I remember very little from the five years I spent fancying myself a ballerina. I cannot recreate my turnout or conjure up once-instinctual barre movements. Still, I do recall the exact tone that a foul-tempered instructor named Marta used to inform me that ballet was not supposed to be effortless. “It’s supposed to look effortless.”
Chalk it up to my Soviet training. While I may never have realized a career as a dancer, I found myself channeling Marta and her militant refrain each time I embarked on annual back-to-school shopping trips. No matter how considered or strategic, style should seem easy, breezy! (Beautiful! CoverGirl!). It should be delicate and graceful — like a sugarplum fairy or Carey Mulligan.
During those years, I bought cardigans and cheerful dresses. I rejected overtly assertive alternatives and amassed drawstring bags, a rainbow of ballet flats, and as many Lancôme Juicy Tubes as I could convince my mother to buy. Long before Beyoncé said so, I was desperate to at least appear as though “I woke up like this.”
I wasn’t the only one. After we outgrew our erstwhile longing for pin-straight hair and French manicures, my friends and I all aspired to long, flowing locks, sun-kissed makeup, and a wardrobe full of the kind of generic “going-out” tops that Mandy Moore wore so well. Teenage girls are capable of a thousand kinds of evil, but none seemed so vicious to me as the pronouncement I once overheard at a high-school party: “Ugh. Her outfit is trying way too hard.”
That is until right about now. After several decades of feigned indifference, it’s finally cool to care.
I have proof. Hedi Slimane’s most recent Saint Laurent runways boasted the kind of sharp-shouldered women so sexy they might have made Marta blush. The exuberant silhouettes that Rosie Assoulin designs are not exactly for sugarplums. Neither is Sophia Amoruso’s edgy fringe or Lena Dunham’s constellation of tattoos or the Birkenstocks that Phoebe Philo has redeemed.
Be it Edie Campbell in leather leggings and Technicolor sneakers or Jenna Lyons in a rainbow of rhinestones and chambray, the best of us are no longer too scared to admit to some sartorial deliberation. The result? Well, I think it’s a lot more exciting than the tired, “Oh, this old thing?” gambit of yesteryear.
But not all my evidence is observed. I have in fact experienced the revelation myself. A few weeks ago, I stepped into a tiny dressing room in East London. Egged on by a friend and former hip-hop dancer, I shimmied into a sculptural marigold skirt and cropped silk tank. A whisper of midriff peeked out. I stared at the bold sliver of skin and considered the girl that faced me in the mirror. She did not look “dainty” or “delicate.” She did not affect effortlessness. She seemed strong and observant and audacious. I decided I liked her a lot.
Life is not like ballet class. No one even pretends it’s going to be easy. But it is exhilarating and dynamic and a constant adventure. These days, it can finally look like one.