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?
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
Sorry for getting preachy and wordy and not posting pictures with this one, but I just needed to get a little bit of a rant out of my system. You see, I have one mall-going quirk that consistently frustrates those I shop with: I refuse to go into Forever 21. I know I sound like a snob (remember: thrifting is my thing), but I have zero desire to give that store my patronage. The store lacks the organization necessitated by something that size and the racks are simply un-shoppable. Also, it’s destroying the environment.
Let’s focus on that last statement (I doubt I have to convince anyone of how overwhelming walking into that store can be—do it and you’ll see what I mean). I knew I didn’t enjoy the experience of going there, but I wasn’t able to validate my dislike until I did a bit more research on their manufacturing practices. Forever 21 and stores of its ilk (Zara, Charlotte Russe) are low-profit margin, high sales volume retailers. In other words they sell clothes at low prices, make a small amount of each individual item, but sell enough to still make massive amounts of money.
And this business model works. I can certainly testify to the dire reality of the closet-full of nothing to wear issue, one that can seemingly only be solved through wearing down ones credit card a bit more. Trends are constantly changing, which seems to necessitate a constant flow of new items into ones wardrobe. These retailers capitalize on this need, giving women access to trendy items being sold for low prices. This sounds like heaven, why is it an issue?
Well, for one, it’s the environment. When a woman buys a something she knows is big for that season, she only anticipates wearing it for a short period of time. She didn’t buy her high-low for its practicality, she bought it because she felt dramatic and maybe a little bit like a fairy when she wore it with that adorable crop top she got last week. Once she’s over it she’ll get rid of it.
Consumers don’t buy these things with the intention of wearing them every day, and the manufacturers don’t make them to allow them to do so. In order to have high enough sales-volumes for these chain stores to make a profit, their factories need to churn out a huge amount of clothing. When their concern is speed of production, quality inevitably suffers. We think about it every time we throw away a candy wrapper, but we don’t consider the waste created when throwing away a piece of clothing. We try to recycle plastic bottles, and re-use materials, but these poorly made garments are made to fall apart before they can be re-used. People aren’t about to go to a tailor to have their 10-dollar skirt fixed. It just ain’t gonna happen.
These factories are creating waste and smog along with the acid-wash cutoffs (I knew they looked evil), creating further environmental degradation. To meet the high demand (and to keep the price of the item low) the factories also pay their workers next to nothing and make them work insane hours.
Obviously I’m not the first person to mention human rights violations in the same breath as the manufacture of clothing, and excess in manufacture is clearly not so good for the health of things like forests. I get why these stores flourish. I don’t go to Forever 21, but I somehow find myself in Zara on the weekly, and I will admit they are perpetrators of the same problem (the Spanish retail giant only takes 2 weeks to get a design from the drawing board to the store). For those of us interested in fashion, being cognizant of the effect our habits have on more than just our bank account is essential.
The more consumers are made aware of the issues surrounding the impact of what they buy and wear the more retailers will be forced to respond, and maybe change their ways. Consumers can attempt to buy clothes considering the potential for further use, and make sure they at least have that in mind. We gotta stay current, obvi, but maybe using some methods to make our clothes last a little longer is just what we gotta do.
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