pictures please :)

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  3. Loving the timeliness of this post! Just Friday had an extended discussion with my friend M about the pressure women in the States put on men (and other women?) to have these ginormous diamond rings. I quoted to her this little blurb from Vogue in reference to the French perspective on engagement rings: The sole traces of family status are the thin gold bands on their wedding fingers (even the wealthiest Europeans don’t believe in our engagement ring craze) and I told her I'd want a Cartier trinity band and nothing more. So no surprise that you have one bc I seem to have constantly pre-pinned many of your gorgeous items (the LK Bennet dress for example.)
    Don't get me started on "push gift" ring upgrades.

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    1. We could be twins Darcy! The jewelry commercials in the US enrage me. Also, it's no diamond ring, but everybody told me in the States that Troll Beads and Pandora were super European. No one here has ever heard of them.

      My friend, on her 20th wedding anniversary, traded her emerald ring for a Trinity. She was tired of chipping away at the emerald (I hadn't realized they were so soft) and secure enough in her marriage not to need a big rock.

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    2. I have an Edwardian ring that I love set with 3 amethysts. I bought it in perfect condition. 2 years later 2 of the 3 stones were chipped. It survived 100 years... Until me. (No guilt there.) Love it, but learned my lesson about high-maintenance (ie soft) stones. Never again.

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    3. Oh no! That's so sad about the amethyst. It's my birthstone and my mom gave me a pair of amethyst earrings that I somehow chipped once! At least the original owner of your ring probably did nothing when she wore! I'm sure her servants took care of all the stuff we do today to chip stones...

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    4. Ha! I love your logic re:servants. Let's go with that.

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  4. Other conversations w/ M have revolved around the high likelihood I'll treat myself to a (second-hand) Cartier watch when I graduate from grad school :) So, yeah, loving this post!

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    1. Haha, that's exactly why I got mine! You deserve it! The Real Real has really excellent prices and the stuff is genuine. I really trust them. If they had been carrying Cartier when I was looking for a ring, I would have bought from them for sure. I looked at a few secondhand ones offline at the time, but they ended up being fakes :(

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    2. I've perused their site a bit already just seeing what's out there (and, let's face it, dangling a carrot in front of my own face to finish.school.) So thanks for this reassurance!

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  5. I have mixed feelings about jewellry. I come from an old culture where jewellry gets passed down generations and its considered an investment. Gold price may go up and down but over generations, it pays better than having money in a savings account.

    Ethics of mining makes it complicated though.

    I used to get that a lot too. "Are you really married?", and I wear my ring a lot more since. But I get asked that anyways. Indian women wear the sindhuur ( red dot on forehead ), toe rings etc after they get married. I dont think I will do down that road.

    Its interesting to know about the cultural symbols of being married.

    Only French women can make Nylon bags ( Longchamp ) chic !

    - Archana.

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    1. I love the toe rings :) so delicate and pretty. Your jewelry collection and your family heirlooms must be stunning, I'm imagining beautiful pieces with fascinating histories... and imagining the journey they must have taken to get to you.

      Whenever I see a piece of jewelry I think of the countries and processes each piece went through to go from raw material to a form of adornment. It's usually not a pretty picture but interesting to think about.

      I wonder, are honeymoons a universal thing, or just part of American culture? I spoke to several newlyweds today who never heard of a honeymoon and didn't have any plans to take a post-wedding trip (we never took one either).

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    2. Quite the contrary. My jewellry heirlooms are quite gaudy and I am embarrassed every time I get forced to wear them ( Google : jewellry Indian weddings ) for a wedding. My country embraces 'more, the better' philosophy on it. But again, I dont think I will let it go because I am into investments and markets. I see it as diversifying the money.

      My ex-roomie who is a devout Christian says the Bible asks the couple to live in solitude by themselves after the wedding, which she interprets as a honeymoon. Older Indian culture is quite the opposite, you stay with your parents to save on money /recover from wedding expenses till you can afford your own home. My grandparents often scorn at the idea of spending such money as a young family on travel. Its all changing though. We have embraced all the American ideas I think.

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    3. Korean people do something similar, staying with the parents. In fact the parents often pay for the honeymoon! I can't think of what Bible verse says that. There's a bit about a newly married man not having to go to war to be with his wife, but that's in the Mosaic law. You've intrigued me, I'll have to do a little more research on that. Funny how quickly things change from generation to generation.

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  6. Thought you might enjoy this article: http://www.vogue.com/12893726/french-style-icons-saint-laurent-paris/

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Darcy! I didn't realize Slimane was from the 19th. He couldn't be more different from YSL. I've met #7 and her mom! They were both so nice. Man, but Simone de Beauvoir seems like such a piece of work. The only person who might have been more unlikeable was Sartre.

      I think Juliette Greco is fascinating, Francoise Hardy too. But I could never wear so much black! Thanks for the link, I did enjoy it :)

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  7. What a selection! I think I could wear 10 articles of clothing too, if I had a $6500+ watch.

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    1. Hi C.O., actually, my husband said something similar about his own watch- that he didn't care what he wore, because he knew he had something nice that he worked hard and paid cash for.

      We got our watches after completing years of school and work with no debt. My grandpa grew up starving, brought his mother, father, and six brothers and sisters to the US, put them plus three kids through school and opened a store for one, and when he finished med school and his internship, he bought a Rolex that he wore for fifty some years, until his death. Now my grandma wears it. That's the kind of longevity and legacy I aim for in jewelry. I imagine many people with extensive mall wardrobes or costume jewelry collections spend way more than me!

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  8. Ariana, I knew you'd gotten the watch as a prize for grad school, but I didn't know you'd done it all with no debt! I am so impressed (that's my goal as well so I'm working/ going to class/ paying cash.) It's *not* easy as I can attest to, and my hat is truly off to you. I consider it an inspiration that you knew when to splurge- that is, on a significant daily reminder that you can do hard things. I love the story of your grandpa. What an amazing man and what a gift that Rolex must be to your grandma. The ring I wear daily was my grandfather's high school class ring. It's a hefty (made for a man) gold and black onyx piece that I love both bc I think it's chic, but also bc it was HIS. This is why I don't think I'll ever be a true minimalist- I agree that memories are not restricted to physical items but they do act as triggers. My brother passed away suddenly 8 years ago. I keep one of his plastic guitar picks in my wallet. It is worthless and priceless and while I would remember him regardless, I love the little trigger that happens at odd moments- like when I go to get change for a diet coke. My hope is to collect pieces that my nieces & nephews may find classic and beautiful enough to one day wear and remember me.

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    1. I'm so sorry about your brother but what a beautiful way to remember him, and your grandfather. I love class rings. What are you studying? Fortunately my sister and I qualified for scholarships (including a sibling scholarship) and financial aid (my younger sister actually got her MBA at 21, a year before I graduated! I'm so proud). The financial aid system is super unfair now, though, and I've heard barely anyone seems to qualify, even with the outrageous tuition fees. I'm just glad I didn't have to take out a loan, though I did have to work two jobs for awhile, because the interest is crazy. There's a congresswoman aiming to change the high fees for student loans- her mom put three kids through school on a minimum wage salary from Sears- and I think her legislation keeps getting shot down.

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  9. This class ring is from the mid-30s so it's very different than what I was offered (and declined) at 17. (it looks a bit like this without reference to the year- or frankly, the year probably wore off.) https://img1.etsystatic.com/039/0/6388928/il_214x170.618630189_ozgh.jpg

    I work for a university and, for their employees as a perk, they subsidize their masters programs (MBA for me.) It's still not cheap by a long shot (private), but it's FAR less than full price; i.e. manageable to pay as you go. I'm speechless at your sister's graduation from grad school at 21. My hat is, again, off to you for working 2 jobs. I find the mental schedule juggling to be one of the most challenging aspects of both working and going to school (I need to fix/ simmer that soup while I run a load of laundry while I read this case at home tonight or I won't have anything to eat/ wear this week...) While I do work full time, at least it's at one location with one fixed schedule and, as an incredible and much-appreciated bonus, I can walk to class from my office. Or to the professors office during lunch for help. I don't know how folks leave work, drive across our horribly traffic-y town and make it to class by 6:15p. Eating dinner in the car presumably. Your blog posts are a lovely diversion from the day to day grind- I'm grateful!

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