For too many years, I took trends at face value. They were the be all, the end all, and less a guidebook to style than concrete rules. To me, style wasn’t a personal choice, but an assertion of power. Mainly, that if you were truly powerful, you could and would wear whatever was popular because you had the guts to. Until you reached your breaking point. Mine came a short while before I started working at American Eagle in late 2005. Riding high on the wave of Laguna-inspired low-rise flares and boyfriend cuts, I condemned the resurgence of skinny jeans. Specifically, I hated them. And I wanted to burn them all. To anybody who would listen, I talked shit about the way the cut accentuated my hips. I cursed the way you couldn’t wear them with sneakers. (Lest we forget our lives pre-ankle boot.) And I resented the way they made my feet look comically big. In short, skinny jeans were my enemy, so I swore I’d stick to low-rise flares until they were pried from my cold, dead fingers. Then, about three months after I started my first shift, I began wearing them and, up until recently, never looked back. This is embarrassingly commonplace for me. I once dismissed crop tops; I now own four million. I used to make fun of halters; I bought two last week. At one point, I wrote about hating destroyed denim, and now own that very type in tomboy cuts, wedgie fits, and overalls. “Oh, I could never wear that” is less my gospel truth than a full-on warning. It tells whoever’s listening, "Oh I will jump into this trend I 'hate' with unparalleled enthusiasm within weeks. And no, I will never acknowledge my previous prejudices." I’m not alone in this. First, because I was hardly the only one revelling in skinny-jeans hate over a decade ago (some of you are out there still — and I see you nodding in solidarity). Second, because change is scary. And considering clothes are our armor — part of who we decide to be that day — new trends can seriously tweak an aesthetic narrative and mean we’re seen differently. A little change like a bandeau or bralette versus a bra might go unnoticed, but a cropped tank with white jeans will elicit straight-up commentary. (At least from friends. Anybody else can escort themselves into the sea.)
But that’s where the our personal interpretation of trends comes in. At the 2014 CFDA awards, we saw Rihanna show up in a Swarovski crystal-covered gown — completely sheer and accompanied only by a fur boa and matching hat. And at the time, that seemed risky. But now? Everything’s sheer. (Even pants!) And each sheer look is only as risky as the wearer chooses to make it. To go braless in a tank like Rihanna in “Work” is completely your call (so go for it). Or, if that isn’t your vibe, you can layer a lace button-up with a lace bralette and up your Victorian-goth ante. But we never think of clothes that way when we’re confronted with something new. Typically, fashion is never introduced as a nudge — it’s presented as something confrontational and as approachable as the professional models wearing it. Ultimately, fashion shows are not about how to wear something, or what each piece will match with, or how accessible it is. And unless you’re someone who loves change and risks and adapting yourself to suit an unfamiliar aesthetic, the easiest reaction is a knee-jerk nope. I’ve side-eyed high-top Converse (confused by how I’d make them work with my jeans). I avoided blazers (thinking they made me look a little too much like a Golden Girl for my day-to-day). I laughed off overalls (which I currently live in). And at one point, I only shopped vintage, convinced I’d “seen it all before.” (This was incorrect, and also very snobby.) My hesitation was simple: As much as I love clothes and shopping, and writing and talking about clothes and shopping, it’s always easier to revert to what I know I can wear (or wore once) as opposed to learning how to wear something new. And that’s where I think my negative reactions to “bold” new trends come from: fear. It’s easy to wear the same things, to establish signature “looks,” or to simply work within the frames we set for ourselves. It’s easy to say we’d never wear high-waisted pants (another trend I fought against and now love), trainers, or go #normcore while clinging to what we know already works. But there’s also no fun in that. Which is why we end up edging closer and closer to pieces we swore we’d never try — only to fall in love with those eventually, too. Or we don’t, which is an equally valuable lesson. As much as you can’t hate everything new, you can’t love it, either. And sometimes certain trends (see: Bermuda shorts) are destined to reign as your enemy, because damn it, something looks off about a knee-length cut. But that’s what you learn by trying. (And by learning. Which I was sure I’d be finished with by the time I was 30 — and I am so pleased that I was wrong about that.) It’d be easy to lock ourselves within self-imposed boundaries and continue to be and dress like the people we were. But we’re constantly evolving, changing, and challenging ourselves, which is why saying “never” to new trends makes as much sense as believing who we were once is who we will be going forward. Change is scary. And so are the big changes we hear about with every collection. It’s easy to stick to what you know and what you like, but fashion isn’t absolute. In the end, we get to call the shots on our own looks and put on pieces that make us feel strong and powerful and any other adjective we’d like to be. When I finally conquered my hate of skinny jeans, I realized I didn’t hate the pants as much as I was worried about the way my body looked in them. It was comfortable to hide; to stick to what I knew already worked. But it was also boring. Using clothes to hide my insecurities didn’t make me want to stand out, it made me want to shuffle along with complacency. And when I started realizing that only I was in charge of my style narrative — that I dictated the terms of my clothes (and that I loved the fit of skinny jeans, shoes be damned) — I started having actual fun. Which probably explains why my wardrobe is bursting with mom jeans, boyfriends, vintage cutoffs, skinny jeans, and whatever I feel like taking a risk on. So the next time your reflex reaction to a look is all boo, hiss, remember you get to make that piece whatever you want it to be. The runway is a designer’s vision. Round-ups are an editor’s. We’re in charge of what we actually put on.
September is typically a time when fashion publications definitively tell you what’s in, and what’s out. Fuck that. We’re dedicating the next couple of weeks to celebrate all the iconoclasts, independent thinkers, and individuals with unique personal styles who’d rather say Fuck The Fashion Rules than follow them.