When I was a senior in high school my show chorus director told us that he wanted to go in a different direction for our big concert. “No black and white,” he said. “I want you to dress like you live in SoHo and got dressed in the dark, without a mirror.” I grinned. I immediately knew what I was going to wear. When I later asked him if he had been thinking of my personal aesthetic, Mr. Morisette admitted that he had been going for that “cool” look. When I told my fellow alto about the admission I was laughing, but she was frustrated. “If he had just said ‘dress like Patsy’ I would have known what he meant!” she complained. I’m not sure she knew what SoHo was. (For the record I’m pretty sure I wore some sort of mix of patterns to that concert. I know I wore my favorite shirt at the time, a tank top I’d bought in boston that looked like it was covered in ginormous sprinkles.) My fashion sense is the second biggest thing I get asked about on a regular basis. The biggest is my cooking, which I’ve already written about somewhat on this blog. But I’ve avoided writing about fashion. I’m not sure why. Partly because it sort of feels like bragging, like talking about myself too much. Partly because it feels so personal. I didn’t always love clothes. In fact, I used to hate them. I felt it was my job as a modern woman (see: 13 year old) to eschew all the artifacts of femininity: skirts, dresses, makeup, clothes with shape. If I wear makeup, I thought, it’s because I don’t like my own face enough. Paying attention to current fashion trends meant I wasn’t paying attention to more important things. I was a serious adult. (Maybe I was 14 at this point.) I cared about serious things. But I didn’t like myself. My too-big, shapeless shirts, my lots and lots of black (I was clearly lying to myself about not paying attention to clothes), the sweats picked out due to their “practicality”…they all were a big, flashing neon sign that said STAY AWAY. Only not as pretty. Not putting makeup on my face didn’t mean I liked it. Throwing clothes on my body without caring if they fit didn’t mean I was proud of myself. I just told myself that was what it meant. I blame a lot of my interest in fashion on my time living in Germany, but really I think that living in Germany happened to happen at the same time that I started growing up. And I grew up in a place with a lot of amazing food and a lot of amazing clothes. That certainly had an effect. But mostly I realized that I didn’t like hating myself anymore, and even more I didn’t like hating other people. You see, I didn’t just believe that me putting on makeup meant I hated my face. I believed that of everyone who put on makeup, who picked out nice clothes, who cared how they looked. I labeled a huge amount of people as vacuous, self-centered and stupid all without knowing them. Literally based on their appearance alone. That made it pretty difficult to make friends, and it made it difficult to be happy. When you are going around judging everyone for their use of mascara you have little self left to appreciate what’s good. You’re just kind of a miserable person whose eyes hurt from being narrowed at the world all the time.
Clothes–and, slowly, makeup–have become a creative outlet for me. When I’ve been too burnt out and busy from college to write or create, I could always put together a kick-ass outfit. When I’m too sick to leave the house I can swipe on some wild lipstick. I learned that the amount of confidence it takes to go to high school dressed entirely in taupe, or in a shirt covered in what look like sprinkles, makes a person a lot more fun to be around. It’s not something that happens all at once. But I feel like I can actually say that it has made me a more creative and even a better person.
Ask anyone who’s gone clothes shopping with me: I’m both the worst and the best shopping date. The worst because if I actually want to shop for myself I will comb endlessly though all the racks, try everything on, hedge and hem and haw and eventually–after hours of this–leave with maybe two or three pieces. The best because I push the poor sucker along with me into trying on things they’d never consider, encourage them to think about themselves in new contexts and endlessly find new things that they will like in the racks. The worst because I almost never say that no, it isn’t worth buying, especially at that price.