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How I Shop: Natasha Lyonne

We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what’s “you”? These are some of the questions we’re putting to prominent figures in our column “How I Shop.”

“I’m more of a uniform guy,” Natasha Lyonne tells Fashionista while sitting through rush hour in Manhattan. Wearing a T-shirt with her grandmother’s jewelry and Gucci sneakers, the actor was on her way to JFK airport to catch an evening flight, fresh off the news of her Emmy nomination for “Poker Face.” 

She’s known for many iconic roles, from “But I’m a Cheerleader” to “Orange Is the New Black,” but she’s also built a reputation as a style star. It’s not just because she sits front row at Proenza Schouler and Miu Miu, or because she rocks inspiring costumes in “Russian Doll” — she also applies her profound filmmaking skills to style. 

So, it makes sense that Old Navy would tap her to star in the brand’s fall campaign, which is based on the reality that it can be hard to take a compliment. (In it, Lyonne responds to them confidently with, “Thanks, It’s Old Navy.”) Ahead, Lyonne talks about the collaboration, her personal uniform and what’s it like to shop with her good friend Chloë Sevigny.

Photo: Ricky Vigil/GC Images

Photo: Pierre Su/Getty Images

Photo: Hollywood To You/Star Max/GC Images

“In general, I would say I’m attracted to originality or specificity of personhood or style. I love a snaggle tooth. I love the way people make things their own. I’m into storytelling and the way we fashion ourselves in the world as part of our storytelling, at some level. I remember when I put on this more tailored suit — it just looked so specific on me, because I’m so used to wearing oversized blazers and stuff. It sort of really felt like me. It’s about how you wear it. 

“I’m a big fan of imperfection. Although, I will say that I also like good quality. I’m wearing some weird, $39 jeans I bought off the internet. I don’t even know what they’re called. They’re black jeans, but they’ve been through the wash a bunch, but they’re still black, which I’m really impressed with. They haven’t gotten gray yet, so that’s the kind of thing that really impresses me. I’m wearing an oversized gray T-shirt. I don’t where it came from. I’m wearing my grandmother’s gold chain necklace, which is a little bit broken, but it’s hers; and my godmother’s bracelet and my grandmother’s watch. Then, I’m wearing a mess of keys as if I’m a janitor… because that’s really what I’m trying to transmit: that I can pick any lock in this town. But, you know, I’m high-low. I’m wearing it with Gucci sneakers, baby.

“My early memories are probably a lot of vintage or oversized clothes. My mother and my grandmother always had a mix of ’60s and ’70s clothes — I remember my grandmother would have a Pucci dress or a Pucci dress knock-off. She was more conservative, then my mother was more of a wild thing. She would have a lot of glittery bell bottoms and stuff like that. I really liked dressing up in her clothes. There are a lot of pictures of me in oversized high heels, for sure, as a child. Then, as a teenager, I was very into thrift stores. I have, almost, a resentment against the youth, that they can just google cool things, and they don’t have to go down a rabbit hole to actually go find them in the store. Listen to the records, know which T-shirt you want to buy and then put together some money to actually buy the T-shirt. Also, back then, the T-shirt was probably $2.99 — it wasn’t $299 at some fancy place.

Photo: Dominik Bindl/WireImage

“I recently watched the D. A. Pennebaker David Bowie “Ziggy Stardust” documentary. It was wild — just seeing all that raw footage and realizing, obviously, he’s such an influence on everybody. At some point, he talks about Lou Reed, who’s always been a real influence for me — just, as a city kid, the idea of walking down and keeping your eyes on the street, instead of looking up and out there like a tourist. Of course, Chloë [Sevigny] is like my sister, so I’ve always looked to her. I’m like, ‘Okay, cool. I guess I’m wearing little skirts with knee-highs and something weird on top. Okay. Got it.’

“Chloë and I have definitely been shopping all kinds of crazy places, but mostly thrift stores. There’s a thrift store in Greece I remember we went to once, and she would find some really wacky stuff that I was like, ‘I’m just not on her level.’ It was like smiley face, tie dye and a skirt that was short, but also too much material, so it was sort of unflattering. And I keep a tailored, simple, clean line. I like to be ready for the subway. I was very much like, ‘Oh, she’s elevated. She can really pull off this stuff, this smiley-face thing.’ There’s no tie dye in my wardrobe.

“She’s way more adventurous than I am in certain ways. She’ll wear… see-through lace at her wedding! Her wedding outfits were bananas. I had to give the toast. She had dressed me, and made me take off all my jewelry that was like vintage Gaultier or something that her and Haley Wollens, her stylist, found. When I came into the room, they were like, ‘No! Too much. No sunglasses, no jewelry. Just the dress. Too much eyeliner.’ It was me and Lizzi Bougatsos, who’s her best friend from this band Gang Gang Dance and a fine artist. Lizzi and I were laughing. Lizzi looked like Nick Cave or The Cure — she had little sunglasses on, like a high-white Victorian collar with a black suit. They were like, ‘Take it down a notch.’

Photo: Ramona Rosales/Courtesy of Old Navy

“I had this one guy who would see me go to set early in the morning, and he was like, ‘Somebody should really get a picture of you as your real self, because that might be cooler.’ It’s very, like, sweatpants with big socks and pants tucked into the socks. And I put on old shiny loafers that are really beat up and a parka and a beanie. It was funny, because I hadn’t really considered what I was wearing — I was just trying to get out of the house on time. But I always try to make it a little bit specific somehow. It’s almost a way of signaling subculture or something. It’s very connected to music on some level. It’s like when you want let people know what kind of music you like.

“I would say that I’m somebody who pretty much sticks with a uniform. Part of what I love about Old Navy is they’re really democratizing fashion. I feel like everything should be available to everybody, and so it’s this egalitarian view, in a time with a very challenging economic landscape.

“I think it’s very cool to have your pieces and know that you can wear them and recycle them. I’m somebody who’s inclined to buy the same black blazer again — like, if I found my thing, I’m not that caught up with trends. Like normcore hit, and I had nothing to do with it. I was just like, ‘I’m too old for this trend.’ So I actually am a little bit more tailored and consistent: loafers, jeans, button down, T-shirt, blazer and sunglasses. I’m always in sunglasses, because they’re prescription. That’s why I have this crazy sunglasses stash. Then, if I’m dressing up, it’s very important to me to be able to walk in my shoes. I don’t really like being somebody that can’t move around.

Photo: Ramona Rosales/Courtesy of Old Navy

“I love those cigarette pants! Those pixie pants, right? What’s fun is… well, first of all, they work on me, and I’m a little guy. But I also think most women are up and down five pounds at least all the time. These have a nice stretch to them so that they’re gonna be flattering no matter what, and you can pair them well. I feel like they’re psychologically a really healthy pant. That full look — that little tailored look with the wide leg pants and the matching blazer — is just genuinely cool. It’s a cool suit. Weirdly, I was actually wearing this little matching old Navy cardigan around the set because it was cold. I really like that, too. I actually stole it from the shoot. I wear it all the time.

“I just think it’s funny, the idea of a person having an inner monologue and then handling it. I like the response, ‘Thanks, it’s Old Navy.’ It’s sort of anti-gatekeeping, which is what I’m about. The older I get, the cooler I think it is to be welcoming, grateful, gracious and less standoffish. I like the idea that the character I’m playing of me is like, ‘Hey, I’ll tell you exactly where I got it.'”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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