Lauren Otis is a freelance writer living in New York. Her work has been featured in Complex, Cosmopolitan, Time Out New York, Paper, Kidult, and others. When she isn't crafting features for the 'net, she enjoys dreaming up theme parties and dragging friends to bad horror movies.
For starters, I know exactly what you're thinking. ("Gross. This is probably one of those girls I've seen getting carried out of Dorrian's," which for non-NYers, is a notorious Upper East Side bar favored by critter pants enthusiasts across the Tri-state area.)
Not the case.
My 18-year-old self would likely have murdered me for uttering such a thing aloud (or at the very least, flinched at the title). Having grown up in New York City, the transition to my markedly preppy college, where it suddenly felt like everyone around me looked and dressed exactly the same, proved to be my first real taste of culture shock. From pearl necklaces to rampant Polo sweaters, every last accessory seemed to ooze privilege. To be fair, quite a few people that fell into this category are individuals I still count among my closest friends, but while varying other status signifiers began to fade into the background, popped collars I just couldn't get past. They just felt so...obnoxious.
Usually pastel, always sky-high, and even sometimes layered, the flipped-up fabric encircling my classmates' necks (and my life it seemed) felt like the bane of my freshman existence, and I hated ferociously on the trend, not understanding what was so wonderful about looking like Count Chocula. Truthfully, my NYC roots had always made me adaptable to any situation; It was hard to believe that fashion could make me feel like such a foreigner.
One day, a close guy friend of mine, a prep school vet and retired lacrosse player, asked if I wanted to accompany him on a trip to the Ralph Lauren outlet about half an hour from campus. "Sure," I said. Other than meandering around the local Wegmans or making regrettable impulse purchases at Walmart, there wasn't much in the way of things to do in our town. Upon arriving to the shop, I watched said friend admire himself in the mirror in various outfits before I finally decided to do some browsing for myself. One bright armful of cable-knit sweaters later, I returned to the dressing room, ready to feel completely goofy.
And I did. Oh, I did. It was crazy to me how such a simple, standard piece of clothing could feel so far out of my comfort zone, almost as if I'd opted to try on pair after pair of assless chaps. As I neared the end of my clothing stash, my eyes fell upon one of my few remaining items: a collared long-sleeve tee. After pulling it over my head, and doing a survey of how it looked from just about every angle, I took a quick peek around (as if anyone could actually see) and decided to flip up the collar.
After I got over the initial feelings of shame, I began to notice a few things...like the way my neck looked instantly elongated, graceful, and the means in which the casually open lower buttons gave the faintest peek at my collarbones, an area of mine I've always treasured because I've never had to work at them. Honestly? I liked it. A lot. But something about sporting the look at school just didn't feel right. I wish my present-day self could've stuck my head in the door and exclaimed, "Who cares?!" At the time, though, the idea of taking off with that shirt felt like an act of conformity, an admission of defeat.
But I didn't forget the way it made me feel. And I was at last able to make peace with the seemingly bizarre fashion staple because, well, I finally got it. Not long after graduating (and having my pea coat stolen at an event), I was fortunate enough to wander into J. Crew while hitting a row of Union Square West shops in search of a replacement. I only wound up trying on one, which looked "meh" on the rack, but I knew immediately after slipping into it that it was a winner. After drinking in nods of approval from the staff, I returned to the room and felt that same guilty impulse I'd experienced back at school: I had to flip the collar.
It hasn't come down since. Roaming the streets, heading out with girlfriends, even venturing down the block to grab some Chipotle with sweatpants underneath, nothing makes me feel more elegant. When it starts to get flaccid, a simple (and on-the-low) pop and I'm good as new: regality restored. My ultimate guilty pleasure? There's nothing I find more self-satisfying than letting it fly while listening to something completely inappropriate on my iPod (Khia's "My Neck, My Back," for example), which just makes it all feel...for lack of a better word, balanced.
It's the last thing anyone would expect, much like my new, unashamed love of being up to my ears...in collar.