Fashion

Why Oversized Pleats Are My Year-Round Uniform

Post-college, I was in dire need of a paying job while attempting to pursue an editorial career and it just so happened that the Pleats Please Issey Miyake store in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood was hiring. With its crisp, precisely pleated clothing, the brand was long a source of fascination for me, especially during my teen years when I’d loiter about in the area, people-watching. Every customer who flitted in and out of the store was always immaculately dressed, the epitome of who I thought people who worked in fashion should dress. So when the opportunity to interview for a sales associate job popped up, I sent in my resume hoping for the best.

Perched on a rickety stool in the basement stockroom, I realized quickly that I was not cut out for retail as two stylish petite Japanese women, both clad in matching black cinched trousers and billowy tops from the brand,  politely asked me why I wanted to work there. Replying “I want to look like you,” while flattering, did not make for a successful salesperson. Suffice to say that I did not get the job, but those two always stuck in my mind as my career progressed. Imposing and sophisticated, they represented an ageless elegance that defied trends and yet managed to be eye-catching all at once, which is what I wanted to embody as someone who was just starting out in fashion.

Founded in 1993, Pleats Please began as an experiment for Japanese designer Issey Miyake, who originally added the pleated pieces to his main line before spinning them off into its own brand. Made from polyester, the fine pleats look delicate — in actuality, they’re quite sturdy and can be tossed into a washing machine or luggage while still remaining intact — and simultaneously oversized.

Despite my failed attempt as a Pleats Please salesgirl, it turned out my relationship with the brand was just beginning. Fast-forward a decade later and I was well established in my career as a fashion editor and stylist. No one tells you that no matter how far along you get in a job, imposter syndrome never quite goes away. It’s especially true during fashion week when it feels like your status in the industry is up for scrutiny by your peers. Figuring out what to wear is always a trying experience, and it’s extremely tempting to chase the trends that everyone else is wearing. One season I was determined to change that mentality: I had just dyed my hair from my natural black to a bright platinum blonde, which felt more authentic to my personal style which leaned more Japanese avant-garde.

While my closet held a few pieces of Comme des Garçons pieces that I was slowly collecting, I needed other styles to flesh out a week’s worth of outfits. I thought back to my teen years when I wanted to look like a confident, stylish Pleats Please customer. If there was ever an occasion to dress like a walking accordion, this week was it. And so I reached out to the brand, which graciously loaned me a few pieces that I carefully packed into my suitcase for the shows in London.

On my first day, fresh off a red-eye flight, I wore a black flowy turtleneck tucked into jellyfish-like green pants that proved to be a hit with street style photographers. Day two was equally as successful: I mixed a billowy red Comme des Garçons top with a Pleats Please skirt. These looks felt more authentic to me, especially when compared to prior fashion weeks where I’d chase whatever trend was popular photographer bait be it giant faux fur scarves or mismatched prints. I look back at those photos and cringe at how silly I looked. Instead of trying to emulate what I thought was stylish at the time, this time around, I went for eye-catching looks that had statement power without screaming for attention. It was true to who I was, and I finally felt at ease during an otherwise stressful time.

Pleats Please also came to my rescue when I was given short notice for a black tie gala where I knew no one. Their signature Madame-T shawl, tied and twisted over a black dress, turned out to be the perfect creative outfit for the event. Even if I spent most of the cocktail hour nursing a glass of champagne by myself, at the very least I didn’t feel self-conscious about my look. It also didn’t hurt that numerous guests came up to me and complimented my ensemble.

Fashion week and black tie outfits might seem out of touch with daily life, but many of those pieces have seeped into my everyday life as well. Though I had to return those green pants to the brand after I came back from London, they popped up at a sample sale later that year. I immediately bought them, and four years later, I’ve worn them with a camisole for casual weekends in Brooklyn as well as turned them into a bathing suit coverup during my vacation in Hawaii. Though the black turtleneck was impossible to find on sale, I did wind up purchasing it later online. Since then it’s been my go-to for tucking into skirts and wearing for Zoom meetings.

My collection has grown exponentially in the last four years, acquired through a mix of sale purchases, since the pieces can be on the pricey side. The brand’s pleated pants, which I have both in green and black, are my favorites for days when I’m running around on errands or fitting my styling clients, while the billowy dresses are the only thing I want to wear when it’s hot and humid out. I even bought a crop top from Pleats Please, which prompted a girl on the escalator at Nordstrom to chase me up a level to ask me about the piece. Whenever I want to feel my best with very little effort, these pieces have never failed me. In retrospect, I guess teen me knew how best to dress.

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