Me, My Clothes, & I: Sydney Ballesteros
Remember being a kid in the 80’s, and Madonna (aka “Madge”) was EVERYTHING? You wanted to dress like her so you tore apart your lace bobby socks so you could rock lace fingerless gloves. No? Just me? That’s cool. You wanted to look like her so you took your mom’s eyeliner and drew a fake mole above your lip. No? Just me? AGAIN? Whatever, no big deal. You wanted to know all there was to know about her so you coveted every single magazine that had her on the cover, or on the sideline of the cover, or had someone on the cover who from far away looked like she might be Madonna, so you bought it in the off chance that she might actually be on the pages inside. NO? OK, NOW YOU’RE LYING!
A-ny-waaaaayyyy, that level of adoration is what I have felt for this month’s style maven since...well, since forever. She is a local lady (read: classic, timeless, and effortlessly cool) who has styled some of Tucson’s most iconic photo shoots. Metallic gold bathing suit paired with black Adidas sneakers and black swim cap, at the pools at MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) - that was her. The delicious juxtaposition of a (perceived) local demigod flanked in a fur coat, flossing his teeth in a wall to wall mirror, while his 1970’s glamourpuss lady friend reapplies her oxblood red lipstick - that was her too. She has styled photo shoots and fashion shows, and one day (in a far, far, FAR off future) she dreams of hopefully styling a granddaughter. She could have taken her magic wand of style and all things lovely, and headed off to the bright lights (and even brighter flash bulbs) of New York City - but she was not about to help someone else fulfill their dream. Much like styling a photo shoot, this powerhouse in a patterned tunic had a very distinct vision for her life, and it involved showcasing epic style, and carving out a very detailed niche for herself right here in the Old Pueblo.
Tucson, meet my favorite GoldenGirlOfTheWest (and now, yours too) - the inimitable Sydney Ballesteros.
1. Describe your look.
Mmm, vintage with a modern component, always an element of underlying chic? This question is habitually so hard for me to answer, because I don’t ever feel like I am ready to pin it down to just one “look” or style. I am a mood dresser and such a visual person. I have a love for details found in diverse decades and style inspirations. I am inspired by a feeling or something different all the time. The moods tend to cross paths again and again. Someday’s I feel like dressing more minimal and classic, some days more feminine, and other days I feel like I want to mix things up, dive into pattern or texture, experiment, and create with the things I’ve collected in my closet for over two decades, to give them a fresh perspective. Every piece of clothing I own is personal and means something special to me. I love the process of putting an ensemble together and getting dressed, for me it’s my art form. I love to evolve, reinvent, and allow these moments of dressing and my imagination take over when they need too. I need to have the freedom of spontaneity to express what I feel like, the curse of the stylist I guess….I’m never bored.
When I look back at some old photos of myself maybe in different phases of my life, I embrace them rather then close the door on them. I believe throughout all of these evolutions, they have molded me, and helped me to really define my personal style, knowledge and attention to detail. As DV (Diana Vreeland) would say, “You can see and feel everything in clothes.” I think that if you have managed to develop a personal style and know what you’re comfortable in and naturally attracted too…. it will always show through in someway and you will exude confidence in knowing who you are, and making it your own, no matter what you wear. It could be a little bit of this and a piece of that, all mixed together. The one thing I can say is I don’t go by fashion trends or total brand looks to dress myself at all. I just wear the things I love, the pieces that catch my eye, feel unique, fit me well, and that make me feel good. Doesn’t matter how old or modern, high end designer, or thrift shop score. Being able to mix the ingredients and put something together with whatever you have, and be yourself in it, is composing true style in my opinion. I depend on my instincts all the time.
I have used vintage clothing as an outlet for more than half of my life to express my individuality + creativity, play with the uncommon, tell a visual story, and to help establish my identity, career and personal style. I do believe in having my favorite staples pieces though, the things that I am always comfortable in, the blank canvases to paint with, or to just wear in their timeless uniform (a.k.a- the black turtleneck). I also believe in treating myself to an investment piece every now and then, and I have an obsession with shoes and coats (coats in the desert? weird, I know), I just love a beautifully tailored coat. Funny thing about the coats, I don’t get to wear them as often as I’d like. So if I am traveling to a destination with a “real” winter weather season, I will pack my suitcase full of coats to get my thrill in.
2. Where do you shop?
My favorite local spots for vintage and handmade are within a three mile radius, how convenient right? Desert Vintage, How Sweet it Was, Razzle Dazzle, Black Cat Vintage, OZMA, Bon, MAST and Buffalo Exchange. I do however, fall into the rabbit hole of a few favorite online shopping haunts now and then, and I have those *favorite* designers, vintage dealers and traveling shows in places near and far. I keep in tune with them all, you know for a piece spotted that “I might just have to have!”
3. Fave piece of clothing - ever?
I have many, but right now it’s my late sixties Aztec print tunic and flare pants!
4. If you could dress anyone, who would it be?
Not sure I want to make that info public, I think I will keep that thought to myself lol! So my safe answer would be my future granddaughter, like WAY future! My son is fourteen, so we don’t need to be in that scenario any time soon! But I always envisioned myself having a daughter to dress. I have a box of little girls vintage clothing that I started collecting in my early twenties, along with some of my own things that my mother saved from my childhood, in thought that I might have a daughter someday after my son. That day didn’t come, but in reality, (and currently living that mom of a teenager life), I’m SO grateful I have a boy! And he is a total sartorialist, my mini me. I just couldn’t bring myself to give the box of clothing away though, so I justified saving them by telling myself that there would be a use for all of these beautiful things someday, and back into storage it went. With that being said, I will wait patiently for my hopeful grand-daughter, like real patiently.
5. What is your staple/go-to item of clothing?
In fall/winter my black turtleneck, and in the summer my white classic button down shirt. And always add a touch of red lipstick/red nail polish to the equation.
6. Who is your style icon?
Oh my gosh, again, I have way more than one, but a beloved few off the top of my head at this moment would be Diana Vreeland, G. Coddington, Lori Goldstein, Joy Venturini Bianchi, Frida, Georgia O'Keeffe, Dietrich, Garbo, Bacall, the two Elsa's (Schiaparelli + Peretti), and Grace. I'll stop there..... but I am inspired by them all for different and similar reasons, that extend way beyond great style mind you. Mostly for their courage to experiment with their visions and their un-conforming lifestyles and bodies of work. I do also have to say my mom, she was (STILL IS) a fox, but the late sixties and seventies were the pinnacle of her style game. All of those days spent playing in her closet as a child have to account for something! #mymomthestyleicon
*I can attest to this. I met Sydney’s mother at the closing reception for Tucson Modernism Week - the woman is stunning!*
6 ½. Can I have your red boots?
If they were your size, I would totally give them to you!
*Um...did you guys just read that - I could have owned Sydney’s red boots. That’s the equivalent of MJ’s glove when it comes to Tucson style. I can die now.*
7. If the house is on fire, and you HAVE to get out - what do you save?
Are we talking clothing specifically, or in general? After my family got out safe, four legs included…..the first few things that would come to mind are my grandmother and mother’s jewelry pieces, my family photos, my vintage Chanel coat, my 1940s Claire McCardell sundress, my 1960s Donald Brooks dress, that glorious rare red velvet 1930s bias cut dress with a hood, 1960’s black Balenciaga dress, 70’s YSL suede coat, THE Aztec outfit, my black blazer, my beloved worn in Levi’s that fit just right, and my black turtleneck! Oh dear, I’m afraid I’ve missed the point right?…. Well then, my heirloom jewelry, and family photos for sure, those things are not replaceable.
Share Sydney’s obsession for vintage coats? Who cares if you can only wear them ONE WEEK a year. That one week you will be extra fly. Here are three ridiculously fab choices to get you started.
This column originally ran in 3Story Magazine. Want to read back issues? Click here!