Once again, Cindy Hattersley and I are each interviewing a different woman for our “Ageless Style” series.
This month I sat down with Carolyn Espley-Miller, aka Slim Paley, a natural beauty with a well-honed eye and a passion for interior design and photography. Carolyn’s popular Instagram page, @SlimPaley, is a treasure trove of beautiful photographs of her homes in Santa Barbara, California, and Sun Valley, Idaho. She never fails to inspire me with her witty and entertaining writing and her love of gardens and magnificent trees, family, food, fashion, and art, and she has the best ideas for great martinis. And just when I’m getting cabin fever, her photographs of far-flung places like Sri Lanka and Morocco, let me live vicariously through her travels.
Carolyn has a laidback fashion style although when called upon, she can rock a red carpet like no one else.
For years the online community knew Carolyn Espley-Miller through her fun and stylish lifestyle blog, “Slim Paley,” a nom de plume she created by combining the names of two of New York’s most famous style icons, Slim Keith and Babe Paley. For over a year, no one knew Carolyn’s real name, but those of us who subscribed to her blog fell in love with her style, her creativity, and her wit. Like many of us, she stepped away for a while to work on other things. Here’s a portion of our recent conversation.
BRENDA: How would you describe your style?
CAROLYN: I’ve always been kind of a Boho girl. Maybe I’m granny Boho now.
BRENDA: LOL! Hardly!
CAROLYN: I don’t want to relinquish my style just because I’ve reached a certain age. I’ve never dressed classically at all, and I’ve never worked in the corporate world so I didn’t have a need to dress that way.
BRENDA: I did the corporate thing and I loved tailored clothes like Armani, but when I changed careers, it took me a while to figure out my style. I’m still tweaking.
Carolyn, modeling in Sri Lanka.
CAROLYN: I lived in New York for seven years, so I would see those Armani women. They looked great and I admired them, but it didn’t work for me. I think perhaps because I had lived and modeled in Tokyo for a short time when I was young, my vibe was more eclectic.
Tokyo was such an eye-opening and influential period for me in terms of seeing and wearing inventive and inspired fashion, Kansai, Kenzo, et al, but going way back to when I was a teenager, I think my mom was the one who gave me the confidence to dress the way I dress. She was probably my single biggest influence.
BRENDA: Good for her.
CAROLYN: Yes, it’s a really nice thing to be able to say about your mom. When I was 16, my first real boyfriend was older than me, so I tried to dress and behave older. One day my mom said, “What are you doing?? I’m sorry, but Ultrasuede, really??” Remember Ultrasuede?
BRENDA: I do. Halston did a lot with Ultrasuede then.
Carolyn, on the left, in a photograph that may be from her first modeling job.
CAROLYN: Yes! I went to Holt Renfrew which was like the Bergdorf Goodman of Vancouver. I can still see it in my mind’s eye: I bought this mint green Ultrasuede shirtdress, and I thought it was the bomb, but my mom said, “Oh, my gosh! What are you doing? You’re so young. You’ll have time enough to dress like that. Celebrate your youth and this wonderful time in your life and go for it!” So I really have to credit my mom for giving me a little shake and coaxing me into being creatively more confident.
Shortly after that, I went to Tokyo, as I mentioned, and then Toronto, before living in London for seven years. My father was British and I had family there so it felt like “home” very quickly. London in the 80s was very inspiring.
Carolyn’s vintage lace dress her daughter-in-law was married in.
I would go to the antique markets every weekend, to Covent Garden, and travel to Bath for the Antique & Vintage Textile Show every year. I collected all these really amazing antique laces and linens, kimono coats, and jewelry. My daughter-in-law was married in one of my vintage lace dresses! I still have a lot of it.
My husband calls me an “elegant hoarder.”
BRENDA: That’s funny! You posted a beautiful black and white of your mom when she was younger. I think you look a lot alike. Elegant and beautiful. I like how you wrote she would fold the corners of the fashion magazines and make little notes like, “You have to have this!”
CAROLYN: Thank you. Yes, she’d grab the magazines first when they came in the mail, and by the time she’d return them to me they would look like a fan, there would be so many pages folded back, and she would write all over them. My sweet mom was like that all the way to the end of her life. She remained interested in fashion and style, not so much for herself, but for me and others. When I was a teenager she had a ladies’ clothing and shoe store, so I worked in the stores sometimes, usually on the weekends, and did the window and in-shop displays. I loved merchandising!
I was obsessed with fashion magazines from an early age. I had an entire wall in my bedroom collaged with magazine pages of Lauren Hutton, Rene Russo, Jerry Hall, and for those that know me, David Bowie of course! That era was great for fashion. So much fun, as were some of the eras to follow. Even the “grunge period” I look back on fondly now. But I don’t buy fashion magazines anymore. I haven’t for years.
Snapping photos in the Maldives.
BRENDA: No, I don’t either. I find inspiration on Instagram.
CAROLYN: They no longer resonate with me. Whether it’s the editorials or the ads, it feels to me that we women of a certain age are invisible. The other thing that put me off is, you know those categories they have? “What to Wear at This Age?”
I realized in most of them, I’m now only one category away from “THE END.”
BRENDA: LOL! That’s hysterical.
CAROLYN: Seriously! I’m one small box of Fashion Do’s & Don’ts away from “THAT’S IT.” Walk away. It’s over for you, Slim Paley.”
BRENDA: I know, which makes me think of your feather-embellished sweatpants. I love those and when I’m 80, I want to pull something like that out of my closet and wear them.
I’m posing in the freezing cold (for two seconds) with no coat and no makeup in the most impractical, unslimming but fahbulous (imho) feather embellished sweatpants cause I was sick and didn’t get to wear them on New Year’s Eve. These sweats took up 1/2 my suitcase and came to party even if I didn’t!
CAROLYN: LOL! Right?
BRENDA: They are the coolest. They really are. Do you have any style “Do’s & Don’ts?”
CAROLYN: I have many for myself, but in general, I think whatever makes you feel good and comfortable. Boring but true! For myself, my don’ts would be no red lipstick, but I love it on other women my age and older. If you can pull it off, that’s fantastic. I don’t wear any red at all. It just doesn’t work.
Weekend in Mexico.
I don’t wear foundation anymore either, so that’s a don’t. It’s aging, so I’ll just mix a little moisturizer with tinted sunscreen, maybe a little bit more tint in the evening.
No cleavage for me. Nobody needs to see that! I’m tall, but I’m small-framed so I don’t wear heavy jewelry. I will bunch stuff up, but it has to be small in scale. What are your don’ts?
BRENDA: The red lipstick. I think it’s my coloring because I can’t wear red at all, and I shy away from prints because I feel like I get lost in them. I’m tall and thin, and I like solids better on me than prints.
Carolyn with her friend, Anne Towbes, at Hanna Walska Lotusland in Santa Barbara, CA.
CAROLYN: I agree. I strive to look pulled together but not like I’m trying too hard. We don’t really have much call to get dressed up here in Santa Barbara, and we don’t go to LA very often. Not too many red-carpet events feel worth the effort involved anymore. We do it once in a while, but Santa Barbara is a very casual place. Most invitations will say “comfortably chic” or “dressy casual.” Very open for interpretation, which I love! You could almost get away with wearing sweats and Uggs or Birkenstocks here 24/7, but I don’t really want to succumb to that. I want to still put forth an effort.
I think style and fashion and the way you dress is a little bit like you go out and find your people in the room. I’ll gravitate, whether it’s in a store or a restaurant, to someone that has a style or a look I appreciate. Hey-Hello, we speak the same language. It’s like you make a connection even if you don’t wind up chatting. Not sure I’m articulating that thought in the best way, but I think you know what I mean. It’s a bit of a visual dialogue.
Carolyn Esplely-Miller and her husband, comedian Dennis Miller
BRENDA: You may not dress up much anymore, but I found a photograph of you on your Instagram account. You’re wearing a pair of russet gold velvet pants and a green feathered jacket I love. I’m going to quote your Mom: “I have to have that!”
CAROLYN: LOL! I still have it. The pants are a copper-colored panne velvet. Fantastic trousers. That was the one and only time I wore them because at the party, a waiter behind me dropped a tray of glasses of champagne. It sprayed all down the back of the trousers so they were ruined. I still have them… Hello, elegant hoarder… They’re so beautiful. I just can’t bring myself to throw them out. The jacket is Philip Lim, with emerald-green ostrich feathers and mirrored sequins on the back. I keep it in hopes my daughter-in-law or my daughter-in-law-to-be will have an occasion to wear it.
BRENDA: Or maybe you invite girlfriends over and tell them to wear blue jeans plus something razzle-dazzle.
CAROLYN: Right, but it’s also a little tight under the arms now. You know the weird, awful little changes that happen… Like, how come all of a sudden my pants are pulling my butt down, but no… It’s my butt that’s pulling my pants down! OMG!
BRENDA: I know! That’s where my butt is located now! It’s so depressing!
At Villa San Michele, Florence, Italy
BRENDA: My readers know I’m going to Italy. I told them I’m only taking one carry-on rolly bag and a duffle bag, but they don’t see how I’m going to make 10 days in Italy work with that. You travel a lot, so I’m guessing you’re a pro at packing. Do you try and curate a wardrobe so you have multiple looks from the same pieces? Do you check luggage?
One of my more epic but not unheard of OVER-packing extravaganzas. It does show one of the few red things I own (but never wear, but can’t get rid of.) May I add, my luggage didn’t arrive and was lost for days on that trip.
CAROLYN: For all the traveling I’ve done over the years I’m still a last-minute packer. I’m up late the night before. I almost always have checked baggage. I have a friend who puts her entire outfits together on a hangar and just literally folds the hangar and clothes into her suitcase. When she gets to the hotel, she pops the hangars in the closet, and she’s good to go. I’ve tried that. I’ve tried the individual zippered pouches. But I’m a cuh-razzy over-packer.
BRENDA: There’s a picture of you on a rooftop in Morocco, and you’re wearing blue jeans, and sneakers and a long black feathered boa or a fur scarf. I love the contrast because it’s so fun and unexpected.
CAROLYN: I was wearing red satin running shoes. I love mixing things up for sure. It’s a big part of my style. Always. I’ll wear running shoes with a long dress or the feathered sweatpants. Those are Dries van Noten. He’s one of my all-time favorite designers. I love the way he mixes textures and patterns and that whole vibe. His pieces are worth the investment because they’re so timeless and interchangeable.
BRENDA: What’d missing from your closet?
BRENDA: LOL!!! I wasn’t expecting that one.
CAROLYN: And the purple lame jacket with pink appliqués from Dries Van Noten’s 2015 collection. I think we all have (and remember all too clearly) the “One(s) That Got Away!”
For sure the vintage Vuitton bag with hand-painted wisteria I saw in Harvey Nichols a few years back. And a mint green ultra suede shirtdress! LOL!
But honestly, I think nothing, really. Like I said, I have these fabulous young women in my life who can both wear my clothes and shoes, so I’m loath to part with too many things. There’s probably just way too much in there. Especially jeans. And I’ve always loved coats. They’re one of my fashion passions, and here I’ve lived in Santa Barbara for 30 years, so not much call to wear coats!
BRENDA: I love coats as well, but San Antonio may be freezing on Christmas Day and 88 degrees the next day, so we don’t wear many here either. I have a whole closet full of nothing but coats and occasionally I’ll open the door and say, “How y’all doin’ in there?”
BRENDA: Before I let you go, what’s your favorite martini these days?
CAROLYN: Ketel One straight up with onions and olives on the side.
One of Carolyn’s pomegranate martinis!
BRENDA: A number of years ago you posted something about pomegranate martinis and I started making them. It was after breast cancer, so I told myself it was good for my immune system.
CAROLYN: Lots of antioxidants in those. I recently discovered espresso martinis. I know I’m super late to this little party, but I’m staying late!
BRENDA: Oh, wow!
CAROLYN: Oh, wow! They are SO good.
BRENDA: Do they take you up, down, or sideways?
CAROLYN: All ways. They take you for a spin. I had my first one in Geneva this summer. They are fantastic. I love cocktails…the art of the cocktails…the glasses, the embellishments, the colors. I love cocktail books. I have a great collection of both vintage books and new ones. I will mix us up something special when we finally meet in person!
BRENDA: Deal! You are a love. Thank you so much for your time. I had fun.
CAROLYN: Me, too. Thank you so much for inviting me!
Please leave me and Carolyn a comment or a question and then visit Cindy Hattersley’s blog to see who she’s featuring today.