Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fade Out, Fade In

It took three months for me to read the stack of September issues living in my room. At first they sat in a neat pile near my closet before I finally plopped them atop my low, wide dresser in order to keep them in sight. I needed to remind myself that they remained unread. Boston had shaken me free of my magazine reading habits. I was too concerned with other things while there, not drowning mainly, and had in nearly every way ceased to be the person I'd been when I began religiously consuming them during my senior year of college.

One of those long-neglected glossies touted itself as The Personal Style issue. Themed issues are nothing new and I took little notice of the white letters on the cover when its turn to be read finally arrived. That is until I stumbled upon a specific piece of advice. I shouldn’t have been surprised at its inclusion, small as the mention was, since most discussions on the topic of personal style land in the same place. Be yourself. I tend to shy away from complex topics boiled down to happy, meaningless aphorisms. The Self is a shifting, slippery thing, and even as I settle, somewhat uncomfortably, into my 30s, I barely have a handle on it.

I dream of clothes often, think about them and play with them in my head. In the past these fantasies rarely featured me, at least not a realistic version of the Samantha that existed at the time of the fantasy’s creation. I imagined seeing the clothes and touching them but not of living in them. I outgrew this behavior eventually, began to put myself in the clothes, to daydream about those items that would best suit me. And I began to write about them as often as the mood struck, to wrestle with the concept of my personal style.
For a long time my style was about going unnoticed. Invisibility through adaptation and assimilation. Even when it stopped being about those things, it was all a game. A sometimes trendy, sometimes sweet, and often preppy game. A cardigan as body armor game. There are pieces from that time that I love unequivocally. The classic blazers. The chambray and gingham shirts. The striped tops and dresses. The chocolate brown equestrian-style boots that have yet to make the trip west. But eventually you come to realize certain truths about yourself, about what you like and what you love. Although I lamented leaving behind many of the clothes that featured heavily in my New England existence when I got on that plane in April, I knew that their absence would allow me a certain freedom, not to reinvent myself really, but to let go of those pieces of the past that kept me from settling into a style that I could love without hesitation. A style that all at once tells the story of who I am, who I’d like to be, and who I’d like others to see.

The years of working in retail both helped and hurt me along the way. The employee discount allowed me to expand the size of and to play with my closet in a way that would have been impossible in any other part-time employment scenario. But I also molded my style into a shape that fit the aesthetic of the company for which I worked. It was easy to stumble further down the preppy path that deep down I knew wasn’t really me at all. In the middle of my retail career, I showed up to work in one of my simpler outfits. Black skinny jeans and off-white, suede ballet flats worn with a denim shirt belted over a white v-neck tee. My tweed blazer, a necessity for the dress code, was slung over my slouchy hobo. A co-worker mentioned how much she liked the look. She noted how rare it was to see me in something so easy and relaxed. This is how I dress when I’m not here. It was a half-truth. It was how I hoped to dress when I wasn’t there.


I first saw Trance well over a year ago on a somewhat dreary day at a movie theater that sits across from Boston Common. I found the story and performances intriguing enough, but it was another piece of the production that stuck with me after the credits rolled. The film’s one and only female protagonist, a hypnotherapist played by Rosario Dawson, had a wardrobe that I lusted after and greatly envied. She favored pencil skirts with blousy tops tucked in. Crisp shirts paired with high-waisted pants. Airy shirtdresses worn with classic ballet flats. Her palette was muted, filled with blushes and grays and cool blues. In one of her few casual scenes, she wore a slouchy, oversized sweater with skinny denim, thrown on as she enjoyed a carefree day with her boyfriend.

I often use films as descriptors when discussing the style of those around me. My mother and her Diane Keaton in Annie Hall and Manhattan mish mash. My college classmates’ tendency to dress like the preppy villains from Brat Pack movies. My older sister’s adolescent obsession with clothes that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the set of House Party. The people I see walking down my stretch of Sunset clothed in a style birthed out of a Singles/Benny & Joon/Reality Bites triad. It's an easy shorthand when talking about fashion with those who don't spend their evenings clicking through photos from runway shows and visiting clothes in luxury department stores. I've thought about my clothes in terms of cultural references here and there but not to the same extent that I've classified the looks of others. But then rarely had the styling of a character resonated with me so deeply or gotten to the heart of what I had been searching for all these years.

Sometimes you need a starting point from which to leap. On that gray day the movie screen provided one for me. The magpie tendencies of my childhood began to fade away long ago, and I've found myself drawn more and more to pieces of the simple variety. Things that allow me to breath in more way than one.

A black cowl-neck sweater bought soon after I moved to New York City broke me out of my collegiate addiction to ill-fitting "party" clothes. A gauzy, white v-neck rediscovered soon after I saw Trance forced me to reconsider the idea that t-shirts make me look unkempt. And then there was that first pair of skinny jeans purchased close to a decade ago.

It is in those pieces, and others like them, that my nervous fidgets subside, where I relax into myself and my clothes. It is in those pieces where a new, not yet fully formed Samantha is let loose. It is in those pieces that her well-behaved, straight backed counterpart begins to melt away.

I'm done with her, was done with her years ago, but I am still working on letting her go completely.

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