When “What’s In” Puts You Out

When I was in grade seven, I went with my Mom to Northern Getaway and convinced her to buy me a sweatsuit. But not just any sweatsuit: one consisting of fuschia pants and a cream top adorned with a cartoon dog, cartoon cat, and cartoon mouse — that buttoned on and off. I was in heaven. I felt cute. I felt comfortable. The younger kids looked awesome wearing N.G. at school, and while most of my classmates had begun shopping at the Gap (which we couldn't afford), I was proud of the fuschia splurge, and couldn't wait to show it off to everyone in Mrs. McGrath's class — particularly Steve, who I was obsessed. (Think of me as Tina from Bob's Burgers.)

But I don't think I need to tell you how it went over. While everyone was polite enough not to say what they thought to my face, I was still destroyed when my shirt was ruined with pastels following a particularly messy art lesson. It was all in vain. The sweater, the pants, the button-on mouse that only I seemed to care about. I felt like a kid (and I was — I was only 12), and I wanted nothing more to fit in. So by grade 10 (because, tragically, it took three years to work my way up to socially-acceptable clothing), I began wearing pleather pants, polyester shirts, and platform heels. The days of Northern Getaway were over! I was going to look hot.

And I hated it. Oh my GOD, I hated it. I hated it even more when the "popular" girls at my new high school intervened to tell me that if I was to uphold the group's reputation, I better start dressing "sluttier" and "show everything off." I wanted to bang the receiver against the wall, but instead I bought tighter tops. Tops that eventually became quite baggy thansk to when I started dressing "punk" (what?!) in hopes of fitting into the skater posse. (Read: Trying to convince this guy to like me.)

I never did (and neither did he). Instead, I walked around wearing men's t-shirts, Dickie's pants, and skate shoes despite not even being able to stand on a board. I wasn't comfortable, I didn't feel like myself. And I continued not to feel like myself throughout the rest of my teens (Old Navy/Bluenotes-oriented), early 20s (American Eagle, and lots of it), and mid-20s (I dressed like a posterchild for the grunge movement — which looks terrific on people it suits, but absolutely did not work with me), until recently, when I finally figured, "Screw it — I'm just going to dress how I like."

And such is the magic ticket. Trends are great, and runways are rich with inspiration, but that's where the line should stop. Since fashion is art, it's supposed to be a form of expression, not a be-all and end-all of aesthetic relevence. If designers abided by trends and created based solely on what's "cool" and what's "hip," they wouldn't be artists. The most fashionably relevent people abide by their own style code, choosing not to compromise their taste for a chance to win "best dressed." Who even comes up with those lists? "Experts," yes — but subjective experts. In reality, there's no wrong way to dress, there's no fashion police. It's all on you, and what you feel best in.

I hate trends. For the most part, while I see how they can look good on some people, they never seem to work with me. I've always over-romanticized the past (at least style-wise), so I dress to suit myself. If it's on-point, terrific. If not, it's not of my concern. Trends can improve an outfit, or they can take away, but like we learned with the Von Dutch movement of the early 2000s, sometimes committing to a look that you feel nothing for will leave you out $50 and in a shame spiral. (Hi.) There's a quote I love: "We're blank canvases in the morning, and we paint ourselves." And while there's room for what's "in" on that canvas, there's also room for what you love, and what you feel good in, and what makes you feel like the best version of yourself. Whether that's an it-bag or a Northern Getaway sweatsuit is up to you — but don't worry about whether it's right, wrong, or in this season.

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Tags: being yourself, essay, expression, Northern Getaway, self esteem, style, trends

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