Sometimes, when I’m walking down the street, I see women dressed in commuter shoes and blazers with huge shoulder pads, or with really pouffy bangs and faint blue eyeshadow, or in black platform sandals and skinny jeans and a waist belt with lots of gold chain necklaces. Then I look down and observe the utility jacket over my shoulders paired with high-waist denim cutoffs and ballet flats and think to myself: Do women reach a style apex at a certain point that they just can’t recover from? I say recover because it’s like we get stuck in an era that we believe both defines our “truest selves” and also encapsulates a heyday.
When I discovered utility jackets and reworked Levi’s denim shorts in 2009, I legitimately underwent a transformation. Suddenly, I had ALL THE CLOTHES I could ever need and thus just had to figure out footwear. I was also 21 and had launched Man Repeller in tandem with graduating from college, was about to get back together with my asshole ex-boyfriend who then became my really nice husband and all of it made being alive so much fun. Everything was new! And changing! In a good way! My 20s were off to such a cool start. Look, it’s not like I’m inching towards the end of them while grasping for the inside of a garbage dispenser, but a lot of life happens in your late 20s, which no one had told me about before I googled, “why are the end of my 20s so hard?” (Saturn rising, apparently, but also, you start to realize things you don’t like about yourself that have always been true but which you never previously acknowledged or recognized.)
When I settle into a pair of jeans and reach for my utility jacket, I think that I’m trying to recreate my early 20s. That makes me feel like Regina George’s mother in Mean Girls, who just didn’t get that she wasn’t her daughter’s peer. The thing is, though, I don’t even want to go back to my early 20s. I was so confused and unsure and spent most of it feeling like I was in the process of emerging from the birth canal. I’ve been mentally ready to grow past my former self since I first wanted to start trying for a baby (and if not then, definitely last August when I bought my first pair of sensible trousers). Is it weird that my style hasn’t technically changed to reflect that? That I could still want to look like a former version of me, even though I don’t necessarily want to feel like her? Could I simultaneously feel, on the one hand, this intense sense of imposter syndrome when I wear clothes that are indicative of a former me, but on the other, completely self-understood? Is that feeling of self-understanding actually just my comfort zone?
It’s all so confusing because here I’ve been operating on the premise that style is a reflection of where and who we are in real time. Like a mutable appendage, or temporary tattoo. But maybe that’s not true at all. Maybe the magic is in the tension unwittingly created between who we are and who we were.
For what it’s worth, I am eager for warmer weather — not to wear jean shorts and utility jackets, but more because I’d like to wear caftans with close-toe, flat slingbacks and a plastic basket. Does that say anything?
Photos via Leandra Medine; feature photo by Edith Young.