The Fashion of Self-Discovery
4 years ago by
The night before I headed out of town for the holidays, I was watching Ellen DeGeneres’ stand-up special on Netflix. She made a joke about how when people go on vacation, they often pretend to be the fantasy versions of themselves—poking fun at people who buy elaborate floppy hats and suddenly start wearing white linen in the presence of a beach. I was in the midst of packing and I couldn’t get the thought out of my head. Who was the person (persona) I was trying to create?
I ended up spending my entire week away in jeans, a Patagonia fleece, and Doc Martin chelsea boots.
It was a cozy look, perfect for both the Colorado and Northern California climates I was temporarily inhabiting. Surrounded by my parents, my little brother, endless aspen trees and reclaimed barn wood, and swaddled in soft layers, I felt warm, nestled, and at home in my body and my self.
My brother jokes that I tend to take up the stereotypical identity of wherever location I happen to be…ex: the summer I lived in Telluride, CO, I wore Birkenstocks and ripped jeans each day. In college (at Wesleyan University, specifically), I wore Adidas track pants, Converse, and beanies. The moment I moved to New York City, I unpacked the heels and vintage jackets that had laid dormant in my closet for years.
It’s true. I consider my style fairly adaptable and I enjoy being inspired by my surroundings.
Growing up, I lived in the safety of stability. Mom and dad were home for dinner each night at precisely 6:30. Monday afternoons were for drawing and sewing lessons. Christmas vacations were spent visiting grandparents in Florida. There was no question whether or not I would go to college. Each choice was laid out for me, each cookie-cutter decision as simple as cream cheese or jelly—for a born rule-follower like me, it was a comfortable childhood. In fact, this was true right down to the question of what to wear each morning—solid green or green/ blue plaid? From kindergarten straight through to high school graduation, I wore a uniform to school. Which, in effect, wondrously afforded me precious extra sleep time in the mornings. But, also limited my favorite means through which to express myself.
Thus, my weekends became my runway. I’d follow my mom around on errands in fishnet tights, 50’s style skirts, and high-top converse. Or I’d attend my brother’s baseball games wearing cow-printed clogs and jeans adorned with patches featuring the faces of all five members of *NSYNC. I’d find any excuse to wear heels—even if the restaurant was only about as nice as P.F. Chang’s.
I’d flip through fashion magazines and continuously be drawn to the women who seemed to truly know their style, who committed themselves to a deep exploration of a singular aesthetic. I sat in awe of these women—think: Jenna Lyons, Stevie Nicks, the Olsen twins—I think, in part, because I felt so far from that myself. My literal uniform had rendered my personal style a bit chaotic. But, not only did my look feel sprawling and ill-defined, so too did any idea of who I wanted to be…
I’ve been in New York for close to eight months now. And my environment itself, the city of Manhattan, is ever-changing. I came back after New Year’s vacation (still clutching my Patagonia fleece) to find the lobby of my apartment building entirely redecorated, the coffee place on my corner gone and replaced. At twenty-three years old, I’ve come to realize that the next several years are going to be defined by fluctuation. And in light of this, I find myself yearning for some sense of constant-ness. A set identity, a uniform of sorts. And I want to be comfortable.
I used to spend hours searching for uber-fashionable women whose style I could emulate. Now, there are really only two women I regularly return to for inspiration. Laurel Pantin and Eva Chen. Funnily enough, they’re two New York City moms, but their lives appear real, their careers I admire, and their wardrobes seem to revolve around jeans, sweaters, and boots/ Birkenstocks (depending on the season).
Basically, I want to be wrapped in cashmere and denim at all times. Not kidding.
When we interview stylish women for the site and ask what is most important to them: comfort, beauty, or innovation, I’m always shocked at the responses that are not comfort. This would not have always been my response, but now, on some visceral level, I cannot seem to relate.
Meeting and interviewing Batsheva was a turning point for me. She was so assured in her style, so completely positive that this one crazy look engulfed the essence of what she wanted the world to know about her. I was in awe.
Additionally, her answer to the “comfort, beauty, or innovation?” question made me pause. She said, “Comfortable beauty. I’d never wear something at the expense of feeling uncomfortable. But, sometimes when you wear something that is really beautiful, that is really blowing your mind, it makes you feel comfortable even if it isn’t necessarily a ‘comfortable’ piece.”
After that, I wore one of her dresses to a formal event in the city that my family was attending. Without a doubt, everyone thought the dress was absurd. My father thought it was “weird,” my grandmother tried coaxing me into wearing a much simpler slip dress, calling it “sexier.” But, I was committed. I gathered my chutzpah and I owned those puffy shoulders, that metallic floral-print, that 18th century ruffled collar. I even paired the thing with ridiculous tartan-printed Miu Miu platforms. It was the most fun I’d had with a look in a long time.
This is not to say that I’m going to start wearing platform heels more regularly. I’m not. But, I am trying to add more personality to my regular rotation of jeans and sweaters. I may not be obsessing over street-style in search of tomorrow’s outfit, but I am standing in front of my closet each morning, asking myself what the day’s look is going to be, what is going to feel most comfortable, most me, both physically and metaphorically. A floral sock here, a patterned clog there, a patch-worked denim for good measure.
A few weeks ago, my friend came to visit. We were walking to dinner at my favorite Thai restaurant in my neighborhood, when he brought up how when I opened the apartment door to greet him, I looked so at home, so comfortable, so calm, so confident. He went on to say how impressed he was when he overheard me describe my job to another friend as “ideal,” and how cool it is that I know my neighborhood’s too-tiny-for-its-own-good, cash-only Thai place. As the night went on, we found ourselves talking about how in the time since graduation, we’ve seen each other at least once per month, if not more frequently. And he mentioned how, to him, each one of those visits felt like a marker for how I was doing. The first time he visited, I didn’t own a couch and I didn’t have a job. On one of the next visits when I went to him in Connecticut, I got on the train back to the city and couldn’t stop crying. But, with each month since, he said, he’s watched as I’ve become visibly less anxious, more in tune with the city, and more independent.
It was nice to hear.
Around the same time, Christina and I were alone in the office late one night, when we got to chatting, as we usually do. She mentioned how she felt that, as of late, I’ve really been finding my style, my look. Coming from a Style Editor (!!) and, specifically, a woman whose style and career I admire, it was a huge compliment.
It felt as though people were noticing something that I, myself, hadn’t even caught onto yet. Now, looking back through my mirror-selfies of the past few months, I do see some seemingly small adjustments—I’ve added some long, prairie-style dresses to my wardrobe, I’ve started wearing my old cowboy boots more, a new pair of floral clogs have become a regular footwear option, and I’ve been living in an oversized, plaid coat (I’ve had for years, but have never worn) that always reminds me of Diane Keaton.
Maybe, subconsciously, I’ve been cultivating some sort of New-York-Linne aesthetic that has been quietly rebelling against the stereotypical markers of New York style (I dress like the antithesis to the “head-to-toe black” wardrobe, but I’m also straying further and further from the Carrie Bradshaw-esque look I had in my head upon moving here…)
This past weekend, I was home in Ohio. On Saturday night, my mother made a reservation at a fancy new restaurant downtown. She told me to wear heels, I laughed. Instead, I wore an elaborately beaded cocktail dress with cowboy boots. Walking out of my childhood bedroom, I felt great. At dinner, my aunt even told me that she thought I was at my “best,” and that I was “on an upward trajectory.” (Haha, I know—but, it was sweet.)
I don’t have a “uniform” like the women I admired when I was younger (and still admire!) But, I am rooting myself in comfort. I’ve found my neighborhood coffee shop, and my local Thai place, and my yoga studio. I’ll spend weekends where I only leave my apartment once or twice, preferring to laze about in comfy sweaters, lighting candles and watching old movies.
And though I’m grounding myself in this comfort, I also feel more comfortable than ever making choices purely based off what feels good in the moment.
So, the goal now is to: be cozy, but not boring or redundant. To be fun and original, without seeming crazy. To take more risks, but not sacrificing ease of movement or ease of laughter. I may not know exactly what my look is yet, or even who it is I want to be. But, I’m getting there.
i loved reading this piece! my eyes came across it at an opportune time :) esp these lines:
“I also feel more comfortable than ever making choices purely based off what feels good in the moment.
I may not know exactly what my look is yet, or even who it is I want to be. But, I’m getting there.”
Nice article !!
May sounds futile , but it is a nice way to link the question of identity and how to dress. For me it is the difference between wearing your clothes and leaving in your clothes , sounds better in french I guess. ( porter ou habiter ses vêtements).
Just a little mistake here in the french version
” Et il a fait remarquer que chacune de ses visites lui avait semblé marquer une étape dans la manière dont j’aller.” dont j’allais.
As I get older(and after becoming a mother), comfortable has become a requirement. I live in a very small town and find myself dressing down to keep from standing out. I can’t say I love the extra looks when I let things get a bit more wild. Cities are so wonderful for blending in and not being noticed, no matter how you are dressed. I think this step towards cozy is a reflection of the inner step I’ve taken towards really caring for myself. Embrace it : ) And thank you for sharing your story.
The one thing you’ve always had…even in
your teenage years is style.
Whatever “look” you’ve gone for has always
been your own.
Stay true to yourself, you fabulous Ohio
xx Liz (Juicy Lucy a Clothing Store)
Aw, Liz – you’re the sweetest! Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words.
YOU and YOUR fabulous style have always been an inspiration to me!
No matter where I go, I’ll always be an Ohio girl :)
I love everything about this. Thank you for sharing, and kudos to you for staying true to “you.”
LOVE YOUR STYLE! You always know how and what to put together!
The older I have become the more frequently I shop Eileen Fisher, Vince, and similar shops. Not the more wild and couture-esque looks I used to go for, the underground shops in Village, etc. The older I have become the more financially able I am to produce the look I want to project for self to world, now in my early 40s, I can say…Style comes from within. Full stop. :)
I thoroughly enjoyed this! So well written and bursting with honesty and sincerity. More, please :)
Love your stories , Linne ! And Black !!! Black wool sweaters and grey trousers would go well with your skin tone, i think !
And like G once said in a *PMF video in Cannes that i rewatched a few days ago : _« …If you wear black , people tend to look more!!!»
(* so funny , the elevator part ,the peek through the door viewfinder, the Alec Baldwyn part…so funny !!!)
Hi, Linne Halpern
I loved your style I want also to wear cashmere and denim. Thanks for sharing a nice article
Nice article but “spastic” is a very dated and highly offensive term used to refer to someone with cerebral palsy. It’s like saying “retard”. I’m surprised anyone would write it or an editor would let it slip by.
I’m so sorry, I was not aware of the offensive nature of this term. Thank you so much for pointing that out, we’ve updated the text.
All my best,
Hey KK – that’s not actually accurate. It simply means awkward or clumsy as related to spasms of which there are MANY KINDS. To use the word spastic to describe one’s actions is as innocuous as saying one “limped through the street” is the word “limped” an insult to cripples? No, it’s a description, as is spastic.
Linne I loved your article and wish you hadn’t changed a word. If people are offended by your descriptions so be it. Don’t let people bully you with ridiculous notions. If we let this continue than we might as well quit using language. Xo
Great blog! Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.