What Not to Wear

August 21, 2009 § Leave a comment

At a very young age (like, 9) I decided that I’d had enough of childhood and was ready to be a teenager. My favorite TV show was Saved by the Bell and my favorite movie was Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the one where Kristy Swanson plays a cheerleader by day, vampire hunter by night). These shows glorified teenage-hood and I studied them pretty much as rigorously as I now study my pre-law books. I assumed that every teenager’s life was an endless string of parties, shopping, and dating. I knew I wanted to be a cheerleader (mainly for the uniform) and I imagined myself looking like Kelly from Beverly Hill 90210 (long, straight blond hair) and driving a red Ford Mustang convertible. Yet, I was also a hopeless bookworm, and so my dedication to all things ”teenager“ was manifested in an insatiable appetite for teen magazines which, I thought, would teach me everything I needed about how to dress, apply makeup, and act, so that when the sacred time finally arrived, I would be ready. Teen, YM, Seventeen–you name it, I read it cover to cover every month, and couldn’t wait until the next issue arrived.

One article that I remember that was repeated every so often in the various teen magazines that were my bible was the fashion quiz. This was a quiz designed to tell you what your ”fashion style“ was, or should be, based on your answers to some pretty generic questions. The categories were always the same–sporty, trendy, classic (preppy), romantic, and (sometimes), artsy. I agonized over quizzes like these, trying to figure out which box I best fit into, but I never could find a satisfying answer. Sometimes I liked to dress trendy, other times I felt the need to go sporty. Did people really just stick to one fashion “style”? How are you supposed to know what style to go with? These questions perplexed my overly-analytical mind and, I’m sort of embarrassed to say that sometimes they still do.

You might be wondering where I’m going with this….stick with me, I think I have an actual point here. You see, I still like to read fashion magazines from time to time, though not as obsessively as when I was a child. I watch shoes like What Not to Wear, which stress how what you wear communicates who you are with most of the outside world (i.e., the people you come into contact with, but never actually talk to, like the people on the train or on the street). I think this is more of an issue in places like DC and Boston, where people actually walk to school and work, actually take trains, rather than places like Phoenix, where the average person drives alone in a car to the same job every day, where they see the same people, who generally have the opportunity to get to know more about someone than what can be conveyed by clothes.

In addition, I really like to people watch. I spend a lot of time when I am in public places looking at others (hopefully secretly), thinking about who they might be, examining their clothes (I just realized that this makes me sound really creepy). I am really interested how people in different cities and regions often dress very similarly to each other and very different than people in other places I have been. I coined the term “GC” (Glendale Classic) for the inhabitants of Glendale, Arizona who wear skull t-shirts, black and white flat-brimmed caps, and drive big trucks (men), or cut-off frayed denim mini-skirts, star jewelry and tattoos, platform foam flip-flops, and also drive big trucks (women). I was truly fascinated by the fact that most girls in DC wore exactly the same outfit almost every day–Ralph Lauren polo shirt or button up shirt, Longchamp, Vera Bradley, or Lands’ End tote, 7 for all Mankind jeans, pearl necklace and earrings, flip flops, and a North Face fleece if it was winter. Literally, entire sororities dressed like this EVERY SINGLE DAY. Yet, while I make fun of them, getting dressed must have been very simple. No need to think of new outfits or match items, as everything was designed to go together and be replicable day in and day out, regardless of the situation. For example, the same outfit could work for the gym (swap the jeans for black tight pants and the polo for a sorority t-shirt, keep the fleece, pearls, and tote) or work (swap the jeans for a pencil skirt, add heels, keep the Ralph Lauren button-down and pearls). I could never adopt a uniform with such tenacity, but part of me understands why these girls did it.

Which brings me to my original point–what is my own, personal style, and how can I adapt it to the lifestyle of a new city without losing my identity? I know what clothes I like, in theory. I like a mixture of classic mixed with some unexpected, bold, funky pieces and colors. I like cute shoes but my feet don’t. I like to be comfortable, yet stylish, and I don’t want to be wearing the same thing as every other girl in my section. The hard part, for me, is figuring out how to create a personal style that works when I have to walk a mile to the train station, or when it’s 20 degrees outside, or when I’m studying for 7 hours straight in the library. These, the realities of my life, don’t always mesh with the idea I have in my head of how I want to look and how I want to present myself to others. The truth is, life is not like it seemed in the glossy pages of the teen magazines I read as a child, and personal style does not fit neatly into the parameters of a quiz. I now live in a city with four seasons, that is incredibly hot and humid right now but that will become positively frigid way too soon. No matter what outfit I put on, I return home after exploring this city caked in at least three layers of my own sweat, yearning for a ponytail and some sweatpants. My feet always hurt, no matter what shoes I wear, and as cute as some of the dresses I have are, none of them really work with a bike and a helmet, which is the easiest way for me to get around now that I don’t have a car.

And then, there is the issue of money. I don’t really understand how people find the money to put together actual outfits, with matching shoes, jackets, and accessories. I can usually afford to buy a cute shirt from Banana Republic or even Anthropologie, but I’m going to take it home, hang it in the closet, and then either wear it with the same old pair of jeans and flip-flops, or not at all. The thought of spending money on a top, bottom, matching shoes, jewelry, and jacket to create an “outfit” is pretty much out of the question, given that I’m living off of student loans and trying to save money for plane tickets to Japan. I have a lot of nice things in my closet, but somehow I have never figured out how to match everything together to create multiple, cute, comfortable outfits for every possible situation from what I have (sort of like those DC sorority girls).

So next weekend is the last weekend before school starts. I will have a lot of different orientation events to attend, but I will also have a little free time. I’d like to go through my closet and pull out some things I already have, but for some reason don’t wear. Then I’m going to figure out why I don’t wear them, and come up with what I would need to supplement them so that I can create different looks building off of what I already have. I’d like to start a weekly blog post where I show off the new Boston outfits I create, sort of a Look-of-the Week. That will give me some motivation to actually think about what I’m wearing and how I’m presenting myself to my classmates and peers, and will also give me a fun outlet that is not directly related to law school.

I’ll leave you with my interpretation of Boston fashion, based off of my two trips on the T to downtown Boston and my various excursions around Cambridge. The typical Bostonian woman prefers comfort above fashion. She wears Asics running shoes with everything. A typical outfit is running shoes, khaki cropped pants, a solid-colored fitted t-shirt, a Coach purse, and a jogging stroller. She also carries a windbreaker or fleece. Hair is brown and pulled up. Some also wear a Boston Red Sox hat, although that is more common with Boston men, many of whom I suspect actually sleep in their Red Sox hats.

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