Susie Crippen, the co-founder and creative director of the denim line J Brand, talks about her life in fashion. My parents were very particular about how I dressed. I always had to dress up for special occasions, and "appropriate" clothing was always worn. During the 1970s in Connecticut, where I grew up, when you went to someone's house for dinner, or a cocktail party, everyone dressed up. My mother would not let me wear anything she thought was too risqué. When girls were wearing clogs, platform heels and tights, I wasn't allowed to wear them. I had to wear loafers and knee socks with my skirts. When we would go to formal dances at school, I wasn't allowed to wear revealing dresses. My dresses had to be more conservative and appropriate for a young girl going out as opposed to a young girl pretending to be an older woman. For my mother and father, it was very important that when I was a young girl, I was a young girl.
I've held on to that idea in terms of how I dress today too. I keep it simple and clean. I follow the rule that if you're going to show skin, what you should wear is something flowing and a little bit looser, but if you wear something tight, you should be covered up. Clothing in our house was something we all loved. My dad had impeccable style and so did my mother. My dad was a businessman. He would wear suits every day and he wore the same kind of shoes for years. He always wore black or dark brown Brooks Brothers wingtip tassel loafers. In the military he would get up in the morning and shine his shoes and they always looked exquisite. My dad was one of those people who wore flat-front pants, tweed jackets, and a beautiful Brooks Brothers or J Press shirt.
My mother had beautiful dresses, not anything over the top, but very classic, feminine clothing. I remember this one particular outfit that my mother got for the new year one year. On New Year's Day, everyone's usually tired from the night before, but my parents had a big party and they would serve turkey. They would also have football games on and had fires on in all the fireplaces. Everyone who came, no matter how tired they were, they dressed up. My mother got these pleated white palazzo pants and she had this maroon velvet vest with gold brocade around the edges that went over it. She had a large costume jewellery pin that was ruby and had brass on the outside. She looked like a cross between Jackie O and Jennifer Connelly. Gorgeous!
My mother was beautiful. She did her hair and she had long fingernails. She was from the South, so she had a beautiful smile on and was very gracious and loving. I just remembered her walking around the house in those palazzo pants. They were so flowing and beautiful. She had this classic sensibility, but at the same time, it was thoroughly modern. That's kind of the way both of my parents dressed. The clothes were classic in their roots but looked modern and contemporary in their presentation. So they never looked outdated.
When I was growing up, my mother would make clothes for herself and out of the remnants she would make my sister a mini dress or she would make me a skirt. When we were old enough to learn how to sew, we would go out, buy a pattern and pick out the fabric on Saturdays and Sundays. If there was a dance we wanted to go to, we would make our dresses. There were two things that worked out from that. One, we would learn how to sew; and two, no one else had the dresses we were wearing at the dance. My sister became really good at it. She can make anything. I'm not so much on the construction end, but I know what I want and I can explain what I want.
So we would do that on weekends and it was a really fun thing to do during a cold Connecticut winter, with the fireplace in the background, sport on television, and everyone there. For me, the greatest thing about making something or putting an outfit together well was the satisfaction of feeling good if I loved what I was wearing. It is my theory, and also the kind of theory that we built J Brand on: that if you love what you're wearing and you feel good about yourself, you're going to go out in the world and be a different person. If you're comfortable, you don't have to give a second thought to your clothing. You can just be yourself.