Want to live that life? Start with your car.
1998 was a defining time in the history of style. Sex and the City premiered. Kate Spade, a newly minted style icon, sold her company to Neiman Marcus. And, the Toyota Camry, one of the most popular sedans on the road, got a redesign that defined the design language it still lives by today, with softer, more European lines and upgraded, attention-filled interiors.
As a style culture we had turned a corner and were heading in a pretty great direction: Designs were edgy but timeless, luxe but comfortable, chameleon-like enough to take us from dressy to casual events. We knew if we invested in those crisp white dresses or a good pair of Christian Louboutin shoes we’d wear them for a decade or more. Those are the cues to look for in defining a personal style: investments that will take us where we need to go, reliably, for a long time.
Hello, Black and White: Chic For All Seasons
There is no more reliable style than black and white. Color blocking Harlequin, houndstooth, Florentine scroll, Greek key, no matter the pattern, if it’s black and white, it works. And, it’s classic. I first learned this in the ’90’s when black and white became the way to showcase subtle design details: Black shows (or hides) form, white shows details. Together they frame a pop of color, can be elegant, whimsical or both. You can’t go wrong.
And black and white work together to create enchantment. Their harmony invites you to look deeper.
Style Inspired by the Best
When I sat down to write about my time in the Toyota Camry XSE I was reeling from the news that Kate Spade had died. And I was also captivated by a story in the New York Times written for the the 20th anniversary of Sex and the City about how the show had changed people’s lives. Both these icons impacted me as a young editor and helped me to define a personal sense of style that would transition me from my career to motherhood to life in the suburbs.
And life with a car. That one was more difficult.
I loved my car but didn’t really regard it as a style choice. It’s a big complicated machine, and machines aren’t stylish, right?
I had to learn to transition my thinking beyond my closet and accessories; my car is a fashion accessory too. Like a great handbag, it is functional but should look great doing its job. Like a great coat, it announces your style as you arrive. Like a great pair of jeans, it fits you perfectly all the time. I soon learned to think about how comfortable the seats are, how I feel when I look at a car’s paint color, how I want people to see me when I pull into a valet or the school pick up line. Style had always been such an important part of my persona, I needed my car to do that for me, too.
Thinking With Your Heart and Your Head
The problem with style is that what appeals to your heart doesn’t always appeal to your budget. It’s easy to fall in love with a super luxe exotic sports car, but if you need a royal inheritance to pay for it, what’s the point? But Kate Spade and Patricia Field, who dressed the cast of Sex and the City, taught us how to bridge that gap: Have high expectations and spend reasonably. Splurge on what demands it— those Louboutins can be a good investment if you choose wisely. And learn to spot good design at any price. That is what Kate Spade gave us: Form, function and value focused by a sharp design eye.
We also learned the practice of ‘high and low:’ An Armani suit with a Gap t-shirt; a Christian Dior skirt with a simple Hanro camisole, a quilted chain strap handbag that looks right at home with cocktail dresses or Saturday jeans. And, a perfect fitting Gap t-shirt means more budget for a handbag or earrings to make that black and white wardrobe go a bit further.
Inspired Design Language Carries You Forward
When Toyota redesigned the Camry for 2018 it was the start of the brand’s modern style journey. The Camry’s evolution has been elegant and graceful and that continues. You can see the early days of its design in the current lines— the more aerodynamic sculpted front end, a roofline that has gotten sleeker by the iteration, a front face that greets you with a flash of chrome and light. The 2018 design adds a front diamond grille, a curved front fender that cuts through the air and narrowed headlights for a sharp, focused look.
The model that I test drove, which was seemingly plucked from my own style board, was black and white with a luscious red leather interior. It felt great. Before I even hit the start button, I felt confident, chic and at home.
Then, I took it for a drive. The Camry’s 6-cylinder 301 horsepower engine gave wind to the car’s style. What you don’t want is a beautiful car that is loud and sluggish; you want people to look at your car because it’s beautiful, not because it’s limping along like a wounded pony.
For those times when you need a little more wind, sport mode (with paddle shifters!) was fun. And for times when you’re thinking it’s proper to be more reserved, as in saving a bit of fuel, eco mode dialed back the wind a bit.
Beautiful Form, Yes, But Function That Accommodates Your Life Is a Must, Too
Inside the Camry there is tons of handbag-like function: storage spots include a very clever cubby that is perfect for a cell phone, change or lipsticks and that has a wireless charge pad on its retractable lid. I could even put my iPhone 8+ on the wireless pad and push it back to open the cubby—best of both worlds. For phones that need to plug in, USB ports are handy—one under the center console (along with a cigarette adapter-style power port) and two in the arm rest.
The touch screen, a sleek flat-panel system, was easy to use, and it, along with most everything else, was in easy reach, making it simple to keep my eyes on the road. Adding to that is the head up display which allows you to see key driver information such as speed, radio and navigation directions, projected on the windshield right in your line of vision. I really love this feature.
And the panoramic sun roof. Light. Happiness. Blue sky. Tree top views. All pouring in through that luscious expanse of glass (or not; if it’s too much simply close the screen).
Further reading: Looking for sportier style and more function? The Toyota Corolla Hatchback may be your thing
All This Style, But at What Price?
Probably the thing I love most, though, is the price. The Camry XSE model we test drove priced out at about $38,000. Wow. Its base price is about $35,000, and black and white color option of black roof and black accents with the white body, is $895. The model we test drove also included a surround view camera and navigation ($1,050) and a premium JBL sound system ($940).
The value and promise that the Camry makes, like any great style icon, is defined by its standards, in this case, features that include Toyota Safety Sense (pre-collision braking, pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure assist, steer assist, automatic high beam headlights, traction control and blind spot monitors) a panoramic sun roof, leather upholstery, head up display and the wireless charging in the base price for the model.
Life Is Lived in the Car. Style Should Be Too.
And your style–from your shoes to your handbag to the foundational elements of your wardrobe, should make you feel good. That is the magic of signature style: You’re comfortable and beautiful in your own skin.
What We Listened to in the Toyota Camry
The space defined by style is perfected when it’s filled with music. We turned up the JBL sound system as we tooled around town in the Toyota Camry and this is what we listened to.
A Few More Details I Loved in the Toyota Camry
Disclosure: Toyota provided the Camry for my test drive; all opinions are my own.