EVERY YEAR, THE glossy mags tell us we need a little black dress, one that will take us from day to night, from the office to the cocktail lounge. The necessity has become such a cliché that it's now known simply as "LBD" in modern fashion parlance. But you know what? I've never owned an LBD, and I've gotten on just fine. In fact, I'd bet that a lot of women with true style have donated that feckless thing to the Salvation Army in favor of something with more personality, more panache. What we needwhat all of us needis some originality in our wardrobe, something unique. With just one or two distinctive additions to your closet, you can show up at those special parties with the confidence that you're going to shine.
At Rubaiyat (1635 H E. Olive Way, 206-748-0204), you can choose from a dazzling array of Louis and Melinda Whisler's handmade, co-designed men's and women's shoesor they can make your vision of pink and brown stadium pumps a reality. The Whislers, who have been making shoes together for 35 years, can also take your great-grandmother's antique, size 6 lace-ups and replicate them for you in an 8. As shoe artisansnot cobblers, thanksthe Whislers speak spiritually about shoes; they love clients with vision and talk about color as if it were a personal friend. You'll need at least a Ben Franklin before you can start talking about your footwear fantasies, but considering what lots of folks are willing to drop on a pair that everyone else is also wearing, that doesn't seem so bad.
Next, how about those peepers? When I met Monty Scheadler at Antique & Custom Optical (1716 E. Olive Way, 206-323-7001) he was hand-carving a pair of frames out of bullhorn imported from China. He's only made four pairs of these very special spectacles so farhe charges a little under 500 bucks for them, but he's one of only a handful of opticians in the world who still work with this material, and the glasses are fully customized for his client's face. If that doesn't quite sound like your thing, Scheadler can show you some of the beautifully adorned antique frames that he inherited from his aunt and uncle's optical shop in Cincinnati or, like the Whislers, he's more than happy to work with you on a special, one-of-a-kind design. Again, this service isn't cheapand again, considering how great you'll feel behind your very singular shades or glasses, it should be worth it.
As for between the head and the toes, that's easy. Seattle is practically lousy with secondhand and vintage clothing shops, and a handful of small boutiques offer clothing from independent designers who have ripped up and resewn unexpected materials into funky one-off wearable art pieces and unique accessories. Synapse 206 (206 First Ave. South, 206-447-7731) is a fairly new shop that sells retail and also showcases the work of local fashion artists, most of whom formerly only sold their wares at the First Thursday art walks. Kristin Lee's Spunky Punker (1211 Pine St., 206-652-0444) is both a secondhand shop and a place for her to present her hand-detailed skirts and T-shirts, as well as the deconstructed, revamped, and restyled work of other local independent designers. You can get away with something unique for 20 bucks or so at both stores.
If you've got somewhere really special to go, however, and you have something really special in your wallet to help get you there, you really have to go to Isadora's Antique Clothing (1915 First Ave., 206-441-7711). Owner Laura Dalesandro has her own spiritual connection with style; after 26 years in Seattle, she's grown Isadora's (named after the singularly expressive Duncan) into the place to go for elegant, vintage gowns and suits (men's and women's) and extraordinary accessories. Go in and run your hands over the fabric of a rescued Dior classic or one of Isadora's incredibly beautiful line of handcrafted bias-cut dresses. Dalesandro makes frequent trips around the globe, mining Europe and Asia for discarded designer dresses and estate jewelry. Dalesandro also speaks very passionately and gratefully about the treasures she finds and her expressive, daring clientele.
"They wear their inside on the outside," she says.
Which is, of course, what we should all do.