FLORENCE & LINNE / INTERVIEW
Florence Finkelstein: Interviewer, Writer
Linne Halpern: Interviewee, Illustrator
Linne Halpern is a freelance writer and editor working primarily in the fashion and lifestyle sphere. Her work is featured in publications including Architectural Digest, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, Coveteur, and DORÉ. Linne graduated from Wesleyan in 2018 as an English and American Studies double major, and immediately immersed herself in the editorial industry of New York City working as an Editorial Assistant at DORÉ. At the start of the pandemic, Linne’s career took a turn, forcing her to pursue what she’s found to be an incredibly rewarding freelance path.
Linne (virtually) sat down with me to discuss her fashion journey, experiences at Wes, the ins-and-outs of the fashion and editorial industry, and her pandemic silver linings.
Can you briefly describe your style evolution from when you were younger to college to after college?
When I was very young I was REALLY obsessed with fashion and I wanted to become a fashion designer. I was really into drawing my designs and I would even sew my own clothes. In middle school, I was very obsessed with Betsey Johnson wore tutu skirts with crazy tights and combat boots. In high school, my style chilled out a lot. I wore a uniform my whole life which forced me to be constrained during the week, explaining why my style tended to be extra crazy on the weekends.
When I got to Wesleyan, my style got very casual. I generally just wanted to be comfortable all of the time, wearing mostly jeans, sneakers, flannels, birkenstocks, etc., but still with my own twist. I would always have some sort of sparkle element or a weird necklace to spice it up. I have a vivid memory of coming home to Ohio for Thanksgiving break my freshman year and noticed how confused my parents and my friends were because I was just wearing simple jeans and a flannel. I remember my mom making a comment like, “you’re dressing like a lesbian... is there something you want to like tell me?” Obviously this was not politically correct but that was definitely the Wesleyan influence to my style. I remember everyone in 2016 was really into crop tops, VERY high waisted jeans, and REALLY chunky platform sandals. That was never really my style. I don’t do crop tops and I don’t wear Doc Martens. I’m much more into cowboy boots.
When I moved to New York, I definitely got excited about fashion again. In the beginning, I felt like I wanted to dress up for work a little bit. The office I worked at was very casual, it wasn't like working at Condé or something. I ended up wearing jeans or dresses most days to work, but I got more into cool boots, and nice sweaters with interesting details. I started investing in nice cashmere and higher quality pieces, so even if my look was a little bit more casual I still felt put together.
Now in quarantine, it feels like I am back to my college days a little bit because all I seem to be wearing is tye-dye, plaid, and socks with birkenstocks.
What is one item in your current closet that has been with you since high school?
I have a lot of pieces from my mom that I wear and will always wear. I have a denim jacket of hers that is CRAZY. It has the American flag painted on the back with jeweled rhinestones. It’s very Dolly Parton, one of my favorite people in the world. I wore it a ton at Wes. I remember always feeling weird about it because I was an American Studies major and we’re very critical about America in general. Everytime I wore that jacket I was like “are people going to think that I’m trying to be a DKE bro with my American flag denim jacket.” I just think it's a cool jacket because it’s my mom’s and it's from the 80s, but there were definitely times that I was self conscious that people would misconstrue it as patriotism or like DKE vibes.
I haven’t really worn it since I moved to New York. I just feel like I equate it with my college era. I mean, I still throw it on occasionally if it really works, but it definitely lives in my mind as a piece that stays in my college identity.
How do you think Wesleyan influenced your career path?
I think fashion was always something I wanted to do because I was obsessed with it since I was a kid. I have always been a big fashion magazine reader. Even when I was in middle school, I memorized all the names of all the Vogue editors and would always watch the runway shows live online. I was just such a weird, nerdy little kid.
Wesleyan gave me a greater appreciation for writing as a craft and a medium. I lived in that world for four years and ignored the “industry” aspects of fashion and focused on becoming a better writer. I think that was really huge for me. Through that lens, I almost pivoted away from fashion a little bit. I definitely wanted to focus on “women's media” , but I realized I didn’t want to become a fashion market editor and like only to focus on clothes. I really wanted to tell larger stories about women, and social issues, and what’s going on in the world. That became a guiding direction of where I wanted my career to go. I think what’s keeping me in the industry and guiding my future decisions is less fashion specific and more “how can I tell stories that will resonate with women and be able to change people’s mind about certain issues?”
I also feel like there is a pressure at Wesleyan to be the MOST intellectual and to be so high-brow about things. I think that going into fashion journalism, or womens media, was not the typical path for an English and American Studies double major at the time. Most people wanted to study poetry, get an MFA, become a professor, and be published in n+1. There were times where I was almost self-conscious about the mainstream or low-brow elements of the work that I wanted to do. I felt that I was on a very different path than a lot of my peers at Wes, but that never strayed me and I am grateful for my Wesleyan education giving me the tools to enter the mainstream media space with a more intellectual mindset.
What was your first job out of college and how did this influence your style and career path?
My first job out of college was Editorial Assistant at Doré. When I first moved to New York, I was definitely expecting to be applying to a ton of different jobs in magazines. I was definitely expecting to have to dress more formal at work or that heels would be a bigger thing. I was very surprised when I got to the Doré office and it was more casual. I think that casual dress is definitely a part of start-up culture. As a digital media site, we were a tiny independent company with a fairly young staff and so it made sense. That being said, I actually wrote an essay for Doré about my first year in New York and the ways it changed my style. I remember writing about Batsheva because I had just become obsessed with wearing prairie dresses with cowboy boots. I remember my parents being confused and saying, “you look Amish.” I also got really into clogs for a while. I was definitely trying to channel that fall-in-New-York vibe that you see in You've Got Mail (1998) and all of those 90s New York movies. And that still feels very true to how I like to dress today.
I don't think I was inspired by my coworkers as they all had very different styles from me. I feel like they were more minimalist and I tend to be on the more maximalist side (I feel like when you hear maximalist you think “statement necklaces” and the “Dolce & Gabbana” look, and that's definitely not what I mean). I love to mix prints, like plaids and florals. I’m also very into pairing striped or tie dye socks with my look no matter what else I already have going on. My coworkers did not dress like this at all. Our fashion editor at Doré only wore denim and t-shirts in all black with maybe cream and maybe navy––and that is the opposite of my style. I think there is a stereotype of behind-the-scenes fashion people which can be true sometimes. Some editors do dress that way and minimal is very much lauded as the epitome of elegance and luxury. I’ve never really given into that ideology because it just doesn’t feel like me. I think just by nature of having crazy curly hair and being so blind that I have to wear glasses, it almost prohibits me from that look. I definitely still enjoy playing with trends and following what's going on in the industry, but at the same time I feel really confident in who I am and what I like. I am very decisive. I think that's something that is good to know about yourself and is something fun to play within the boundaries of.
There are definitely women within the industry whose style I really love and I look up to. One of those is a woman named Laurel Pantin who was my boss at my first internship at Coveteur when I was still at Wes. She has been a mentor to me throughout my career and we have such a lovely relationship. I feel like her style is very similar to mine, as she loves her jeans and her Birkenstocks but is also obsessed with Dries Van Noten and will put on a crazy Marc Jacobs sequin situation and make it her own. She is somebody that I will go to her instagram anytime I am needing some style inspiration.
How has being so close to the fashion and beauty industry (through your editorial work) influenced the way you perceive this industry?
When I was young, style.com was a really big thing and they would always have the runway collections live minutes after each show. It definitely glamourized the idea of what the industry is. I think it is common to hear that it is actually not glamorous at all and that it's actually quite messy at times. You’re often running around the city on the subway and you physically can’t wear heels, that's not at all the correct image because that just simply is not practical. The times that you do get to touch $10,000 dresses are very few and far between and most days you’re not going to shows or visiting designers or showrooms. You're on the computer or taking meetings and you’re kind of in the trenches of editing and writing and all those kinds of things. But that’s something people learn really quickly about the industry and isn’t revelatory. I think the biggest thing is you have to have good ideas. Especially since going freelance, that's been a learning curve. If you are just pitching editors to try and get writing published, you have to really hone in on your voice and your niche and what you can bring to the table in a way that other people can’t. Once you figure that out and keep exploring that and diving deeper, the more marketable you are to employers and people that would hire you for freelance work or full time work.
When you enter the industry, there is so much clout in working for a big name magazine. Although I definitely still have those career aspirations, I am so grateful that I started at a place that was much smaller and independently owned because I had so much freedom. I was given so many opportunities way beyond my title. I was attending fashion weeks and covering designer shows as an assistant. If I was an assistant at Vogue, I would be chained to the fashion closet and never be allowed to leave for 16 hour days. When I made the decision to start a freelance career a year ago, it really put me in a different category of people my age. Most people my age are coming from assistant positions with assistant level tasks whereas I was networking with senior level PR people and I was taking high level meetings. I already developed an industry network and people saw me as more than an assistant. This allowed people to give me more opportunities when I went freelance. I also think it's important to be in a supportive environment where people want to see you grow and they give you the tools to be able to do that. I don’t think that is always the case in corporate environments. Working at a smaller company allows you to be a step ahead when you go to apply to bigger companies in the future.
Thinking back to your time at Wesleyan, what is one piece advice you would give your past self?
I honestly feel like I would just say to worry less. I did so many things with the intent of being in a good place post-grad and I wish I spent less time worrying about that. And I’m very grateful for my experiences and some of those college internships played a huge role in getting me that first job. But during senior spring, I was stressed when I could’ve just been having fun. I could’ve just graduated and figured everything out I would’ve been fine. Also, shit happens out of your control and that is something that we’ve learned this year especially.
I was laid off at the end of 2019. It was like the most disheartening experience I have ever been through because I felt like I was at this point (two years post-grad) and I was just starting to feel comfortable in the city, settling into my job and really feeling like I was hitting my stride and then that happened. It was just such a wake up call that this is the state of the media at the moment. I think just learning that it's just where our industry is at right now––not to say don’t go into this industry because there are a ton of opportunities––but it is a reality. That was two months before the pandemic began so I was applying for new jobs. I was in the final interview for an Editor job at a major publication and they pulled the plug right when the pandemic hit. So, needless to say, it was a very stressful few months. I did not want to lose my trajectory or backslide and I was constantly asking myself “how can I make this work in the middle of a pandemic?”
I ended up moving back in with my family in Ohio for 6 months and and then I moved out to Colorado where I currently am living with my brother. I have not been back to New York in over a year at this point. But, I feel extremely lucky that I have actually been able to make freelance work. Through this network that I developed at Doré, I had so many connections who were looking for freelance work. I started copywriting for this beauty brand called Well People, which has been my main client for the past few months. It has been really cool because I never expected to become a copywriter, because my heart is in editorial, but I was given the opportunity to build a huge corporate cosmetic company’s voice. I am also randomly having a children’s book published which is a really fun and exciting challenge. All of my freelance experiences and the book are new additions to my resume that when I start interviewing again after the pandemic, will make me more marketable as a candidate.
I am a very type-A person very obsessed with timelines and paths and I definitely get way too attached to those narratives. So, this past year-and-a-half has been such a great lesson in letting go and trusting the process, knowing that everything you’ve done up until this point has given you the tools to take your next step.