In Memory Of Boston Fashion Icon Marilyn Riseman

As the leaves begin to assume their fiery hues while the muggy, Boston September transitions to balmy autumn breezes, the student body seems to make a few outfit changes as well. Sleeves get longer, pastels are exchanged for plaid, and Lululemon takes the Heights by storm in a campus-wide wardrobe change in preparation to enter the season of the Bean Boot.

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem also recently assumed a new wardrobe, but unlike Boston College’s autumn apparel, this 700-piece collection isn’t characterized by J.Crew vests and Vineyard Vines quarter-zips.

From motorcycle jackets to parasols, the outrageous closet of late Boston socialite Marilyn Riseman was acquired by the museum last week. The extensive collection was donated to PEM by Riseman’s family members after she passed away in March at age 86, and highlights changes in trends and fashion for over 50 years.

Reflecting her extravagant personality, the closet of one of Boston’s most well-known trendsetters is full of avant-garde pieces by designers including Alexander McQueen, Yohji Yamamoto, and John Paul Gaultier.

The larger-than-life collection fell into the hands of Paula Richter, Curator for Exhibitions and Research at PEM, just a few days before the kickoff of Boston Fashion Week, which will begin on Oct. 5. This year’s annual event will be a weeklong tribute to Riseman and her legacy, including a front-row seat left empty in her honor, during the shows.

Though she began as a red lipstick-wearing boutique owner on Newbury St., Riseman’s influence through fashion, especially locally, is demonstrated through the city’s dedication to her memory, for which this upcoming exhibit will also function.

Although I wouldn’t put myself anywhere close to the fabulous sense of style that Riseman had, let alone think of myself as trendy by any means, the thought of being emulated and remembered based on your clothing choices seems a remarkably honest type of reverence.

Aside from deciding whether or not you will be brushing your teeth that morning, which I and the rest of your 11:00 English class could take up in another 600 words, clothing is one of the first decisions that you have to make every day.

A person’s clothes can tell you what their favorite color is, what they are comfortable in, where they’re from, and if they needed coffee this morning or if that stain is just a part of the pattern. They suggest that you might have had a long night in Bapst, that you have an intermural game after class, or that you are a part of one the many clubs and organizations here at BC.

Your clothes are uniquely you. Although they may be, a bit embarrassingly, the same pair of Tory Burch flats that the girl who sits behind you in Spanish has on, no two people look the same or think the same about a piece of clothing. It tells your story and your schedule, how you want to be perceived and how you perceive yourself.

Although around this time of year I recycle through the similar pattern of sweaters and Hunter boots that a large percentage of the campus seems to also adorn themselves with, these BC-specific trends catalogue my changes in opinion and taste as Riseman’s exhibits her own. Even though her wardrobe overtakes mine in both scope and extravagance, both closets tell a little piece of both Boston’s and my own personal history.

Opting for a black backpack as opposed to a black, studded leather purse, I definitely do not have any outfit-assembling talents close to the means by which Riseman gained her socialite status, but the partygoer’s dedication to one of the simplest attributes of our everyday, which will be on exhibit soon in Salem, can be seen as a very local and very inspiring welcome to sweater weather.

Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Graphic

About Sarah Moore 76 Articles
Sarah Moore is the Assistant Metro Editor for The Heights. She is a Junior, English Major at Boston College. She is proud of her new Brighton address, but not that crazy about her new Brighton landlord. You can follow her on Twitter @SMooreHeights.