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