Thursday, March 23, 2017

Jumping In

Most of the years that I spent living at home in Boston bleed together. Did a certain event take place in 2010? Or 2012? Or 2013? Was I in a skinny phase brought on by distress or a larger one brought on by the depths of boredom? But inside that muddled timeline, there are those moments that stand out. In the spring of 2013, my mother came home with a clothing purchase. This in and of itself would not have been worth noting normally. At times she feigns ignorance about where my love of fashion comes from but I've never forgotten. It has always been her, the root and the source. What was noteworthy this time was the item purchased.

"Is that a jumpsuit?" Disgust laced my voice.
She hung it in a hall closet before turning to me.
"Yes," she replied.
"Are you actually going to wear it?"
"Of course. I used to wear them in the 70s."

I didn't question the latter but I had my doubts about the former. Although my love of clothes and shopping originates with her, the ways in which we pursue our conquests diverged long ago. My mother doesn’t try things on in stores. Instead she brings them home for the necessary testing before returning them if they aren’t quite right. There was a chance that in a few days the jumpsuit would return from whence it came. Or, less likely but still possible, that it would be consumed into the back of the closet, never to be heard from again. 

Sometimes I take to a class of clothing immediately. The moment skinny jeans became The Thing, I knew that I had to have a pair. With others, it takes time for me to come around. For years suits on women made me recoil. The options were limited. The manners in which I saw them worn were either uninteresting or unflattering. Now I cheer for them, the sharp and woolen as well as the luxe and velvet. I write long posts full of my favorites. I do celebratory dances in my bedroom when a woman walks the red carpet in one.

And yet, I haven’t bitten the suiting bullet myself. The last suit I bought was a gray, pinstriped Michael by Michael Kors number from the old Filene’s Basement that served me well during that first blush of post-collegiate life. It was an interview workhorse. A well-fitting workhorse, not like the shapeless rectangles that made me turn my nose up at suits for so long, but a workhorse all the same. On its last outing, I stood looking out at Boston Harbor from the well-appointed waiting room of an upscale insurance company that a staffing agency had sent me off to see and considered the possibility of a suit-wearing life. That was three moves and more than a decade ago.

My initial disgust at the jumpsuit’s rise was mostly logistical. I had worn many impractical clothes in my nearly 30 years but I hadn't had to strip to use the bathroom since the bodysuits and overalls of my 90s childhood. And my body had changed a lot since the age of 10. Puberty had left me busty but still somewhat slight of hip. Finding a single, pants-dominant piece that would fit both halves of me seemed impossible.

My mother kept the jumpsuit and even wore it a few times before I moved across the country the following spring. With the move, I suddenly had time that was my own and some disposable income. It was then that I began my quest for a jumpsuit.

Well I didn't know it was a quest when I started but I think that's usually the way of such things.

While my mother tries on nothing when in a store, I try on everything. It's not only about fit. It's a form of playing dress up. I don't linger too long, always take care not to damage the clothing in any way, and, because I cannot be helped, often leave with something even if that wasn't my intention. I like to know if I'm being too quick to judge a new trend, and the only way to do that is to put it on my body. To slowly turn in front of a mirror and examine it from all angles. To be able to categorize it as simply not for me, maybe only for me, or definitely not for anyone.

My time working in apparel retail only reinforced this habit. At the beginning of each new season, everyone would have to do a fit session to better acquaint themselves with the product and provide feedback to corporate. And so while on the clock I would take all of the major pieces of the new collection into a fitting room and test them out. Even now that the retail chapter of my life has ended, I continue to wander into stores for fit sessions. I live tweet my mall journeys and post pictures, always tilted slightly one way or the other, of suits and skirts and dresses and jeans.

I spent most of 2014 being "kind of blown away by" or "maybe [sold] on" the occasional jumpsuit seen on a celebrity at a red carpet event. I was warming to them outwardly but inwardly I struggled. I rarely took pictures of myself during jumpsuit try-ons. Something always felt off. The leg was too wide. It was too tight across the thighs. The crotch did unpleasant things. The top made my chest look as if it were bound. And yet I kept trying them on. It only took one pass at an off-the-shoulder top last summer to know that that trend was not for me. But in 2014 and early 2015, I couldn't shake myself free of the jumpsuit.

It took many frustrating months for me to find that first pair of skinny jeans, but I kept at it because I wanted them. I needed them. And what did I need nearly a decade later? A jumpsuit. I didn't know why. If I'm being honest, I rarely do when it comes to clothing with this strong a draw. There's no logic. Only longing. 

Almost exactly two years ago, I stepped into an H&M fitting room with a black, white, and gray jumpsuit covered in a big cat print. The color scheme was all me but on the hanger everything else about it was wrong. I rarely wear graphic prints. And it was, of course, a jumpsuit. I was years into my denial about them and happy to stay there. But then I put it on.
It was over. In an instant. Like magic. I couldn't find a single fault. More importantly, I was no longer interested in searching for one.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Second Skin

“I can’t believe I spent so much money on so little fabric.”

The dress didn’t look much shorter than my skirts and other dresses but once I tried it on I could see that it was cut closer to the body than I was used to. I gave my mother a smile and a thank you. It was easy to see why she had been drawn to it when looking for a present for me. It was a blue and white striped dress with thin lines of a bright yellow edging the blue stripes. In that way it was very me. The amount of blue and white striped clothing that I own borders on the obscene. Tees. Sweaters. Dresses. Blazers. Skirts. Too many items for my mother to not have taken notice of my addiction.

But that close cut kept me from wearing it until over a year later when I packed my bags and moved west.

After I bought my first pair of skinny jeans in my early 20s, I never looked back. I've dabbled here and there with a flare or a straight leg but for the most part my pants live close to my skin. I own more than one pair that requires me to hop around my room when pulling them on. But my skirts and dresses didn’t follow suit. The hemlines got shorter, much shorter, but they rarely sat close. If they did, they stayed buried deep in my closet. Even my pencil skirts, made of cotton and silk crepe, sit away from the surface of my skin. What rests beneath is only hinted at through the occasional, well-placed slit.

I wore that striped dress constantly during my first Los Angeles summer but that fact did not mean that I'd taken to it in the same way that I had to that first pair of skinny jeans years earlier. I loved it but was never exactly comfortable in it. My wardrobe was still in transition that first year, California Samantha still gestating, as my media-influenced ideas about Los Angeles style began to be replaced by the reality on the ground. I was surprised by the general looseness of everyone's clothes, especially the clothes of the people sharing my small corner of this sprawling city. The new pieces that entered my closet often took their lead from my neighbors' example. There were boxy shirt dresses and two jumpsuits with blouson tops. Seven soft and silky Everlane tees now live in my dresser. During my second summer, that striped dress made it out of my closet only twice.

It is possible to do something because you love it while also indulging in it because you fear its opposite.

A little over a month ago, I walked into the Urban Outfitters in Downtown Los Angeles in search of a pair of black ballet flats that I had seen on their website. They were nowhere to be found. I wandered to the sale section in search of nothing in particular and picked up a striped, knit skirt. When I stepped into the dressing room, I noted two things. Firstly, the skirt was longer than any I'd bought in the past couple of years. Secondly, it clung to every bit of me. To my hips and my thighs and my ass. If I were to throw a collarless tunic or a swing sweater on with it, as I often did with my skinny pants, it would look all wrong. There was no hiding in it.

I wasn't sure what I was thinking but I bought it. It was only $10 after all.


It didn't take long for me to wear it but then it never takes long for me to wear anything anymore. When I finally found a pair of denim overalls last Friday, I went home and immediately changed into them. I've learned that anything that I don't want to put on the moment I enter my door with it is something that I should return.


But just because I knew that I wanted to wear it didn't mean that I wasn't wary of it. That striped dress still sat in my closet waiting for the real heat of my third Los Angeles summer to descend or for me to get over myself, whichever came first. I thought of the skirt as a one-off. I was happy living my loose, swingy, and sometimes boxy life without much examination. But less than two weeks later, in a different store in search of a different item that was nowhere to be seen, I again wandered into the sale section where I came across a second skirt.


Firstly, it was longer than the last one. Secondly, it clung to every bit of me. To my hips and my thighs and my ass. There was no hiding in it. I wasn't sure what I was thinking but I bought it. It was only $10 after all.

I wore it almost immediately to a friend's reading on the west side that weekend. As I sat on the bus there trying not to fidget in it, I realized that maybe there was more to these impulse purchases. I sometimes forget that whimsy and happenstance should always be last on the list when I'm searching for a reason why I've done something. The skirts weren't evidence of a sea change per se but of a broadening of what I considered the right types of clothes for me.

Free from the worries and the turmoil of those years at home, an increased level of confidence has been creeping up on me. I shouldn't be surprised that it chose to manifest itself in my shopping habits.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Underneath

“No Padding Is Sexy Now!” It was raining softly that morning, which had drawn my gaze up and away from my phone as I headed into the mall on a recent Saturday. That “Now” caught my eye and pulled my focus from everything else. The pink striped border surrounding the store window. The image of a artfully windswept young woman frolicking...somewhere. The candy-colored bra that covered her perfectly perky breasts. It was in almost every way the same Victoria’s Secret image that I had seen repackaged over the years with different girls and different kinds of windswept hair. Usually my eyes would have slid over the image to focus on something else. But there was that “Now” asking me to inspect things in a way that I hadn’t felt the need to in years.






Many a mall retailer has had their moment in the sun, holding the style narrative by the throat and inspiring haters and imitators. Gap in the 1990s with its basics and its clever advertising campaigns for example. When one is in such control, it is easy to forget that it is a moment. There is a boom that will undoubtedly be followed by a bust. This is not pessimism, only realism and pragmatism. When one is not prepared for that bust, the fallout can be ugly. You can throw a stone and hit a story about the quagmire Gap Inc. still finds itself in almost a decade after its bust began. The good times lead to growth, of style lines and stores and expectations, so when the downside and the sharp pivot that often accompanies it come, there can be a derailment.

There was always a Victoria’s Secret catalog around the house during my childhood and adolescence. But then it was the 90s. There were a lot of catalogs in general. I remember this one more than the others because of its glossiness. Not the glossiness of the pages, all of the catalogs had that trait, but a glossiness of a different sort. Back then they sold a wide array of clothing, not just lingerie but a full swim and sportswear line as well. There were sun dresses and evening gowns. Bodysuits were everywhere alongside all sorts of tops with built-in bras. When I first began to take notice of the catalog, I, much to my chagrin, had no breasts to speak of. Inspired by a healthy diet of Judy Blume books and those catalogs, I prayed for the arrival of puberty with almost the same fervor that I prayed for my family to be kept safe and for my grades to remain excellent. Puberty came eventually and I relished the chance to finally wear the pretty little, soft-cupped, transitional bras for girls available at Filene’s.

Victoria's Secret isn't selling chinos, at least not anymore. It's not even really selling bras and underwear. What is it selling then? Corporate Sexiness. The padding is often thick. The lift is often high. Cheeks are firm. Nipples are never to be seen. The Pink line, made to tap into that enviable adolescent goldmine, is sweeter and softer but still covered in that sexy yet sexless sheen. They are selling an idea and a dream that can be tapped into only through the items that they have for sale. 

It wasn't only that idea and that dream and their accessibility that kept Victoria's Secret on top. How many other non-luxury retailers have lingerie as their primary focus? You can weave your way through Macy's or Marshall's or American Eagle to the lingerie section but few stores greet you at the door with a land full of bras and underwear and negligees. And because the main image has barely changed, that girl frolicking in an unknown somewhere with her windswept hair, you always know what you're going to get when you cross the threshold. Victoria's Secret's dream is presented in clear, bold type and you can find it in almost every mall in America and occasionally beamed into your home.

Chanel is also selling an idea and a dream but theirs is far harder to attain and much harder to define, and with that lack of definition comes a freedom of movement that Victoria's Secret lacks.

I spent the latter part of my adolescence giving little thought outside of function to the items that I wore under my clothes. I dabbled in “fun” underwear but I was a straight edge and a prude in a hate/hate relationship with my body. I was uncomfortable with these truths about myself but was yet to face that discomfort head on. And while I am loathe to admit it, many of my ideas about what lingerie was supposed to be and how one was supposed to look in it came from those catalogs and a small part of my prudish nature could be traced back to my discomfort with that Corporate Sexiness. 

What's eating at Victoria's Secret's control? The Fast Fashion giants, who are causing trouble for everyone, and a lack of traction in the much discussed athleisure market aren't helping but I think there is a broader cause for the slippage. 

No Padding Is Sexy Now!

Who says? Not Victoria's Secret at first. They are no longer the leader. They are the follower. Who are they following? There still isn't anyone who does exactly what they do. But the people who decide what is in style and, more importantly, what is not has broadened and deepened as the influence of the internet has grown. They came first for the clothes and the accessories but items are easier to pick away at than an idea, a story. Maybe that's why Victoria's Secret was blindsided?

They wouldn't be the first to underestimate the speed or strength of a sea change.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Golden Boy

There is always a fashion darling.

In an industry like this one, someone will always occupy the role of The One Who Got Everything Right. Sometimes purposefully but often accidentally, the vision put forth by a particular brand and its creative director will dominate every thought and conversation. It will inspire imitators and spur fawning and jealousy. It will make everyone wonder how high they can go before their eventual fall.

Everyone in the fashion industry knows the tale of Gucci’s tumults. The ousting of Frida Giannini and Patrizio di Marco. The installment of Alessandro Michele almost immediately afterwards. To understand how rare that type of quick turnover is one only has to look at Dior and Lanvin. Both continue to be run by creative teams months after the sudden departures of their creative directors and will continue to do so for at least the near term. But even more surprising than the speed of Michele's placement is the full-throated praise and hasty acceptance that has followed each of his handful of collections. 

But rave reviews, red carpet appearances, magazine covers, and street style snaps don’t always translate to dollars spent. Gucci, however, is a darling in every sense of the word. After years of stagnating sales, the numbers have gone up in the wake of Michele’s installation. In an unstable retail environment where brands of all stripes are seeking new avenues in which to connect with customers, Gucci stands out as something of an aberration as it begins to regain some of that pre-recession magic that everyone craves.

What has Michele done that so many others have not? From his first runway show for Fall 2015, he has created collections that stir the blood. 
 
Whether love or hate, Michele's collections for Gucci produce passionate responses in those who see them. There is very little to be found in the middle. I watched the Fall 2016 show while sitting on a bus as it weaved through Echo Park towards Downtown Los Angeles and the office tower where I spend my weekdays. Once situated at my desk after taking care of a few things, I took a moment to look back at the still images of the collection. There was a lot of there there. 70 looks in total, a number one only tends to see from Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, and each one bursting with prints and sequins and layers and veils. 








Recent history has been witness to a slowing of the trend cycle. To the joy of some and the chagrin of others, styles stick around for longer than a season or two. How many seasons in a row have designers been playing with the motifs of the 1970s? How long has transparency in formal wear hounded us on every red carpet? Collections have begun to bleed into each other as you move from house to house. You can see some of the most popular trend notes in the tale that Michele is weaving, they are difficult to avoid altogether, but his story calls for further unpacking. And when unpacked, it features pieces that are luscious and alive in a way that many other collections are not. These are not clothes for the boring.

And what does fashion hate more than anything? Boredom. Trends that lend themselves to such categorization, like the recently prominent normcore, are often laced with irony and a wink to combat the assignation. But the problem with not being boring, with taking risks and embracing brashness, is that the heights may be higher but they are often short-lived. I could list brands that had their moments, that flew close to the Sun only to realize too late that they were too close, before crashing back to Earth, but the names could fill a book. To maintain the balance between the love and the hate in your favor is a tricky game and failure is easy. Not only is it easy but there are also those who cheer for it. The fashion industry is not immune to pulling down its golden children and delighting in the downfall. The flip side of being obsessed with what is cool is being obsessed with what is uncool. There is often a rush to be the first to name both.

But worse than being hated is settling somewhere in the middle. Hatred in this context can be rebranded. Disinterest cannot.

Will Michele's vision withstand the test? This is a question that is impossible to answer but many eagerly wait to find out.


Photos via

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Shifting Winds

When one thinks of the fashion offerings that emerge from Milan semi-annually, what are the words that spring to mind? Sultry? Seductive? Some other s-fronted word of similar meaning? If one were talking about the Milan of old, these words would be apt descriptors. But in the fashion world, talk of a new mood has overtaken discussions about the city. Almost all of the chatter has been positive. The roots of this new landscape seem to have only sprouted recently but I believe an earlier event allowed them the space to take hold. The dizzying pace of change at brands, the pace that leaves no one safe from the whims of their board, their investors, or their own creative fatigue, has infected Milan as much as it has the other major fashion capitals. Despite all of the changes at houses like Jil Sander, Emilio Pucci, and Philosophy, to name a few, most of the discussions about the new Milan have centered on the most recent upheavals at Gucci.

After the exit of Tom Ford in 2004, Gucci experienced its fair share of turbulence before finally settling in with Frida Giannini at the creative helm and Patrizio di Marco presiding over the business concerns. But in late 2014, Giannini and di Marco were rather unceremoniously ousted and Alessandro Michele, a virtual unknown outside of the company, was quickly put in place as the creative lead. Sales had stagnated at the powerhouse brand, especially as the fashion world moved further and further away from its obsession with logos, and a change was coming eventually. However, no one predicted the manner in which it would arrive.

Everyone loves a bit of drama with a side of intrigue and while such fireworks can be thrilling, they can also distract one from the other, quieter causes of certain effects. Milan has always been about more than simply sex. The work of Miuccia Prada exists in its own peculiar and often charming galaxy. Jil Sander continues to put forth a sleek minimalism whether or not its founder is in control. The full-throttle glamour of Giorgio Armani still dazzles. But not all that long ago the influence of brands such as Versace, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana, and more recently Dsquared² and Fausto Puglisi, could at times seem to overwhelm the city’s fashion narrative.

In the late 2000s, with the financial crisis yet to consume us all, Dolce & Gabbana left that fold and set off a ripple with effects unknown at that time. The Fall 2007 show, fronted by then catwalk regular Gisele, was shiny, tight, and sexy. Dolce & Gabbana had always done that better than most.


But when Natasha Poly walked down the runway the next season in a full-skirted confection in a color that resembled the sky on a perfect, spring day, it was the opening of a new chapter for the brand.


That romantic, feminine mood built from look to look until the finale, which featured blown-out florals with the hint of graffiti to them in skirts even fuller than the one that opened the show.




I remember looking at the pictures and questioning what had caused this seismic shift. There had been no shakeups in the creative leadership like those seen at Gucci in the preceding years. I pored over the images from the collection in search of the reason behind the move. Some brands foster excitement by making 180 degree turns every season while others stir up similar feelings by finding new ways to express that which has always defined them. I had gotten used to Dolce & Gabbana being the former. At the time I assumed the change would be short-lived, a brief cleansing breath taken before a return to a status quo that was nowhere near broken.

But I was wrong. That first look marked a sea change that as of their most recent collection continues to reign. The sex isn't gone. I think it would have been impossible to remove completely as it is so tied up in the DNA of the brand. It's more that it's been transformed, living side by side with an abundance of romance and the long, winding history of Italy. The stories being told don't always land. The most recent collection featured picture postcard references that were a bit on the nose for my taste, but there is an unwavering dedication to this new narrative, not only in the collections but in the advertisements meant to sell them to the fashion masses.

The Before (Fall 2007)


The After (Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2015)




The new Dolce & Gabbana proved to me was that such a change could stick without the turmoil that usually precedes it. No one was threatened or fired or poached. But turmoil makes these types of moves a less risky endeavor. Everyone expects change after the fireworks. No one expects it, or necessarily accepts it, when there is seeming calm.

Near the beginning of my personal fashion education, I often scoffed at Milan a bit, dismissing its influence on the greater fashion world as one note. (Shedding my more prudish sensibilities is a work in progress and although addressed here and there would be best dealt with at length some other time.) And because of that "one note" bias, I believed the city incapable of the ingenuity and flexibility and creativity of New York and London and Paris. It took a change, a change that I loved wholeheartedly, for me to admit that not only I had also appreciated what was being done in the before but that the before contained more layers than I had imagined.


Runway images via

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tied Up

My knowledge of menswear lags far behind my knowledge of womenswear. This should not come as a surprise. I’ve been zipping and buttoning, squeezing and shoving myself into clothes for decades. And beyond the dressing of my own self, I’ve spent my life observing how other women dress. Being born into a family full of them, spending nearly half of my school years surrounded by them, the ways in which girls and women dress themselves was long ago demystified. When I began my more thorough fashion education near the end of college, there was a substantial foundation on which to build.

I've always been curious about menswear but until recently I didn't pay as much attention to it, didn't go through their runway shows and religiously devour their fashion magazines. And the observational skills that throughout my life provided me with reams of information about womenswear could become easily derailed. To be honest, they are still susceptible to derailment. When I see a man, his clothes are not always the first thing that I notice. Height and eyes and shoulders and that faint waft of cologne, those things catch my eye and hold my interest. Clothing is usually secondary. And even when I do notice it first, those other pieces, the height and eyes and shoulders and cologne, come in to crowd my thoughts.

It wasn't until I moved back to Boston in 2009, unemployed and emotionally bruised after the failures of New York, that things began to change. I got a holiday position at a clothing store that had once dominated my adolescence. I hoped that I would be able to stay on for awhile once the season came to a close. I ended up there for nearly five years. But that story, the long, winding tale of my underemployment, is best saved for another day and a different venue. Three years into my time there, as the brand's footprint in that corner of the mall expanded, I moved across the hall for the holiday season to act as a temporary manager at our men’s suiting shop.

Working retail during the holiday season is a particular kind of beast but this was a smaller, calmer situation. Yes, people came in frantically searching for gifts and weekends could be hectic and overwhelming but generally there was quiet. When things slowed, which they often did on weekdays, and there was nothing to fold or refold, I liked to spend time with the ties. It was the table that most easily fell into messiness. Near the front and filled with confections asking to be touched, shoppers often stopped there first. It wasn’t particularly shocking. Ties are considered an easy, sometimes lazy, gift and it was the gift giving season after all.

I got very handy at wrapping them nicely in tissue paper before placing them into long, narrow boxes. But I always demured when asked to tie the box up with some ribbon. I never learned how to get my hands to move in quite the right way.

They were organized by color on the table from warm to cool. Everything was always warm to cool. The sameness of things was one of the pieces of retail that I enjoyed. Colors always moved in the same direction. Sweaters were always folded one of two ways. Not too long into my tenure at the company I was able to let my mind slip off to other places while completing tasks. Places that weren’t whatever store I happened to be working in.

But the monotony of the task wasn’t the only reason that I was drawn to the ties.

I never had tomboy leanings when I was younger. I preferred full skirts and ruffled socks and patterned tights as a little girl. My adult closet houses numerous dresses and skirts. I had obviously seen ties but never had a reason or an impulse to examine them up close. Even when working in the larger store in its previously co-ed days, I rarely had a chance to peruse the menswear. I'd proven myself adept at tasks that were not selling and could most often be found behind a register or in the stockroom. But being near the menswear had made my curiosity about it grow. So when I finally found myself surrounded by it, I was flush with excitement.

The ties were folded in half on the table, two or three of each style placed next to each other. I liked the way the silk ones shined. I loved running my fingers down the length of the knit ones and feeling their textures. I liked picking them up, striped and pin dotted and solid, and seeing how they complemented, or clashed, with various shirts. But most of all I liked to bask in how pretty they were. Pretty, of course, is a descriptor often avoided in the world of menswear. But that’s what they were and that was why I liked them so much.

Sooner than I would have liked, I was back across the hall surrounded by the familiar trappings of women's clothing. I hadn't finished the lessons that one of the personal stylist's was giving a handful of us on how to properly pin a suit for tailoring. My four-in-hand still needed work. Bowties perplexed me. I missed the thrill of discovery. I've always loved learning and there was little new for me to pick up back across the hall with the skirts and the dresses.

I started to casually hang out at both of the men's shops. Sometimes I would pick up shifts at the one selling our casual menswear. I began doing some of my shopping there as well. Collecting ginghams and sweaters. And I began paying attention. To what arrived in new collections and what flew out of the stores and what lingered. To what fabrics and colors the suits arrived in when the seasons changed. To the range of denim and chino fits. I began visiting the other men's stores in the mall and conducting the types of fact finding missions that I had been undertaking in women's stores for years. And slowly, very slowly, the pieces began to come together.

On Saturday mornings, as Silver Lake begins to stretch its legs, I like to walk down my section of Sunset Boulevard with my earbuds firmly in place and take in the goings on. I file away everyone's clothes, put what they're wearing away for later distillation and understanding. I push away those things that would muddy the process. And I find myself smiling more than usual.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sunny Side

My memory holds on to pieces of days and events and images with an iron grip that I sometimes wish were a little weaker. Although I don’t know why it holds onto so much, I am often aware of why at times it chooses to push some of its collected fragments to the forefront. A song plays. A pleasant and familiar smell fills the air. The sun filters through the trees in just the right way. And then something inside me stirs. But it’s only often that I know the source of the push. Often but not always.

The site that I use to sift through the various collections out of the various fashion capitals is changing directions come fall, so I spent a large part of a somewhat recent weekend sitting cross-legged on my bed and swapping out pictures on posts labeled “Fashion Month.” There were over 250 to fix. I was, for a time, rather prolific when it came to such matters. The reasons were two-fold. I was learning, still am, and the collections were part of my education. And I needed to keep my underemployment-induced boredom at bay. Or to at least dampen its effects.

Though exhausting, the image replacement exercise felt anything but dull. I was able to experience how much, and how little, my opinions have changed. My growing love of florals and suits. My initial distaste for brights. My brief flirtation with them. My recent rededication to all things navy and gray and cream. It was when going through a collection featured in a long ago Favorite of the Day post from the Spring/Summer 2012 season that I rediscovered a much-loved dress.


While examining it again, I came to realize how much it resembled one that I’d recently added to my closet.

Most of my clothing purchases happen accidentally. Shopping trips with specific goals in mind, especially when undertaken with others in tow, often end in frustration and terse words. But then it’s easy to shop accidentally when one’s curiosity leads to frequent store wanderings. I like examining clothing stores, their layouts and their merchandise, and thinking about what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. It’s a habit with roots that stretch back before my four and a half years in apparel retail, a habit that existed even before my internship at a small buying office in Manhattan in late 2008 and early 2009. I step into stores noting where they keep their menswear section and lightly touching garments that catch my eye. I return home full of questions and conclusions and, sometimes, with a gift for myself.

It was on one of those accidental shopping trips a few days before my most recent birthday that I wandered into a Madewell. Yet again I was in the middle of, though not yet aware that I was in the middle of, a dress buying moment. After years of skinny jeans, it seems that I’ve come back round to the dress. I never abandoned them really. I’d simply come to buy them at a slower rate. But unlike the dresses that I’d collected during my years of living at home, dresses meant for a certain type of work life or peppered with girly confections, the dresses I’ve found myself drawn to for the past few months are much simpler. No bells. Barely any whistles. A few sequins. Navy and black and white and little more. I’ve been gifted dresses that fall outside of these parameters but gifts are another matter altogether.

That day I picked up a shirtdress from the sale section with a boxy silhouette and a block of navy at its bottom that cooled off its bright white top half. Navy and white in combination is a staple of my wardrobe but boxiness is a characteristic that I generally avoid in my clothing. It rarely does my body any favors. But my curiosity often leads me to try on those things that normally make me wary. The size was off at first. I held out little hope that the one I needed would be found in the back but asked for it anyway. When the sales girl returned waving it above her head, I did a little dance in front of the fitting room. While contemplating whether or not I should make it mine, I took a picture and posted it on Twitter.


The connections appear to me often but not always.

I woke up the following Saturday, the day after my birthday, possibly still drunk and definitely suffering from a shameover of immense proportions but with somewhere that I needed to be. Having a friend with a birthday close to yours can be fun when you're younger but my just turned 32-year-old body responded with anger that I was making it do anything but stay in bed watching romcoms and eating pizza. I calculated how long it would take my Uber to deliver me to the scheduled brunch and a Bloody Mary and thanked my overachieving self for choosing an outfit the previous day.

I had worn something more complicated for my own birthday. A jumpsuit. My first jumpsuit. But for a day about someone else, I'd decided to wear that week's purchase and take the more laidback California Samantha out for a spin. Because that was what I had been doing unconsciously doing with all of that dress buying. Getting to the heart of whom I wanted California Samantha to be. And all those years ago, long before I knew that I would pack up and leave my family, my friends, and my books for a life here, an image was already being created. And it started with that dress and that Jenni Kayne collection (and many Jenni Kayne collections that followed).






Who is California Samantha? Well she is evolving. She likes simple dresses in easy shapes. She likes skirts of a similar fashion. She has been stripped of the layers that previously dominated her life. When she decided to cull her closet last month, all of the items she consigned or gave to friends were colorful and printed and, in more ways than one, restrictive. Her skinny jeans have lost their place as default. 

She appears relaxed even when she is not.


Photos via