We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures in our column "How I Shop."
In a city where many people simply don their best approximation of what's trendy (concerned primarily with how it will look on Instagram), Sissy Sainte-Marie stands out for having, well, real style.
The Los Angeles-based lover of brands like Lemaire and Shaina Mote certainly doesn't shy away from the 'gram, though, using it to support independent designers and shop owners, showcase her styling work and, hopefully, provide some inspiration. And that she does: I've hit the save button on many of her outfit posts and I'm sure many of her nearly-50k followers have done the same. She doesn't really avoid trends, either — rather, she makes them her own.
A stylist, sometimes director (for her musician/photographer husband Eddie Chacon) consultant and fashion star in her own right, Sainte-Marie has worked with brands and publications like Vince, Who What Wear, Need Supply (R.I.P.), Rachel Comey and more. Below, she shares her own approach to getting dressed (and Instagram), how her job influences her style, why she regrets buying that massive Jacquemus hat and more.
"I remember going shopping with my mom on the weekends. We lived in a small town so we would drive to the bigger town that had a mall and she would shop for herself and just sort of leave me in the kids' section. I would play in the racks while she shopped. My first experience would be witnessing her shopping for things and seeing how important that was to her. I guess I picked up on that, even though I didn't really start shopping for myself until I was older.
"I remember walking into Urban Outfitters at one point [around 11 years ago], and you know how each little section is a different kind of trend or persona? I said, 'I think I have one of everything in this store. It's time to look deeper.' And my husband and I, we cracked up. Now we say that whenever we want something really badly, or if the initial magic of something wears off, 'It's time to look deeper.'
"Around the time I started styling, minimalism was really big. And I think discovering that and being able to immerse myself in timeless classics when it was trending, it kind of stuck. I mean, I still love novelty items, and I shop a lot. I get gifted a lot of things — it's kind of an occupational hazard. But I think discovering good trousers and basic tops and suits and matching sets and simpler silhouettes, A-line skirts and things that look good on me, that became a bit of a relief. It just made it much easier to shop and have a sense of myself and not always be chasing trends. But, you can see from my Instagram feed I still definitely embrace every new trend that comes out, but more in my own way. And I know things that I just don't wear — like, I don't wear that many jeans. I did for one season. I was really into the perfect pair of Levi's, but other than that, I kind of avoid blue jeans. I'm looking in my closet right now and I have two pairs.
"I wear a lot of cream and white. It makes it really easy, when everything in my wardrobe kind of goes together. I definitely will pick and choose the trends that blend in with my style, but I don't really ever pivot in a completely different direction. I really love square-toe shoes, sandals and heels. I'm still into voluminous sleeves and midi dresses and tall boots.
"I don't know that I really have a style icon. I do like the seventies, though. I think that's my favorite era.
"I feel like my profession gives me permission to dress the way I really want to dress. I was a school teacher for 10 years, and that's a very casual profession. But in Los Angeles, a lot of people in fashion are very casual, so I don't feel like I have to dress up for my job. But I don't feel guilty that I do dress up. I just look for any excuse to wear something nice. I guess New Yorkers were always known for wearing a lot of black, but I feel like a lot of black doesn't really work with L.A. because it's so much warmer here. I don't get to wear the big coats... I would love to wear big coats and head-to-toe leather, but there's really no opportunity here for that. It's mostly cotton dresses, sensible shoes — even though they say nobody walks in L.A., so I don't really have to wear sensible shoes, but I feel overdressed if I wear heels.
"I just recently did an Instagram Live for a brand, showing three ways to style a dress. I couldn't stop at three. I think I was at nine. That kind of shows my process, where if I have on a dress or a suit, then I'll try it with five or six different pairs of shoes, a few different pairs of earrings, different bags. I start with the hero piece and then accessorize around it. But it's a process. I try a lot of things before I settle on something.
"I mostly just love shopping online. I like to go window shop but I don't really love trying things on in a store. I like to try it on in my room, my office, where all my clothes are, just so I can see how a piece is going to work into my wardrobe. I shop online a lot and I buy and return a lot of things. I love to buy from the Lemaire store, Ssense, Farfetch, Matches, Moda [Operandi] — ones that have a good return policy. I love buying boutique designers and boutique shops. I love working with them and supporting them, but if they won't give a full refund, I probably would avoid shopping there, because if something doesn't work out, I don't want to be stuck with it or only store credit.
"Need Supply, that was a good one. I'm also going to miss Opening Ceremony — that was a great one to go window-shopping or to get those end-of-season sales. I like Dover Street Market. I like stores that are an experience, almost like going to a gallery. I love boutiques where I feel a real connection to the shop owner, like LCD, who I've worked a lot with, or Shop Nonna. Shop Super Street, too — that was another one that was a really great store.
"I do have a lot of Lemaire. Whenever the Lemaire Uniqlo collections drop, I always buy a lot. The only thing that'll get me into the Beverly Center is those Uniqlo drops. Shaina Mote, Jacquemus and Maryam Nassir Zadeh... Those are all the staples.
"Usually I'll get to select gifted items [when they're offered], but some I do tend to go, 'Oh, it's a gift, it's free. The stakes are lower. I'm going to choose the crazy color.' And then it doesn't always work out because I'm like, 'Oh, damn. I I should have chosen the cream version or the neutral black version. Why did I choose a red shoe? I never wear a red shoe.' So I'm learning my lesson, to stick with the neutrals — but also then sometimes that doesn't work out because I'm like, 'Damn, why did I choose the brown pants? I should have chosen the silver ones.'
"Occasionally I buy vintage. And again, mostly I buy it online. I just don't have time to comb through thrift stores anymore, even though I grew up doing that and that's a big part of what led me into being a stylist. I sold vintage for a while and I think it kind of broke me of my habit a bit. I love vintage. I just don't have a lot of time to seek it out. But if I do I'll shop online, like Etsy or consignment shops. I sell a lot of things at a store called Gift of Garb and also find a lot of things there.
"I tend to hold onto things. I'm a real 'what if' kind of a person. I don't know. I'm just always like, 'Well, what if I need that? What if there's an occasion where I need that dress?' I have a dozen white midi skirts. I don't know why. I can't let go of one because they all are special in their own way. But twice a year I sell things on Depop. They'll announce free shipping for the next four days and that'll really motivate me to just purge my closet and list a bunch of things.
"I have a lot of white, ivory, cream blouses. I have a lot of cotton midi dresses and a lot of midi skirts. And white jeans, white pants and white sweaters and tall boots.
"I bought that giant floppy Jacquemus hat. It was expensive for what it was. And I think I wore it zero times. It was just absurd. I remember I posted on Instagram like, 'Should I get this?' And Olivia Lopez and Madelynn Furlong, they wrote me like, 'No, no. Do not get it. Trust us.' I didn't listen and they were right. I just ended up consigning it for like half of what I paid for it.
"I kind of know that I don't really need anything. I have enough. I have all the things, but if there's something new, something novelty that's just really giving me what we call the fever. Like, 'Ooh I need a puffy sleeve sweater,' then I will buy that.
"I wish I was better at strategizing, doing pre-orders and knowing exactly what I'll wear, but I do tend to be a bit impulsive. At the same time, sometimes I don't pounce when I should. And it'll be like the end of a season and I'll be looking for a coat and there are just no coats left in my size. Or sandals — I'll be looking for sandals at totally the wrong time of year. I'm really all over the place when it comes to shopping.
"I was getting into sweatpants right before [quarantine], so I eased right into quarantine sweats-wearing. I was already there. Now that it's warmed up though, I don't really wear sweats at all, but I look forward to wearing them again. I guess now I've just been dressing like my old self.
"We don't go out much, but when we do, I'll just wear my usual cotton dress and sandals and earrings. I never stopped wearing earrings — felt kind of naked without them. I just don't wear anything fancy. No need to. I've always kind of worked from home a lot of the time, and now I don't really have the option to go out to stores or showroom appointments. But if I do go out to lunch with my husband, I still like to look nice.
"Because everything was so uncertain [during quarantine], I didn't know if I would ever work again, so I was just really into not spending at all. That felt really good. I guess when work started to pick up again, I did start shopping a little more, but I'm hitting the end-of-season sales so I'm getting things at like 80% off. I'm just being a savvy shopper. I bought some Lemaire baggy trousers for 70 or 80% off. I bought a Telfar bag from LCD in white — it fits right into my wardrobe. I bought some boots for fall; they're black with a square toe and really high heel and they were 80% off. It kind of motivates me to maybe get rid of some other boots so that they're not redundant. But they all have different heel heights. I need a three inch heel, I need a kitten heel, and I need a chunky heel.
"I was a guest fashion editor for LCD [during quarantine] and did a column for them for a couple months. Now I'm doing one for Gogosha Eyewear. My husband's a photographer so we were able to do some shoots — me wearing the clothes and him shooting — because we were a self-contained unit. We did something for Nonna and a collaboration with the ceramicist Bzippy. And then I just created a lot of my own content here at my house.
"This Wednesday was my first time back on set along with my husband. Now I've been doing some pre-styling for a shoot, so things are picking up again. Everyone's just wearing masks on set and sanitizing their hands. No more snacking, no more craft, shared food items.
"I get to do self-styled things [thanks to Instagram]. I get to have a column. Definitely there are times where we're just dressing up for Instagram, which I think, if it's helping a brand or a small retailer or designer, then I love doing that. I love for what I do to be helpful. I don't use hashtags on my own thing, but if you did hashtag women's fashion influencers, you see some godawful displays of people just sort of showing off their status or their wealth or the things that they've amassed. I don't want my Instagram to be a part of that. I hope to either be helping smaller creators and independent designers or inspiring women to give them ideas of how to dress or how to wear things."