As I (ostensibly) enter the world of adulthood I am more and more leaving the crop-tops and high waisted denim shorts of college behind me. Unfortunately I haven’t yet figured out my go-to stylish-yet-sophisticated-yet-still-displaying-the-requisite amount of personality outfits. After the cheeky way I was able to dress in a previous life, more grown up affairs continue to leave in me somewhat a sartorial quandary.
So, when my boss informed me we’d be heading over the headquarters of a think tank later on that evening for drinks I was at a loss. What does one wear to go talk about cybersecurity and hacktivism and be taken seriously as someone who would likely be the youngest and blondest in the room, while still conveying my interest in the topic? Can I dress in theme? What would one even wear to a cybersecurity themed party? Can I ever get my mind out of my sorority? Is this what adulthood is like?
My boss had sent me to change since our general office attire wasn’t suitable for such an occasion. Naturally I spent 45 minutes rummaging through my closet playing out all the eventualities in my head. I landed on this ensemble—the black definitely was intended to convey a degree of seriousness and maybe make me feel a bit like a spy, which felt oddly fitting. I tried my best to channel my inner-Audrey (a great departure from my now usual loose-fitting pants, crop top and slides). The top was one that I generally had not found occasions that warranted the beautiful vintage Chanel, but I felt this could be that time. The rather intense monochrome of the outfit i felt needed to be offset by some type of accessory—and when channeling old Hollywood heroines—why not add the scarf?
Over the course of the evening, I undoubtedly stood out, but with my age and distinct lack of initials after my name that was somewhat an inevitability, and as bold a choice as the scarf definitely added to it. The most important thing for me was that I felt like myself in the clothes and as such had the confidence to talk to the rather impressive array of individuals in the room. after all, that’s what an outfit is for isn’t it?
I clearly spend far too much of my time thinking about the way in which my appearance affects the way in which others see me. Given the fact I spend every other week writing about it, I probably should be master of my own first impression by now. But the fact of the matter is that despite my best efforts—all the careful consideration I put into every facet of the way I look—I’ve learned recently that these efforts have somewhat backfired. Apparently people have been getting a message from my clothing that I never meant it to send, namely that I’m a self-possessed bitch.
When discussing this newfound issue with a friend, she ascribed it society’s tendency towards a sort of tribe mentality based on ways of dressing. She claimed that, in the US especially, we use clothing as a way to identify a ‘tribe’, meaning people like us. As a society, we have decided that a similarity in the way we dress and carry ourselves hints at something more than a similar color palette or an affinity for a certain type of fabric. We look at someone and figure we have a pretty good shot at guessing what books they read, music they listen to, etc and whether or not we will be able to find something in common with this person. We use ways of dressing as a sort of tribal markings allowing them to tell us with whom we should and shouldn’t associate.
We often decide that musical preference can be guessed at by tribe membership, but people also seem to firmly believe they can guess at unexpected things based on this fact alone. The more immersed in fashion I’ve become, the more I’ve fallen into the tribe of girls who care about the way they dress. Little did I know that some people have decided that one of the fundamental attributes of the tribe of girls who care about the way they dress is that all they care about is the way they dress. If that is not one of your defining characteristics, then you aren’t worth talking to, according to this tribe. I had always thought that by not being a bitch people wouldn’t think you were a bitch, but apparently this impression is determined solely by tribe affiliation. Apparently society has decided that the tribeswomen are stupid shallow and only worth as much as their Daddy’s credit card, but this tribe considers themselves to be above everyone who doesn’t consider the mall their mother ship.
Friendship is clearly based in common-interest. Obviously I love to talk about clothes, and I do see a really fabulous watch as a potential basis for a conversation in a way people who don’t care if their watch is fabulous might find excessive. But that 1-doesn’t mean I think a conversation about watches is better than a conversation about anything else (though I suppose the glee with which I discuss something I consider a truly great purchase might tell you otherwise). 2- it doesn’t mean I, or anyone else belonging to such a tribe, can’t talk about things besides fabulous watches. I sat next to a girl on a bus and a friendship was quickly ignited. Clothing was never mentioned. We spent the entire bus ride discussing the fact that we were both harboring a secret obsession with Panic! At the Disco long past the point when such an obsession was socially acceptable. It took her looking through my ipod and seeing how extensive my collection was (I even had the Live! In Chicago album) and actually getting to know each other as human beings (or at least as Panic! fans) to mutually discover the depths of our mania. We all clearly ascribe to a certain mode of dressing, and that does give the world a message about who we are. But no one wants to think that they are nothing but their tribe, and don’t have little hidden attributes no one would expect. (I’m looking at you, condescending bitch of a saleswoman at Land’s End. Just because I don’t wear smartwool socks to the mall does not mean I’ve never been on a hike before.) I like to think everyone’s a little more complex than that.
Hate to do it, but I gotta bring it back to my Germans. As in the philosophers. Kant’s obviously my boy. And in the Critique of Pure Reason (Critique of Pure Fashion, get it? Haha?), he separates the world into what he calls the phenomenal and the noumenal worlds. We access the world through our senses, and this is the world he calls the phenomenal world. The noumenal world is the world as it really is. This is the world we can’t access through sight feel or smell, it is the world of the thing-in-itself. All we know is the phenomenal world we can’t access the thing-in-itself, as we only gain knowledge of the world around us through our senses. But that doesn’t mean that the noumenal world isn’t there.
Kant probably never meant for this to be applied to the world of fashion, but that’s how I think of it. Yes, we do have access to a surface view of any given person, and yes, this impression is valid. Appearance is a part of the limited access we have to a person. Sight is a fundamental way through which we gain knowledge of the world. However, I like to think we all are people beyond this—we all have the noumenal worlds of our own brains that no one else will have access to because they can’t get inside our heads. Fashion and appearance is a way of controlling the phenomenal world the rest of humanity has access to, and maybe give some type of insight into the noumenal.
Tribes are a natural way of seeing the world, and categories make life easier. People are so varied, we want to find something basic to cling to. Putting people into tribes or categories helps us make the world and social relationships a little easier to navigate. It’s a lot less scary to enter into a conversation with someone that we can reasonably anticipate finding things to talk about with, and we obviously make this judgment based on things we find at the surface. But we also have to be aware of the fact that the surface isn’t all that’s there, and our tribe categorization doesn’t give us a complete peek into someone else’s mind.
So I realize this post is incredibly belated (Black Friday was ages ago, I know), but finals doesn’t exactly wait for me to have a new blog post, so I’m afraid you’ll have to bear with me.
I always hated the institution of Black Friday shopping. To me, it seemed utterly absurd. Why shop under less than ideal conditions? How can you possibly make a correct assessment of the quality and use of a particular garment when there are 7 other people clamoring for the same one? It didn’t seem feasible and didn’t seem pleasant. However, this year, Black Friday played matchmaker. I fell in love. It all started when my sister wanted a coat, and my assistance in finding one. Being on West Coast time, the idea of braving the midnight crowds seemed do-able, and we decided to make a trip of it, and hit up the suburban Macy’s. I felt fairly confident that, even given the greatest of discounts, I could take the bitches of the 847 down.
Upon entering the store, the crowds seemed less than hostile, though they to moved with a certain frantic gait. A phenomenon I attributed to most people chugging a Red Bull upon entry to combat the inevitable post-meal Turkey-coma. We were also met with a rack of doorbusters—a bunch of jackets and coats marked buy one, get one free. This was obviously a tantalizing offer, and my sister suggested we go in on such a deal together. As we combed the rack, I found a pea coat. It was cute, dark gray with big buttons, and heartily met with my sister’s approval, and she encouraged me to try it on.
I examined myself and the garment in the mirror and informed her that I have no use for a pea coat. I live in LA. I come back for Chicago winters, but hopefully for shorter and shorter increments of time. (I love my city but that shit’s brutal.) Buying a full-on coat wardrobe almost seemed counterproductive. So I kept my wits about me—I would not let the store goad me into buying something I didn’t need just because it was cheap. From my time in retail, I knew how sales worked. The corporation wanted me to buy this pea coat, but I was smarter than that. I was practical and rational.
So, I put the coat back on the rack, and continued my search for something exceptionally warm for my winter-bound sister.My mission was to find something for her, and I could not be sidetracked with shopping for myself. And that’s when I found it. The music stopped and time moved a bit more slowly. The lights dimmed, and the store was lit simply by the effulgent glow emanating from the striking gold accents of my precious. It was stunning. It was impeccable. It had pretty little ‘MK’s in the zippers. I knew from the moment I laid eyes on the new object of my affection, my closet, nay my life would no longer be complete without it. I grabbed the first one I saw off the rack and threw it on.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” I asked my sister, showing her my beloved. “I need this.”
“Are you serious?” She asked incredulously. “You just said you didn’t need a pea coat. You live in LA remember? I thought we just went over this.”
“Don’t be silly. I didn’t need that pea coat. I need this pea coat.”
My sister just rolled her eyes, and maybe she was right to do so. After all, in terms of practicality, no, this pea coat was not, by any means, a necessary addition to my closet. But it was love. And, as they say sometimes love doesn’t make sense. Sometimes love comes in the face of adversity and I can think of no more adverse circumstances than what was now 1:30 am on Black Friday. And what my sister didn’t seem to realize was that my passion wasn’t for the garment itself. My ardor was inspired by the way my treasure made me feel. From the moment I donned my wool-blend sweetheart, I felt glamorous. I knew that I could face any adversity with my asymmetrical, military inspired armor to protect me. I knew that the glow of infatuation would never quite fade from my cheeks whenever my body was adorned with my beloved’s magic.
“You’re ridiculous.” Was my sister’s only reply. I didn’t expect her to understand. She couldn’t grasp the depth of our connection. She would change her tune, however, once she saw me in my precious in the proper size. This one was the first I grabbed off the rack, and slightly too big. We’d show her how much we belonged together, once there was a perfect fit.
No love is without adversity, and ours found its first setback in the first few moments of courtship. In a moment akin to Juliet discovering Romeo’s last name, I discovered they no longer had my size. This set about a manic search throughout the entirety of the coat section. Every rack that contained even a glimmer of gold or a hint of sapphire wool must be searched. The coat department of Macy’s had been left like a warzone in the Black Friday hubub, coats scattered everywhere, none in their proper place. But no unceremonious pile was beyond by scrutiny. Despite my efforts, I was made fortune’s fool.
Disconsolate, I wandered over to the shoe department, hoping for something worthy of at least rebound, anything to take my mind off what seemed fated not to be. (My sister, pleased with her very warm and very discounted find was quick to remind me that the idea of retail therapy to combat the sadness of an unsuccessful shopping trip was “ridiculous”. But she was not coming away from the excursion empty-handed.) I moped past the in-store Starbucks (it remained open to caffeinate the weary shoppers) and entertained the idea of buying something, anything with chocolate. That’s what people do in these situations, right?
At around 2, my beleaguered sister and mother decided they had had enough of the mania, and we decided to head towards the checkout. As we stood in line, I was then hit with a stroke of brilliance that maybe I had overlooked due to the late hour: I could ask an employee for help. God I was a problem solver. I told my cohorts to hold our place while I went to go grab my last shred of hope. Maybe, just maybe, we could find a way to be together. I raced back, just as my mother reached the register and slammed the coat onto the counter.
“Is she with you?” The woman at the register asked my mother. The look on her face hinted at a desire to call security.
“Oh, yeah, sorry. Don’t worry I didn’t, like, cut or anything.” I tried to laugh, though I was still panting slightly.
“You never know on days like this.” She said, knowingly. “People are crazy.”
I asked her if the coat was on the system as being anywhere in the store. When the results turned up negative, I figured that was it. Then, the woman whose name tag informed me she was called ‘Betty’ became my saving grace with a few simple words: “We can order it for you.”
Half an hour and much confusion with shipping addresses later, my mother and sister trudged back to the car, feeling the effects of the fact that it was now 2:30 in the morning. I however, was immune, and was bounding back to the car floating on a cloud of endorphins. Parting was certainly sorrowful, but sweetened by the fact that we would be reunited in 3 to 5 business days. All was right with the world.
Coat: Michael Kors, Pants: Genetic Denim, Boots: Sorel, Hat: Courtesy of the lovely and talented Rachel Black
I’m not gonna lie, this morning was pretty rough. The sky was gloomy, and it looked like the day would be as close to chilly as is possible in Southern California. The night before during my typical 3 am insomnia-induced Buffy session, my laptop managed to crash onto the ground. So, this morning, when my sleep-deprived self wanted to listen to some uplifting music, my lovely little Macbook was unresponsive. So, essentially, this day started out as the definition of a fuck-this-day and I wanted to go back to bed before I had even gotten in the shower. Lovely.
The point of this story was not to engender the sympathy of my fair readers, but to contemplate the outfit choices made in the wake of apparent tragedy. Part of me wanted to go the route of sweatpants. When was the last time you had an exceptionally great day in your old high school gym attire? Cause I kind of doubt it. Squirrel suit days are the days you just skate through. Since sleep was such a large factor in my morning struggle, I figured dressing like I was in bed would make the-curling-up-into-a-little-ball I so longed for far easier. Sometimes you just want to dress for sympathy, showing the world your despondency with your choice of attire. People need know that they are supposed to feel sorry for you God dammit!
With that in mind, I reached into my incredibly disorganized closet for my yoga pants and my hand touched denim. Intrigued by the unexpected material, I investigated further. And what I pulled out made the overcast sky and cooler temperatures seem like a sign from God. It was pants weather. And in my hands were pants. Amazing pants. They were a recent acquisition from a second hand store that reaffirmed my belief that anything with vertical stripes is undeniably fun. They were totally unique, but not so outrageous as to feel like a costume, they made a statement. They were not pants that would allow me to simply slide through the day, unnoticed in my languor. I didn’t feel quite like myself, but those pants were so me I figured I might as well fake it till I make it. But I took the lack of sunshine in LA as a sign that the universe wanted me in those jeans.
The day that followed was not my best. There was a quiz I didn’t know about in Chinese and a near death experience involving my phone and a toilet. But this day did teach me that it’s really hard to mope when you’re wearing really cool pants. A compliment can help break up the weary expression that accompanies a lack of sleep and the fear that your clumsiness cost you 2000 dollars. People smiled when they saw what I was wearing, which just made me smile back. It reminded me that feeling like you look good can make up for a lot of the shit life throws at you. Dressing like you’re brooding just keeps you in that mindset. I’m not saying that a great outfit heals all wounds, but sometimes it can serve as a really cool-looking Band-Aid. And if you aren’t feeling confident in yourself, at least you can feel confident in your pants.
My sister and I did far too much shopping this summer. It was July. I was in Europe and there were sales. The amount of damage I did to my bank account balance is really not my fault. There’s no better way to take in a city than to wander around the streets o and pop into any store that looks remotely interesting. It was in Amsterdam, therefore, in a store called Supertrash I had never heard of that I found sneaker wedges. Not just any sneaker wedges, though. Ones with cut outs. 80% off sneaker wedges (again it’s the big foot advantage). It had to be too good to be true. So of course, I started to overthink the shoes. Sneaker wedges? Really? Could I pull them off? People who wear sneaker wedges are cool. Not only were they cool, but they’re a specific type of cool person. A glamorous person. A girl who wears sneaker wedges has interesting places to go and people they need to impress when they get there (but they do need to get there, hence the sneaker). She has to be both practical and fabulous, cause she’s doing things but looking great while doing them. Was I that person? Could I even fake being that person?
These shoes weren’t me. They by no means fit in with my general aesthetic. I tend to dress vintage and cutesy, not hyper trendy. Yes, I have to get from point A to point B, so I guess my life necessitates the sneakers, but I don’t necessarily go interesting enough places or live a glamorous enough existence to demand any type of heel whatsoever.
Despite my hesitations, I walked around the store a bit with them on, and checked myself out in the mirror. Over the course of my stroll, I came to a realization, a fashion Ah-ha moment if you will: wearing the sneaker wedges made me feel like a person who wears sneaker wedges. Even if I wasn’t cool or glamorous and my shit was by no means really together, I felt like it looked like it. That slight amount of suede encasing my foot and the bit of rubber under my heel just made me feel cool. The way the little lift of my foot made walk put some swing in my hips. I liked the person I saw in the mirror. She looked glamorous. She looked cool. She looked like maybe her shit was pretty much together.
Maybe me wearing sneaker wedges is somewhat disingenuous. I always say fashion is an argument, and maybe the argument I’m making by wearing sneaker wedges is totally false. But maybe I’m ok with it. Yeah my outfit might not be particularly true to my life, but I enjoyed the ‘me’ that I felt like I was wearing it. What you wear can argue who you are, but it can also shape the way you feel, which in some ways changes who you are. Maybe I’m not actually cool enough to wear a crop top and rock the whole sweat pants look. But I like the way I feel when I try to, and I think fashion is about expressing who you are, but also who you want to be.
Sneaker Wedges: Supertrash, Top: Akira Chicago, Pants: Nina Kendosa Paris
Another outfit that undoubtedly requires contemplation is what to wear on the first day of school. Obviously, second year of college the outfit isn’t as big of a deal, and you’re only making a genuine first impression on a fraction of the people in your class (especially at a small liberal arts type of school). So, no, first day of classes outfit does not require the same level of deliberation as other outfits, it’s also not a day people tend to just roll out of bed either. Even my male friends have admitted to putting slightly more thought into their apparel than they ordinarily would, as they are fully cognizant of the fact that there will be some type of impression made.
The question of what to wear on the first day of school encapsulates the entire idea of why we wear what we wear. It’s another outfit that requires balance—the level of blank slate versus exhibition of personality. Obviously you want to make some type of statement about who you are as an individual, but not make so strong a statement that people don’t feel a need to get to know you beyond your clothes. You know that in this moment, in this outfit you are saying something about yourself, and you are the master of your own first impression, able to make people think that you are any type of person.
For my freshman year of high school, I remember this same debate running through my mind. I remember thinking back to High School movies and the stereotypes that every single individual portrayed in them seemed to adhere to, and not wanting to be thought of as strictly any of them. I wanted my peers to think of me as a blank slate, someone who they would have to get to know in order to think they knew me at all. With the desire to be a tabula rasa in mind, I opted for a white tee-shirt, Converse low-tops and blue jeans. I didn’t know who I was at 15, so I wasn’t about to make a strong statement about it. You can’t make an argument if you don’t know what to say, so I opted to keep quiet.
This time around, I didn’t labor over things as much. I am still obviously over-analytical, but I’m slightly less anal ie give a few less fucks than I did back then. It was only somewhat serendipitous, therefore that my first day of school outfit this year was reminiscent of what I had worn back then. The same principle of not wanting to be judged too much still held true, but I also did want people to be somewhat more aware of who I was as an individual, because I was more aware of who I was as well.
I had been feeling the skirt from the get-go, but finding a top to balance out the volume without being too skanky or too flowy was the mission of the morning. The winner ended up being this nicely long Victoria’s Secret crop I got from the thrift store. The basic-ness of such an ensemble was amended by the addition of the sandals. Not the boldest of outfits, but still exhibiting some form of communication. Studded bright orange Steve Maddens to me say “I’m really fun and sturdy enough to be relied upon, but also don’t fuck with me. Also I’m cute.” Or at least that’s what the shoes were saying to me. There’s something I find very true about this statement in regards to myself, so I let my sandals do some of the talking for me.
Clearly there’s a lot more that goes into a first impression than just the outfit. (Interestingly enough everyone I met on the first day of high school thought I was a bitch, so my attempt to transcend judgment was clearly unsuccessful.) However, the part clothing plays in the first moment of meeting someone is undeniable, and balancing the first impression is essential.
One day this summer I found myself pretty much loathing a good 50 percent of the population. Over the course of the 40 minutes it took me to get to work the morning in question, I decided I hated men. That is obviously rather dramatic. Not all men are pigs, and I know only some were the perpetrators of what I saw as an affront to my feminine ideals. However, I couldn’t help my feelings of enmity toward the gender en masse.
When I got dressed that morning, I was feeling my getup. I had just gotten a new pale pink lace top from the thrift store. It seemed tight enough to tuck into my sailor-inspired shorts, and allow them to make their first appearance of the summer. Blush generally doesn’t do wonders for my complexion, so I decided to add some pearls, which would put enough white close to my face to fool the eye into thinking my cheeks had some color. (My Caspar status makes tricks like this a necessity, and I will never be able to pull off oatmeal, but that’s another post.) The whole pearls thing felt rather Blair Waldorf, so I decided to run with it and throw on some knee-highs. That level of Upper East Side didn’t feel quite ‘me’, so I thought a jacket with a bit of edge would complete the look. Grey seemed to work with the color palette, making the tailored-sweater jacket the winner. My outfit was complete, and I had already put far too much mental energy into my outfit, and was ready to expend more on my way to work.
My summer job was at a boutique on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. My commute involves 2 trains and a short walk from the station to Water Tower Place. A bit of a pain, but not particularly arduous. Over the course of this journey my get-up turned from a source of pride to one of resentment. Not because I was questioning my choice of high socks (I have yet to encounter a moment when high socks have been a regrettable decision, and strongly doubt I ever will.) It was the response of the men I encountered that made me question the choices made that morning.
They simply would not stop commenting on my outfit, giving me attention I found to be exhausting and degrading. The man standing next to me on the train platform made it clear it wasn’t the cohesion of my ensemble he was appreciating when he told me he liked my outfit and then winked. (He actually winked.) And, yes, there may have been a little bit of cheek-age, but did that give the man on the escalator the right to call me ‘Baby’ and tell me he liked my shorts?
Maybe these men thought that these degrading comments were somehow compliments. Maybe they thought that the fact that they liked the amount of leg I was showing would somehow make me feel better about myself. But I wasn’t dressing to please them. There’s a reason the word is ‘objectification’. They denied my personhood by taking an outfit I intended to be about expression of ‘self’ and making it an expression of ‘ass’. Their comments negated the careful consideration I put into each element of my outfit, negated my thoughts and made it all about the physical element of my body. (And I am aware that the level of thought I put in was rather ridiculous.) But the way the shorts worked within the context of the outfit was intended as something far more unique than showing something as generic as my thigh. I had fun putting together the various pieces of the look like a little puzzle, finding the way each one fits in context. They took that fun and made it feel dirty.
Obviously women dress to look attractive. Did I have that in mind? Absolutely. I want to dress in a way that will show off my body to its best advantage. I want to highlight the areas I’m proud of, but it’s for my own, and not the creepers on the streets benefit. Through all the thinking I did about what I was wearing, the sexual response of the guys on the street didn’t even enter my mind. I work in a boutique. I’m supposed to dress like I know clothes, so I can sell them to people. I would clearly be lying if I said I didn’t care what people think of the way I dress. I do. I care about what people whose opinions I respect think of my ensemble, and not whether or not strangers find me sexually appealing. I didn’t consider these randos as I was putting on those shorts in the morning, and neither them, nor my ass, was intended to be the focal point of my outfit. I was dressing with customers, with my clothes-horse co-workers and, most importantly, myself in mind. Clothes are about the human being inside of them, and the stares and comments made it clear that I was no longer an individual but a hyper-sexualized display of skin.
I don’t want to have to retire the shorts. I love the fun, sailor vibe, and I feel kind of like I belong at the beach in the 1950’s in them. I don’t want to give that up because the men near the Chicago red line can’t keep their libidos in check. However, I want to feel good about myself in my clothes, and I simply can’t if that’s the way people will respond when I wear them. Regardless, I packed them up for school this year, and maybe if I’m feeling cheeky they’ll make an appearance.
Top: Thrifted, Pearls: No idea, courtesy of my jewelry box, Jacket: Nollie, Shorts: Zara, Socks: Stolen from my Mother, Shoes: Thrifted