I never thought that the simple joy I got from curating an outfit would ever diminish. Putting the elements together like a wearable collage was always fun, and it came naturally. When I stopped getting excited about dressing up, I knew something was wrong: It was my job. Nothing had ever been more paralyzing to my personal style than working in the fashion industry.
I stood in front of my closet surveying my inventory. There was dress after dress, organized by color, hanging coyly on the racks. I thumbed past the psychedelic baby pink shifts covered in acid-trip geometric swirls that could best be described as Pucci meets Poochie. Next, I moved past the black lace blouse with batwing sleeves that always reminded me of Stevie Nicks singing to Lindsey Buckingham in that “Silver Springs” video. Finally, behind the 10-year-old flamingo patterned, button-down H&M dress that always surprised people when I divulged its origin, there they were: the stack of novelty-print dresses I had acquired during my role in the buying department of an online apparel company. I pulled out the stack and made sure they were photo-shoot ready, so I could prepare them to be sold on eBay. Goodbye, I thought to myself. My time with them was through.
I had never purchased anything from this company before working there. A lot of the dresses spoke to my particular style, but as someone who usually stuck to the $20 to $30 range, I found their price points a bit high. My wardrobe was a mix of thrift-store scores, hand-me-downs from friends, and my once-in-awhile splurges: the Betsey Johnson pieces from her shops before they all went out of business (RIP!) and extra special vintage dresses that were out of my normal budget. My trendy, fast-fashion pieces were usually from no-name clothing stores, along with the occasional mall-bought item from H&M, Macy’s, or JCPenney (I loved the Charlotte Ronson diffusion line.) Soon enough, a massive employee discount and recurring sample sales would change all of that.
As someone who once founded a Flickr group called “Dress Obsessed,” it was thrilling to go to work and be surrounded by gorgeous, colorful frocks in every crazy animal/object/insert-here print imaginable. I absolutely loved it, but when you are someone who finds solace in the simple magic of spinning sartorial poetry, having everything laid out for you makes the magic disappear to a certain extent.
Why would I scour thrift stores and flea markets for interesting pieces when there was a buffet of them right in front of me? So, I stopped doing that. I’d put on a new dress with a random print, some matching tights, and boom — I was done. It was effortless, but there was no more excitement. One day, when I realized I was wearing the company’s products from head to toe, I felt like I'd been stripped of my personal style.
I started blogging back in 2008, which is now considered to be the olden days, though it has also been referred to by some as “The Golden Age of Blogging.” There were amazing bloggers who are sadly defunct or MIA. We all had some questionable moments, but people like Susie Bubble, Cherry Blossom Girl, and Kingdom of Style ruled the scene (they're still going strong!), and we all eventually found our footing.
At the risk of sounding like a bitter old memaw (Get off my lawn!), it was different back then. There was more creativity. If you wanted a truly unique look, you had to pull it out of your imagination, then pull one piece of it from the back of your closet, the other from a vintage shop, make another component yourself, then fit all of these together like a puzzle and make it look good without the benefit of Instagram filters. There weren’t as many cool retail options as there are now, where we can just add an entire outfit to cart, as inspired by a brand ambassador tastemaker. Brands were barely getting on the blog bandwagon, so bloggers and readers, alike, relied more on our own aesthetic sensibilities and the resources closest to home. Now, everyone and their mom looks straight out of an Anthropologie window display: professionally styled, thoughtfully coordinated.
It’s cool to have watched the scene evolve, but the result feels to me like “style” is something that’s handed over instead of personally cultivated. Because of how easy and accessible it is to peer into someone else’s life and closet these days, there are practically blueprints for achieving your own (or, more accurately, their) look. How much of it is really personal anymore? In my line of work, I had become guilty both of handing over and following the blueprints.
I was once asked in an interview to describe my personal wardrobe aesthetic. I responded, “1960s Satanic French schoolgirl with just a touch of baby hoodrat.” Another time, someone told me that I looked like “Minnie Mouse going to a funeral.” These style roots run deep, as you can imagine, and my fashion-job transformation wasn't an immediate one.
It took a while for me to adapt to my handed-over-to-me style, but those sample sales and slashed prices really did take hold. I hadn’t touched my favorite jacket in months (a black '90s windbreaker with a big rhinestone-studded tiger face on the back). My Earth Girls Are Easy-meets-diner-waitress dress became an old forgotten friend. The black-fringed, neon floral poncho that my best friend found at a Japanese vintage stores was sitting in the back of the closet collecting dust. I felt ill. Where was my Gonzo gothic adventurousness?
Some people might think working at a cool clothing company would up their style game, but for me it was the opposite. With access to new, pre-styled dresses on the regular, and, okay, my inability to say no to that access, shit got old. I’d pick up a new piece from work and wear it only once or twice before handing it off to friends. I had let myself become apathetic. It wasn’t like I was forced to wear the company’s clothing, it was just so easy to. And, easy access beget laziness. I was like a sloth of style. The monotony had killed my fashion libido.
Nowadays, I’m back to my original garb (knee socks!), with some new favorites thrown in (suspender tights!). While I’ve dedicated myself to restocking my closet with vintage, I won’t turn my nose up at a trendy fast-fashion item that I love. But, I also won’t let them overtake my wardrobe ever again. I’ve packed up my novelty dresses so other people can appreciate them more. It’s not that they were ever wrong, they're just wrong for a girl like me.