All photos were obtained via Pinterest
In June of 1981, I was a fashion-obsessed 14 year-old living in an extremely small town on the California central coast. There were only two clothing stores in town at that time: a Western-wear store and a resort-wear store more geared to matronly tourists than teenage girls. I had been clothes obsessed my whole life. My mom used to take me school shopping, and I would cry because I had to choose one outfit over another. I had preppy tastes in the 80's, and whenever I made it into San Luis Obispo with the permission to buy an outfit, it was probably jeans, a wrap skirt and a Lacoste shirt, and even then, I was an avant garde dresser in my high school. Then one day, Laura moved in across the street.
Laura was already 15, had moved from the same area in Southern California where we were originally from (and where I live now), but that's where the similarities ended. Laura was tan and blond, the very opposite of my pale, brunette looks. In the long run, Laura and I were not destined to be best friends. We hung out that summer, on my part because of proximity and the fact that most of my friends had gotten jobs that summer, on hers, probably because I was the only person she had met.
The one thing Laura shared with me that has hung on to this day, was an introduction to and fascination with the style of Lady Diana Spencer. I have to admit that at 14, I had no concept of current events. I knew nothing of royalty except that Grace Kelly, whose icy blond looks I would have given my teeth for, had once been a movie star. Laura stared at me like I had two heads when I said I didn't know who Prince Charles was. When she showed me his picture, I declared him ugly. But when I saw Lady Di, it was like my world stopped.
Here was a girl only four years older than me who was going to marry a prince and live in a castle happily ever after just like in a fairy tale. Who knew that could actually happen? I became entranced with the scenario, with the girl that this could happen to. A simple, somewhat chubby, nursery school teacher. I felt so much in common with her. She wore clothes that I liked, that I could see myself wearing. As her style progressed, I wanted to wear the clothes that she started wearing if not held back by my little town. She became my style icon.
In an age before the Internet, it was difficult to find pictures of her outfits. I began collecting souvenir books to have a chronology of her style. I took Home Economics that fall and searched through patterns until I found a copy of the tie-neck blouse she wore for her engagement announcement. One of the first suits I bought for myself after I started working was belted like her suit on that day. I started wearing skirts and blouses to school instead of jeans. I had the most amazing pair of candy apple red heels which I wore almost everyday. Keep in mind, most of my classes were held in portable classrooms next to a barn, so I know people thought I was crazy. Thank goodness I resisted the urge to cut my hair. I did name my next dog Diana, and my sister had Charlie. The biggest hint I took away from her style was to choose classic pieces with a unique edge or trim: a ruffle cuff, a too-large earring or jewelry worn in a way it was not intended, good jewelry and shoes, pearls, lots of pearls, plaids and polka dots (which I'm still addicted to), pencil skirts and blouses, and lots of solids with a hint of pattern.
Over the years, her style became more refined, and we left the 80s behind. She grew stick thin, and we all wondered why. At the time, none of us knew the cause of the unhappiness that was apparent. I grew up, went to college, had jobs and my own unhappy marriage. I lived through the same kind of extreme weight loss that can be a result of the desperation that comes from trying to control something, anything, in a life that so many others seem to be in control of.
We both were able to move on with our lives, to get to the next chapter. We both made mistakes along the way, but she always found a way to look stylish while doing it. I remember seeing the pictures of her in her black sheath dress at Versace's funeral. I thought how amazing she had come through it all to her new life. She looked secure and confident at a time when I was still struggling. She gave me hope. It shook me to the core when only a few short weeks later, she too was dead.
Fast forward, 15 years (how is that possible?). Somehow I missed it when I surpassed her age. I still favor classic pieces with unique cuts or trim. I feel my love for McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and high street shops like Topshop, Zara, Reiss and Dorothy Perkins come from the style choices I picked up in my teens from her. Her children are grown, mine is growing and now I have five (!) more. I look back on that day when I was 14 (how can that be 30 years ago?), lying on the floor of Laura's bedroom, looking through magazines, our bare feet up on the wall as we talked about who our princes would be. I wish Diana was here to look back on it too.