Lynn Yaeger
Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

All Dolled Up


Fashion writer Lynn Yaeger celebrates being one of a kind.

Here are some reasons I had a hard time making myself look like Cheryl Tiegs on the cover of Seventeen magazine: Unlike Tiegs, I had flappy ears, chubby cheeks, tiny lips, and virtually no eyelids or eyebrows—all of which made me look more like the Parisian ladies of the evening in a 1930s Brassaï photograph than a California-blonde cover girl.

The gulf between the reality of my looks and the cultural ideal only widened when I began to work in the fashion industry. Early on, I decided to ignore the industry's dictates—so stifling, unattainable, judgmental—and make my own rules. I had long admired women with strong signature looks—Anna Piaggi, Diana Vreeland, Isabella Blow—for whom the fashion world seemed to make an exception. And I found myself reaching far outside the box for role models: to the women in Pre-Raphaelite paintings (those floaty clothes suited my physique far better than jeans and a T-shirt); to silent-movie heroines (their pale complexions were easy for me to replicate); even to Victorian dolls (whose round faces and rosebud mouths reminded me of me).

Inspired, I started experimenting. The copper henna I threw on my head to give my hair a quirky tint was a miracle—coating my limp bob and making it bouncier than I'd ever dreamed possible. And maybe there was nothing to be done for my abbreviated lids, but I could work wonders with my lips, exaggerating them into a dark Kewpie-doll shape that, unlike eyeshadow, suited me to perfection.

People have asked how I get the courage to walk the streets in, say, a shredded Comme des Garçons coat over a tutu, with metallic orange hair. I owe my confidence at least in part to my parents, who were convinced I was the cutest thing on Earth and told me so every single day. (Recently, seeing my reflection at a party, I could almost hear my mom saying, "Lynnie, you look so pretty!")

Though some of my more extreme choices have provoked laughter or incredulity, I also get more compliments than I could have imagined. This may be because I live in New York City, where a certain level of eccentricity is appreciated. But I like to believe that no matter where I lived, people would come to respect—maybe even like! admire!—the steps I've taken to create my own nutty, undeniably unique, and for me, deeply satisfying, look.

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