We can’t befriend the gargoyles atop the Chrysler Building, but we can wear them as cufflinks!
Clothes are tiny buildings for our bodies. Or maybe buildings are big clothes for our tiny bodies. Sheer fabric and skyscraper windows both give the illusion of transparency. Doors and jean zippers alike grant access to the invited. Gleaming spires atop foreboding cathedrals and shiny jewelry on imposing people similarly invoke our awe. And lately I’ve been entranced by the combination of fashion and façade that happens when designers incorporate our most iconic edifices into their clothing lines. Below are a collection of architectural accessories and outfits from the most to least affordable. Please join me in this world of wearable worlds.
Note: I am not compensated for including certain products here, nor do I own any of them (yet!).
The Under $50 Façades
Face masks are up first on this list because they’re the newest necessary piece of clothing that designers, brands, and artists have to make enticing. I particularly adore The New Yorker cartoon masks sold in the Condé Nast, including one inspired by M.C. Escher’s surrealist “Relativity” and another poking fun at the height fight between the creators of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings. Also noteworthy is a minimalist blueprint mask from CestBonGirl and a Tiffany-lamp-inspired stain glass mask from the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. Because what’s a building worth without good lighting?
The Strand Bookstore is mostly known for selling books. But it’s got a killer sock section too. If you prefer to hand-pick your socks rather than buy another generic five pack or wait until the holidays, these NYC-centric socks are for you. And as we get back into physical offices and workplaces with dress codes, these are the perfect way to keep a little architectural aesthetic going while staying professional.
Less is not more! So say the tower-inspired tiered dresses (and sometimes skirts) that were meant to be the first big fashion trend of 2020, according to Guardian. Instead, the pandemic hit and most of us slipped into sweatpants and nap dresses (glorified nightgowns). But in that fever dream of the first days of 2020 before we locked down in March, I bought a lavender four-tiered dress at a thrift shop with plans to wear it to my now-indefinitely-postponed graduation ceremony from my very purple university. Anyway, tiered dresses are both minimalist when likening them to iconic, multi-sectioned buildings and maximalist when considering all the plain maxi-dresses that retailers pump out these days. If you want to swish around your house as an imposing high-rise without concerned looks from your loved ones, these dresses strike the perfect balance between regular and Rem Koolhaas.
The past year has proven beyond any doubt that I would make a terrible lighthouse keeper. All those months alone with the sea! Or all those months alone with the sea and your immediate family! But that doesn’t mean I won’t romanticize the flounder out of a lighthouse — its tight spiral staircase, sturdy brick, and beam of light beckoning sailors to shore. Get these 3D printed lighthouse earrings from Layers by Design while they last!
If you’re reading this, you probably have a specific building or bridge you want to see brought down to human scale and thrown together with a pair of jeans. Or maybe your kid wants to be Taipei 101 for Halloween (or maybe you do, that’s fine too). Personally, I would love to patent some chunky sneakers that look like the Sydney Opera House and play different arias each time you stomp your feet. Feel free to ask me about this dream in ten years, when I’ve recovered from quarantine-craft-burnout syndrome.
Sometimes our love for architecture leans into dreams of domesticity. For those of us inclined to yearn for brownstones with original crown molding or a cottage in the English countryside where our friends and mysterious visitors alike can come knocking, these hand-made lion door knockers invite us to indulge in those fantasies. These Susan Shaw beauties come with either clip on or piercing backs and roar with decadence.
Inspired by the Palm House at Sefton Park in Liverpool, this laser-cut miniature greenhouse exudes the same attention to detail and whimsy that comes with any real terrarium. If you can’t be bothered to keep actual plants alive or don’t have the land for a massive, domed greenhouse, consider this delicate necklace by Kim Lawler, owner of finestimaginary on Etsy instead.
It was quite rude of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), and Hugo (2011) to make me believe I could one day live in a landmark building, tucked away in the rafters to avoid security guards and the general public. There are still days I imagine becoming a clock master like Marvin Schneider to get inside my favorite train stations and skyscrapers. But for now, I can add these shiny art-deco cufflinks by Rick Cameron to my wish list.
The Unavailable to Most of Us
Every building is haunted. It could be a Casper-the-friendly-ghost situation or a sinister-bumps-in-the-night and get-the-kids-we’re-moving scenario. Gothic architecture falls happily between those two extremes, alleviating the horrors of organized religion with the delight of stained glass. And thanks to Guo Pei, you can embody this paradox without dressing up as a “sexy nun” for Halloween. That is, if you can afford to bid on an auction at Sotheby’s or drop a cool million for a custom Guo Pei dress.
I suck at favorites. Why do I have to pick just one of anything? If I never decide on a favorite architect, building, or skyline, it’s because I love too many of them all at once. That’s why the new skyline coats by Virgil Abloh are perfect. The Empire State Building floats alongside Chicago landmarks on one as the Eiffel Tower leans on the Notre Dame Cathedral on the other. Paper Magazine has recommended 21 specific events to wear these towering tops to, but if I ever get my hands on one I’ll be flouncing around in it every time I make a grocery run.
I’m starting to understand the great lengths Adam Sandler’s character went to in Uncut Gems (2019) or the women in Ocean’s Eight (2018) for that matter. For legal reasons I won’t say these rings are heist-worthy. But if you plan to propose to an architect, choose one of these Philippe Tournaire rings and you’ll never have to do the dishes again. Seriously, imagine carrying a miniature Shanghai or London around with you at all times. Like, if the iconic onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral showed up on my doorstep in miniature one day, I’d absolutely faint like one of those corseted women in novels that men write about the olden days.
Famed architects of the twentieth century stole the show at the 1931 Beaux-Arts Ball by dressing up as the very buildings they designed. As the saying goes: if you’ve got it, flaunt it! I sincerely hope the descendants of these famous architects have these costumes carefully preserved in their closets somewhere and will one day auction them off to save New York from another Old-Penn-Station-demolition tragedy. And for the DIYers among us, these costumes are just begging to be recreated from felt and cardboard for a trip to the Skyscraper Museum.
This article is part of a series called Fashion IS Function, where I write about the necessity of style and design in keeping misery at bay. It draws inspiration from the late fashion historian Bill Cunningham who said, “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.” If you have an idea for FIF, reach out to me on Twitter.