I want to dress like Patti Smith

I've loved Patti Smith since the late 1970s. It hasn't helped that one of my longest-time friends looks eerily like her: the long face and lithe figure, the penchant for paper-thin soft tees and pegged jeans, the ability to take a huge black coat and make it look like a runway item. (But in Smith's case, it probably is.)


Even though she wears a uniform: the shirt or tee, the jacket, the jeans, I still look at her, onstage and off, and think, "Oh, Patti!" Some women find their look young and stick with it.

You can close your eyes and conjure Smith from any decade, and it's her attitude today, at seventy: Anne Demeulemeester (Smith calls her "a sister"), Prada, a tailored suit jacket, a white shirt, old silver crosses. It's not that I want her exact clothes, but I want that no-nonsense simplicity, an approach forged with purpose.

This is hardly a haphazard throw-on-anything style. Smith has often spoken of how much she enjoys clothes: her joy in finding thrifted mens' shirts of beautiful cotton, or the pleasures of a silk raincoat, good boots, a beloved Persian enamel necklace.


I could post another six photos of Patti Smith but they are quite similar—maybe the jacket is tweed, or cut longer. Below, performing in Chicago on her seventieth birthday, last December 30:


She did not fall into her style haphazardly. In "Just Kids" she talks about deciding how she wanted to look, scouring hole-in-the-wall shops for perfect tee, black capris, Breton shirts. She credits her androgynous image to her desire to imitate Keith Richards, down to the eye makeup:


She set her course (with forays into Victorian dresses for occasional party wear) and held true. I sifted through many decades of photos: Patti Smith in a floral? Not there. "I wouldn't call my style 'gender bending'", she remarked once. "It's gender ignoring. I know I'm a girl."

She whittled down to her black and white jacket-and-jeans when she resumed her career as a touring musician in the late '90s, after nearly two decades spent near Detroit, writing and raising her family with her late husband, Fred Smith.

She grey her hair to grey in about 2014:



Smith knows we're looking at her ensemble, but she is an artist first.  "I just do my work, and I work everyday", she says. 

If you too are a Patti Smith fan, you'll enjoy this Refinery29 piece by Rachel Syme; if not, first, simply reflect and appreciate the personal touches you have not been without for twenty five or more years, and second, release any worries about being in "a rut". Think of it instead like a well-honed groove.

As she writes, "In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In life may you proceed with balance and stealth."






11 comments

Margie from Toronto said...

The older I get the more I appreciate the ease of having my own style or wardrobe favourites, my own uniform. If I had to choose an outfit that would suit me all year round it would be dark blue jeans, a classic white shirt or t-shirt and a simple cardigan (various colours) and worn with either sensible lace up oxford style shoes (probably eccos) or black ballet flats.

I always said that when I retired this is how I would dress most of the time and while out of work these last few months this is indeed how I have dressed and it works for me. I am short & round and simply can't wear a lot of what is out there (not that a lot of it is offered in anything over a size 10) so this is also a consideration. Cost is also a factor - having a uniform keeps things simple and funds can go towards quality rather than quantity.

It's not that I don't love looking at all the beautiful options out there or love having a wander around the shops but I find that I am also now more content and the need to shop constantly simply isn't there. I'd rather save up for another beautiful scarf (I have one Hermes and would love another) or one gorgeous cashmere cardigan that I will wear for years. It has taken a long time but now that I know what I prefer and what looks good on me it simply makes life simpler and at this stage of my life that counts for a lot.

In love with the sea said...

You can take the girl out of New Jersey but you can't take the Jersey out of the girl. Classic clothes for an artist

lagatta à montréal said...

I love her look, but don't you have to be long and lean for it?

I've lost weight, but I'll never be lean (in health) and will certainly never get any taller. Margie, be very careful of the dreaded MOTHS. I've lost some beautiful sweaters. Agree with uniform - for me usually black jeans or a skirt, though I try to find non-black ones suited for cycling in the summer. I bought TWO black denim jackets as they were on (separate) 40% off flash sales. I know I'll wear them all the time. Agree about scarves, but Hermès (despite the exemplary quality of their printed silk) is not really to my taste, though I've seen Hermès scarves at charity shops here.

I've seen a lot of Demeulemeester and similar clothing in the Netherlands; it is a style aesthetic common in the Low Countries and in Germany. Though it seems to work better on those tall Dutchie types!

Duchesse said...

lagatta: Smith dresses for her body type which was gaunt in her young adult years, but now, I would say on the thinner side of average.

in love with the sea: Yup! She lived since 9 to about 19-the formative years-with her family, in Woodbury.

Margie: I'm all for simplicity too and maybe 6 or 7 years ago stopped trying to "break out of my habitual".

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

Its interesting how she has stayed true to that look...like a uniform.
I think we all have one but it takes courage to go with our gut feelings when it comes to what we wear...
I'm a big fan of black and grey but am currently craving colour so I am planning to go lipstick shopping!

Tiffany said...

I love Patti Smith and am inspired by her style (as well as her writing - did you read M Train as well as Just Kids?). This post makes me feel better about my own 'boring' uniform (jeans/trousers, silk shirts, blazers, lace-up shoes or boots) - it's all about the fabrics to me.

Mardel said...

I've long been an admirer of Smith, both as an artist, and as a style icon. I love the way she seems to stay true to herself in her clothes and think this can take a lot of honesty and courage. Some of us don't find that until we are much older, if we find it at all.

Elizabeth at Eiffel Tells said...

The poignant quote of Smith's that sums her up beautifully. Sometime in my late 30's I misplaced my style/ hallmark and have yet to replace it with one in which I feel comfortable - even though I could now be classified as "over the hill". However, I'm very happy with my signature colour pallet and footwear.

Duchesse said...

Tiffany, I'm reading "M Train" now; I also read her New Yorker piece on her Nobel ceremony performance, "How Does It Feel", and a friend kindly forwarded Nicholas Gamso's insightful review, "Patti Smith's Incantatory Worldliness", http://www.berfrois.com/2017/02/nicholas-gamso-patti-smith/

Mardel: I agree that we don't, but I think if a person wishes to, she can. Some persons seem to enjoy experimenting and changing the presentation of self, and others, one personal path.

Elizabeth: The palette certainly is a start, freeing thanks to its discipline. I am curious about what your "signature footwear" is!

royleen said...

"think of it instead as a well honed groove"... Love your turn of phrase!

Tiffany said...

Thanks for that link!