There's an essay in Michelle Tea's totally kick ass book How to Grow Up called Fashion Victim about her love of fashion that I read three times in a row. I read these fourteen words in particular over and over:
"... the only art form we all participate in every single day of our lives..."
YES, THAT. I knew it in fourth grade and I wanted in. I wore neon green suspenders, guys, and people made fun of them. Fourth grade me gave no fucks. I was amazing. I went through an electric blue period. A friend in sixth grade told me she liked that I had a sense of style, that I didn't just wear clothes. I remember thinking that was the best compliment I could ever get.
I watched a lot of old movies and obsessed over the clothes. I flipped through Vogue at the library and eventually spent my own allowance money on those giant, self esteem destroying issues filled with pretty people in beautiful clothes. I paid attention to people's clothes - on the el, in restaurants, everywhere. I may have had a sense of style but I wanted to have great style. It was art and I searched for it everywhere.
In high school, I wasn't quite as carefree as I was in fourth grade with my neon green suspenders. But, I still poured over fashion magazines and I discovered thrift shopping while visiting my grandparents in Florida after 8th grade. Life forever changed. My first vintage dress was a 60s black eyelet wiggle dress. It was one dollar. There were a lot of thrifted black dresses. There was a rummage sale every June that I lived for throughout high school. Parental eyes rolled, a lot, and I still dream about things I passed up in Florida thrift stores in the 90s.
Favorite garments and shoes have included: that first black eyelet dress, a black fifties dress with a circle skirt with cherries and straw hats on it that is still hanging in my closet, a black 60's mini dress with silk chiffon sleeves that was worn to multiple high school dances by a number of friends, a vintage Pucci miniskirt, a vintage dress that my parents referred to as my vintage waitress uniform, a total Wednesday Addams dress that I wore with shoes that had square toes and square buckles, a vintage pink cardigan with rhinestones that I've had since high school, brown cowboy boots that disappeared mysteriously, one of my mother's calico peasant tops, a vintage hot pink crushed velvet short sleeve blazer that I've had forever and wore a few weeks ago, and the shiny gold t-shirt I am wearing now.
Style icons have included: Princess Dahla and Simone from the Pink Panther and everyone in The Party*, Lucy Ricardo, Janis Joplin, Angelica Huston, Courtney Love, Jane Fonda in Barefoot in the Park and Barbarella, all the Pre-Raphaelite babes, Iona from Pretty in Pink...
So, I've been thinking a lot about what changed. Why did I spent an entire decade wearing boring clothes? My old job was not good for my self esteem, certainly. I worked with thin women who would eat half a muffin and say they felt like cows. And I recently remembered something weird. My initial interview for the job went great. I was sure I had it. But, days went by and I wasn't hearing anything. My friend who got me the interview asked what I wore to the interview. A slightly more professional version of my late nineties uniform: A blue button down shirt, a vintage knee length black and white floral skirt, black tights and black and white wing tips. Oh, he said. Those shoes may have been too flashy for him (my soon to be boss), he said. I totally believed my friend. He was a September Issue** buddy. He wouldn't steer me wrong. But he did. I got the job and immediately toned down my wardrobe. On the rare occasion that I dressed funkier and let a little more of my actual personality show through, my boss almost always noticed and was complimentary. But, I felt in over my head and out of place so much of the time at that job, I think I didn't want to attract attention. No flashy shoes for me.
Then, before I moved to Portland, I got rid of all my work clothes. I didn't want to be that person anymore. It left me with pajamas, ill fitting blue jeans, tshirts, lots of funky skirts, many I'd made myself, and crazy good dresses that I bought, dreaming of a day where I would feel like myself again.
An aside: Simon Doonan said his favorite fashion advice is to throw away all your work clothes and only wear party clothes, every day, forever.
I didn't quite do that but we were pretty broke from the move so buying new clothes wasn't really an option. So, some of those crazy good dresses were finally getting worn. I've also lucked out in the clothing swap department over the last few years. I felt like me again but I'd still occasionally get in ruts, though, wearing the same three outfits over and over or wearing pajama pants for days on end. Last fall, I decided that needed to stop. I had to get dressed every single day and start digging deeper in the closet.
I was doing good and things only got better once I started working at Wanderlust. I had a lot of good vintage in my closet already but just being around all those awesome dresses has made me step up my game. I mix a lot of new and vintage. I wear bright colors and big prints. My closet makes me happy even if I'm always on the search for something weirdly specific. Currently: good leopard flats.
When someone tells me I've got great style, I'm pretty sure fourth grade me would be pleased with how far we've come even if she wonders what happened to those suspenders.***
While I don't wear my party clothes every single day, they sometimes get worn to the grocery store and almost all my shoes are flashy.
*Blake Edwards is the answer to many questions about me. Seriously.
**this is the first year I can remember when I haven't bought the September Issue of Vogue. No fucks left to give. I know the difference between pretty people in beautiful clothes and great style and great style in the real world is so much more satisfying.
*** tell people when you dig their style or their dress or those rad shoes their wearing. They're not wearing them for you but they'll appreciate the compliment, all the same.