Photographed by Jennifer Trahan.
If I told you that I recently purchased a shirt made of children’s bedding material, would you think I A) was a creep, B) had lost a bet, or C) was pursuing the next, obvious evolution of my style? While A and B might seem like the only reasons a grown woman would choose to drape herself in a blankie, the truth of the matter is this shirt completely changed how I think about getting dressed.
It all started a month ago when I came across @napkinapocalypse on Instagram. Cortny Jaedtke, the girl behind the feed, is a trained falconer, an animal lover, and a designer who brings wit, intelligence, and weird to everything she does. A typical post could be anything from her french bulldog, Pam, wearing sunglasses and driving a child’s motorized car to Snoball, her other dog, sleeping outside with a paw cuddled around an also-sleeping owl. When it came to pets being bizarre, Cortny was my girl, and my loyalty to her Instagram led me to click on a note about her Etsy clothing shop, Napkin.
Napkin is a mix of fuzzy, sparkly crop tops, colorful and cartoon button-ups, and dip-dyed jean jackets — and while they're all very creative and well-made, I was sure that the clothes were not for me. After all, I’m a fashion blogger! And writer! I read the Financial Times' style section! Names! Brands! I’m fancy! Then, there it was: The Shirt. A short-sleeved button-up with big, nearly neon cars, trucks, and buses. Like star-crossed lovers, that shirt and I were not supposed to be together. So, I closed the browser. Then, I opened it again. I’d been wearing black for seven months, and that colorful shirt was like a beacon on the Internet. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I had no idea what I would wear it with, and literally no clue how I would style it, but I bought it anyway. And, it destroyed any bit of fashion snobbery I had in me.
Photographed by Jennifer Trahan.
Before I found Napkin, I was struggling to figure out exactly what I wanted my style to be, and at that time, the only thing I could decide on was that I wanted my look to be expensive. Obviously "expensive" is not a style. In fact, it’s kind of a cop out. It’s easy to get sucked into a pattern with your style, sticking to the same throw-on formula from the same mall stores. It’s even easier to get brainwashed into thinking you only want high-end, luxury brands. But, when we don’t branch out and try new silhouettes and new ideas, or peruse Etsy shops and vintage outlets, if we don’t challenge ourselves, how can we ever expect to grow?
When I asked Cortny to describe her own style, she couldn’t really put it into words. The closest she could come to a definition was “not trying to be sexy all the time,” which I thought sounded a lot better than “boho chic.” Perhaps I, too, have yet to find my sound-bite description. Maybe I don’t need to.
By buying that shirt (and an awesome vintage sweater with “Napkin” sewn on the front in Japanese), I was supporting an independent designer who believes in sustainability, honest production methods, and dressing with a sense of humor. I was supporting an artist who wants to grow her business, but not at the risk of her own integrity. I was integrating into my wardrobe a sense of freedom to be, and wear, whoever and whatever might bring me joy. It’s obvious that The Shirt was way more to me than just…a shirt.
I learned so much just from those few yards of fabric. I learned that style is not static, and does not require digestible labels, like "boho chic," or "preppy." It means wearing something that challenges your long-held belief about what you should put on every day and what those things say about you. It’s pushing your own boundaries so that your aesthetic can evolve. It made me realize that I have the ability to make any piece of clothing my own, by adapting it to my own style (no definition needed). It gave me the confidence to buy what I like, and not worry about what anyone else thinks. It encouraged me to look outside of mass-market stores and spendy designers for new pieces to love.
What I didn’t realize before is that by narrowing my view of what I wanted to wear, I was cutting myself off from discovering what my fashion identity could really be. Now that my closet's met the napkinapocalypse, the possibilities really do seem endless. By buttoning myself into a baby sheet emblazoned with pink cars and yellow school buses, I really grew up.