Coco Chanel is credited with the advice that you should remove at least one thing before you leave the house. I’m sure that’s meant to keep your look pared down and stylish, but for those of us who love to pile on accessories, that gets translated as “Maybe I should remove the super heavy item so I can lift my neck or my arm in case of emergency.”
You see, I am an accessories person. The more the better, and please feel free to invite guests. My mother is probably to blame for my obsession, a woman who had a slightly bohemian style in the 70s louche luxe sense of the word with a neck layered in thin gold chains and an arm full of bangles.
The way I knew how to locate my mother anywhere was due to the wind chime-like noise these bangles would make when she moved. We would get separated in a store, and I would simply stop and focus. Jangle-angle-clink-jingle: the noise would come from somewhere nearby, and I would walk toward it, comforted.
Piles of bangles of silver and gold stacked in a haphazard way was my mother’s way of collecting and carrying memories with her everywhere she went. She’d pick up a new bangle on vacations, business trips and as gifts from paramours, and just add until they’d hit the elbow, then she’d just remove a couple and keep going.
The day she had surgery and put them on my arm for safekeeping was the scariest moment of my life. They wheeled her into surgery, and every time I moved my arm, the haunting sound sent me into a panic. The happiest day of my life was putting those bangles back on her wrist. Their gentle tune lulls me to sleep when I visit home to this day.
My style icons aren’t known for their subtlety, either. Iris Apfel seems to wear all her jewelry at once every time she leaves the house to the delight of fashion-obsessed fans everywhere, Talitha Getty didn’t know the definition of the word "restraint." As a child, I watched TV as Diana Ross, Cher and Carol Burnett came bounding out onto the stage, covered in Bob Mackie excess.
Bob Mackie was my hero as a child. If something would stay still long enough to be covered in sequins and gems, he’d bedazzle the shit out of it. When I’m stressed out, I watch old episodes of these shows and marvel at the excessive costuming.
I don’t know when we got to the point where we became so afraid of self-expression. I grew up with relatives that seemed to wear every ring they owned all at once just to sit on the stoop and smoke a cigarette with the neighbors. I remember a time when stacked bangles the size of half your arm were stacked with even bigger bangles just because a black turtleneck was the perfect canvas.
I follow this dressing aesthetic to this day: I buy rather basic clothes and then I pile them up with necklaces, bracelets, rings and the like. My necklaces enter the room ahead of me, rings flash with light when I point to things, bracelets announce my movements like wearing a wreath of bells at the holidays. I wear enough jewelry that I have trouble lifting my limbs to sign things or to swipe my Metrocard for the subway.
Let’s stop showing so much restraint. People will talk, but let ‘em talk. Once a week, pile it on and strut your stuff. It’s fun to see what you have in your jewelry collection all stacked on top of itself. Who knows, maybe one of you has a little girl like me in your midst who will seek solace in your over-the-top self-expression, who may one day look at her own collection of baubles and think, “Getting dressed is SO MUCH FUN!” and go bounding out of the house covered in her own happiness.
Stack ‘em on, ladies. Life is a celebration of yourself, and accessories are the decoration on that fabulous cake. Live it up!