Something I never fail to appreciate about books is their ability to lend words to experiences that thus far defied my own vocabulary. Take this scene from Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, for instance: Zora, an intellectual college sophomore, is getting ready for her first day of classes. She chooses each garment and accessory carefully, constructing the cool, confident persona she hopes to embody. After leaving the house, however, Zora catches a glimpse of herself in mirror and realizes that her look— the long skirt, the fedora-ish hat— isn’t what she meant, at all.
I left a sticky note next to this paragraph because I’ve found myself in Zora’s position too many times to count. Because it’s true, as Meryl Streep so iconically intoned in The Devil Wears Prada (movies are a close second to books for portraying commonplace abstractions), that even the least “fashion”-conscious among us get dressed with a statement in mind. Most of our dressing goals can be boiled down to familiar adjectives; scan the pages of a women’s magazine, and words such as “comfortable,” “professional,” “confident,” or “romantic” will pop out. If you’re like me, however, those phrases often evolve into characters with backstories and traits that emerge sometime between when falling asleep at night and we opening the closet the next morning. Two days ago, for example, I slid into a linen button-down and high-waisted dark denim hoping to channel the insouciance of Carrie Mulligan and Rosamund Pike’s characters in An Education. And while you could argue that shorts and a t-shirt would have been a more “practical” option for a humid day of errands, I would counter that the voice of reason doesn’t always echo comfort. If I hadn’t indulged my retro whims, I would have spent the whole day fidgeting in my “reasonable” clothes, like a puzzle piece stuck in the wrong place.
Zora’s situation in On Beauty would have resonated with me regardless, I think part of why I’m mulling it over so much is an example of “right content, right time.” Ever since coming home from California, I’ve been shuttling between the suburbs and the coast, spending five days here, three days there, and back again. Even for such short stints, I can’t resist packing enough clothes and accessories for a week-long sojourn. Whereas I used to attribute my “problem” up to a lack of self-discipline, Smith’s words makes me think that I overpack in anticipation of my whims. After all, there’s no telling who I’ll wake up as on a given day. I was still feeling the Oxford schoolgirl vibes today, but what if I want to be a moody, blacks-and-neutrals urbanite tomorrow? Schlepping bags crammed with jeans, dresses, blouses, tanks, and more certainly isn’t fun, I mentioned above how it’s nothing compared to the feeling of spending a whole day dressed as the “wrong” person.
When I first started this blog 3 years ago (!), I wrote a post about the pressure to identify and isolate one’s style— “classic”, “boho”, “athletic”— with the same stringency one might employ of contain a plague. At the time, I was just letting go of my toxically monogamous relationship with the Vineyard Vines catalogue, and was excited about exploring more diverse aesthetics. Today, I love that my outfits can reference several points of inspiration, from the J.Crew fashion show to a Janis Joplin album cover. With that said, preparing to go off to college and entering a new phase of my life has me wondering…will it ever end? Will I start waking up every morning with the same “character” in mind? Will my whims slow down, and arrange themselves around a more specific look? Will I— and this is the really important question—- be able to stop packing so much?!
As per usual, these are all just questions that I have zero clue how to answer. For once, I’m not even curious to find out what’ll happen— I’’m just enjoying the process, costume box-cum-suitcase in hand.
Until tomorrow morning, that is… 😉
How do you get dressed in the morning. Do you know the feeling of getting it “wrong”?