Fashion writer Adena Halpern made a name for herself with her "Haute Life" column in Marie Claire and decided to turn her love for clothing into a memoir, Target Underwear and a Vera Wang Gown. She takes readers through her various wardrobes choices, from the unfortunate to the invaluable, weaving her jobs and relationships into the fabric of her tales, including the title garments, which each play a major role. In chapters such as "The Devil Wore Treetorns" and "Girdles, Corsets, and Other Ways of Killing Yourself," Halpern probes the meaning of clothes and the power individual items have to make or break one's day-or relationship. She takes readers with her on her shopping and dating endeavors, from bargain hunting for a living to getting her fake Prada tote stolen, dating a "Democrat in Republican's clothing" and lusting after "The Beautiful Boy in the 8-Ball Jacket," emulating (and even encountering) Madonna, often joined by her gang of girlfriends, "the six women you meet in Los Angeles." Rather than a rundown of endless outfit changes, hers is a fun account of just how far one woman will go for the perfect pair of underwear.
What inspired you to write the book and how did your feelings about your clothes and style change as you wrote it?
The book was based on my columns in Marie Claire magazine. I got the idea for the column about 10 years ago when I wrote about the sadness I felt when I sold my Vera Wang gown. I thought it was a good idea to write about life as it relates to clothes and shopping. By the time I had a “meet and greet” with Marie Claire’s editor Susan Swimmer, I had about 18 columns that I had and Marie Claire printed them. When the column started to get popular, I knew this was my chance to get a book published.
Is there anything you'd go back and tell your teenage self about fashion and trends?
My teenage self wouldn't listen to me. I was so headstrong about what I wanted to wear that I probably would have pretended to listen and then flipped me the bird behind my back.
Do you feel that there's a lesson, either for yourself or for readers, in your book?
If you want to wear six-inch heels and you feel fabulous in them, don't listen to anyone when they tell you they look ridiculous. If some guy doesn't like the underwear that you really love, screw him; it's what feels good to you.
Which of the items or outfits you describe in the book is the most special or sentimental for you?
I talk about a coral sweater and matching knit skirt of my grandmothers that my mother keeps in her closet. My grandmother has been gone about 25 years. There is something so touching to me about my mother keeping that dress of her mothers.
You write that you are all about shoes your brother calls "stilts" and say, "These days, I don't care what anyone else thinks about my shoes. I don't feel comfortable unless I'm in a heel that could give me a nosebleed from the altitude." What is it about six-inch heels that does it for you, and do you have any advice to those attempting to walk in them?
It's funny because I was literally just having this same discussion with the owner of my favorite shoe store, XTC on Melrose. I just bought a new pair of six-inch heeled half boots (which I bought special for my New York reading tonight, for those who want to check them out). First of all, I'm barely five feet tall. I truly don't like my height, I know I should, but alas. When I put on six-inch heels, I'm up with the rest of the world. My legs are longer, I'm thinner and feel more confident. Without my six-inchers, I feel like a short stumped Gooch. I honestly get jealous of women who wear skirts with sandals or flip-flops. I envy them so.
Second, for some reason, I don't know why this is; I only get guys who are over six feet. The shorter ones aren't interested in me, never have been. My current boyfriend is 6'2 and when I'm in bare feet it feels like I have to extend my arm as high as it will go just to hold his hand. To make this relationship survive, I see no other choice.
The advice I'd give to those attempting six-inch heels is this: platforms. Actual heels take a lot of practice and balancing. I've been wearing six inchers for about 17 years now and I can say it never gets easier. I will say that should you choose to wear six-inch heels without platforms, it's easier to walk from toe to heel. It takes some time to get it down, but when you do, I'm not going to say it's easier, but it helps.
The title dress was your $4,000 "breakup dress," which you then sold to a consignment shop and became someone's prom dress. Would you recommend a breakup clothing splurge to other women?
Heck yes I would. If you’ve ever felt the pain from breaking up with someone after being together for 9 years, it’s something I don’t wish on anyone. If spending $4000 that you don’t have is the only thing that’s going to make that pain in your heart that won’t go away, I say it’s worth it. That’s what credit cards are for.
Your book is largely about relationships, both with people and clothes, and you chronicle the very intense emotions you've had for particular wardrobe favorites over the years. Did it surprise you to realize how deeply your feelings for certain items run?
When I wrote the book, the thing that surprised me the most in looking back on my life is why I wore the things I wore at certain times. When I got the chance to write this book, I practically locked myself in my house for six months. I really didn’t go out much or see anyone; I just wanted to write the best book I could. It really was a cathartic experience to look back on my life and figure out why I wore what I wore at different times.
You talk about a job you had where there was a Britney vs. Madonna generational divide over who's a fashion icon, with you calling Britney trashy and your younger colleagues accusing Madonna of showmanship. Can this gap ever be bridged? Who do you see as a fashion icon for the Britney age group?
I don’t foresee bridging the Madonna vs. Britney generation gap. I think the Britney group will get a taste of their own medicine when the next generation comes of age with their icon.
I can’t speak for a generation (especially when it’s not my generation), but that Nicole Richie wears some really cute things.
One of the most amusing anecdotes you relay is about your personal shopper, Lina, and her meddling over your engagement outfit. It sounds like having a personal shopper didn't work for you; when would you advise people to hire one, or is it better to take a trusted friend or family member?
When I talk about Lina the personal shopper, it was more of who she was as a person than it was working with a personal shopper. I would actually recommend working with a personal shopper if you have the means, but like anything else, when hiring someone, it’s who works best with you. I didn’t pick that bitchy, nor would I have if I’d had a choice at the time.
What's so special about your beloved Target Gilligan & O'Malley underwear?
Here’s the deal. I need to breathe and satin underwear doesn’t do it for me. Obviously I want to look good and I want to feel comfortable. The way TU is cut, it sits nicely on my body. I like the way it looks. I like the way they feel. I’ve never been a thong girl, I’ve always been a full seat kind of gal and my TU rarely gives me a wedgie. To me, the perfect underwear.
Were you at all hesitant about revealing this fondness for Target underwear? Generally, when you make a fashion find, do you want to tell people about it, whether in writing or amongst your circle of friends, or do you like to hoard it as your private treasure?
The odds of the world running low on Target underwear are pretty slim. I don’t mind sharing that love with everyone. Cute story. When the column first appeared in Marie Claire about my love for Target Gillian and O’Malley brand, Target sent me 200 pairs of underwear, which I think you could agree for me is the greatest gift anyone could have ever given me. My feeling, looking out at all that splendid cotton was that I didn’t want to just horde it for myself. I ended up donating the underwear to a Los Angeles charity called Undershare, which provides women and children with staples like underwear and socks when they flee from abusive homes without any of their belongings.
How often do you find a piece of clothing of the type that really speaks to you and is a keepsake, versus an of-the-moment piece that gets tossed aside the next season?
It’s so rare when something turns out to be so classic that we never get sick of it and wear it for years, isn’t it? I have this one three-quarter length coat that I’ve had about 8 years. Every time I wear, I get compliments. It just always looks great year after year.
In your experience, do men feel a similar attachment to their favorite clothes?
My father is 77 years old and he still has his lifeguard jacket from when he was a teen. It’s moth eaten and stinks a bit, but it would bring him to tears if it ever had to be thrown out. I do think men feel a similar attachment. I think that most of us, men and women can honestly say we have that one item in our closets that we’ll never wear again, but just can’t seem to throw away because of the memories that are attached to it.
You're a Philadelphia native who now lives in Los Angeles, where most of your book is set. What are the biggest fashion differences you've observed between the two, and how much Philly and how much LA make up your personal style?
In my opinion, the biggest difference in East coast vs. West coast style is that East coast style is more interested in labels than they are on the West coast. On the East coast, people flaunt bags and shoes. On the West coast, it’s what you drive.
As you've been on your book tour, what are the most pressing fashion questions your readers have?
It’s not so much questions. It’s actually telling me about the stories of the clothes in their closets. I love that. It lets me know that people really got what I was trying to say.