It didn’t take seeing myself name nominated in the Most Stylish category for Senior Superlatives to know that I had style. I knew that my skinny jeans and graphic tees were brilliant combinations worthy of sartorial praise, and I had a feeling that any time I wore my H&M houndstooth sweater, leggings as pants, and practical black shoes, I was the definition of ’60s-era mod, brought back to life in the mid-aughts. Nobody could touch my uniquely crafted wardrobe—so when I eventually saw my name on the Superlative ballot, I thought my peers would automatically circle my name without much thought. Regardless, I made sure to refresh people’s memories of my aesthetic on voting day by wearing high-waist boot cut denim, with a tucked in, striped button down—top buttons undone, of course—a charming sterling silver necklace, and red patent leather pumps I’d found in my aunt’s closet. And to really seal the deal, I forced the newspaper staff to capture my outfits for a week.
But, I lost. I was robbed of my self-imagined title of Most Fashionable Person in the Whole Damn Senior 2009 Class by a leggy girl who sometimes wore athletic garb, but often stuck to her mainstay of fitted jeans (probably Abercrombie), trendy blouses (probably Anthropologie, or something), and whichever shoes were the shoe of the moment.
To say I was devastated would be a disservice to my trying-to-keep-it-cool demeanor, but I will admit that I was a bit upset. I thought my standout style would finally get me some sort of acceptance and that my peers understood the value of individuality. Not just that, though. I really felt I understood what fashion was. I kept up with all of my favorite style magazines, I went to Teen Vogue Fashion U where I watched Vera Wang, Tim Gunn, and Tommy Hilfiger, give talks on the institution of fashion. I thought that having every color on the spectrum represented in my closet was a way to always have options. Fashion, for me, at that point, was a way to show the personality I wanted everyone to see—the funny, outgoing, and bubbly Chanel.
Now it’s like I’m a completely different person, sort of. Instead of pulling out the houndstooth sweater, I’m pulling on a loose white button up, and unlike my tight jeans of the past, I’m wearing a more relaxed fit. Looking back at my past self makes me cringe—mostly in a totally “aww look at who I thought I was” way, but a cringe nonetheless. I feel this disconnect between how I dressed then and what I wear now. And it’s dawned on me that in high school, I may have had fashion-knowledge but I didn’t quite know who I was. That lack of self-awareness is why I draped myself in a vast variety of clothing that never quite fit a single narrative.
In other words, I was complicated and thus had a complicated relationship with how I showed myself to the world. I chased trends, sure, and while I don’t quite regret those bodacious outfits, I jumped from chunky knits, polka dots, and lime green accents to construct a construct that I don’t totally believe was even there. In order to explore that interesting period of my life (which extended through college), I decided to dissect a few of my outfits real quick.
The “Fancy” Dress That’s Not That Fancy
Just for context’s sake, this is me jamming at a friend’s sweet 16. Whew, I got my wear out of this dress: I also wore it one year to homecoming, and it was my go-to for fancy functions. But if that’s what I considered fancy, then I don’t think I set the bar high enough! I really thought that bringing back vintage silhouettes and cuts would make me “cool.”
The Statement Jacket
OK, I would probably still wear that jacket today, but I’m not sure what I was trying to achieve by pairing it with a wordy shirt that is one hundred percent from American Eagle. It says something about “sailboat blue,” and I think I was trying to portray that I was a well-read person yet still a little badass, hence the fake patches on my fake military coat. In reality, I was mostly rereading Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters and I was an avid rule follower, so no literary genius or badassery over here.
The Clever T-shirt
“Veggie Power?” Seriously?? SERIOUSLY?? I was literally a walking campaign for Michelle Obama’s school lunch reform even before she was the First Lady, so I’m kind of upset I wasn’t handpicked to be the face. Other than that, seeing myself wear that shirt conveys to me that I was trying to be ironic—but if I’m going to be extra honest with myself, it was irony in a way that likely came off as inauthentic. I don’t really do things out of irony, because then I just feel like a phony who’s trying to be cool. But that was my plight in high school: No matter what and no matter what group I was in, I was just trying to be cool in the most understated way.
The Rainbow Connection Scarf
I loved color. I say “loved” because the brightest color I wear these days is red. But back then, I was given a highlighter-orange knit cap that I thought went with any outfit. On top of that, I would add my rainbow scarf at any opportunity, whether it was with a simple white T-shirt or my pastel pink Uggs. If you asked me at age 15 what my favorite color was, I couldn’t answer with just one shade, rather I said “all colors” with earnest enthusiasm. But the color vomit that was my closet allowed me to be different people and and brought me closer to finding my true style and self.
I didn’t and still don’t think it was a bad thing to change up my style (even if I’m a little embarrassed by it now). Sometimes in life we feel lost and, for me, that manifest in my chameleon-worthy wardrobe. My high school years allowed me to revel in the beauty of caring about fashion, because I created these personas, using clothing, that defined me in a way that I couldn’t emote or put into words. That’s the connection that me currently and me circa 2005-2009 share, we’re both still using hemlines, chunky shoes, and scarves to define what grasp we have on ourselves.
Now that we’ve dug through these figurative and literal layers of fabrics, we can just consider this my honorary Most Stylish acceptance speech. ♦