BY ANNA J. STAINSBY
Last fall, I conducted an experiment to step back and observe my sartorial behaviour scientifically. I documented and reflected upon each one of my outfits and displayed them to the world after reaching somewhat of a conclusion. The feedback I received (on two different occasions I have been approached by girls in bars and and told how much they’d enjoyed it! The memory still makes me giddy) and the experience itself made me want to do it again, but the weather that followed didn’t allow for much other than calculated rotations of my three coziest sweaters and blanket scarf. Essentially, my winter wardrobe is boring. It does the trick in terms of keeping me warm and alive, but it’s not worth photographing.
I decided to postpone round 2 until the spring, somewhere between the beginning of “warmth” and the beginning of the end- exams. Only this time, I wanted to bring something fresher. It’s spring after all! I asked my boyfriend if he’d be willing to style me for a week. I anticipated a “yes” (he loves clothes, too) but I didn’t anticipate how into it he was going to get. I pitched this back in December and immediately he asked for dates (as to plan) and announced plans to properly research (what, I’m still not certain) for the week.
I haven’t had someone dress me since I was 4. The second I could, I banished my mother from my closet and curated my own outfits- ridiculous as many were. The freedom that came with complete control over my clothing was, and is still, something I find to be extremely empowering. You get to make yourself feel whatever you want to feel. Relinquishing control this week was thereby a rather scary thing, and not something I’d recommend unless you fully trust your “stylist”. My boyfriend, Marcus, dresses well- I’d describe his style as Topshop mixed with vintage- and has a good eye, but I was initially afraid he’d make me wear ridiculous things just because he could. On Sunday night, he came over to lay out my Monday outfit and I realized how seriously he was taking it. He looked at the outfits I’d posted on my previous article to try to avoid certain articles of clothing and he carefully studied my closet. His commitment definitely settled some nerves but stressed some others. I’d agreed to go a week without planning a single article of clothing that I’d have to wear all day, in front of friends, classmates, and profs. For someone who loves being in control of things that are controllable, it was daunting. 5 days isn’t long, but when you’re on edge, it feels it. I was afraid I wouldn’t be excited to do something I generally take great pleasure in: getting dressed. I was also afraid I wouldn’t feel like myself. I’ll try to unpack these feelings at the end, but first: the styling.
I’d been meaning to wear this Reebok shirt I recently found in my brother’s closet but somehow haven’t yet. So, when Marcus decided to base the outfit around it I was curious to see where he’d take it.
I had my reservations about the jeans for a couple reasons. 1) They have a slight tear around the butt area so I have to wear something long to cover it. 2) I feel more “myself” in high waisted pants.
I didn’t vocalize any of these as to not compromise the science behind this experiment. If my boyfriend was going to style me, he had to do so without any of my input. I won’t lie- during that first styling session I had to bite my tongue a few times to stop myself from saying “Oh well normally with those I’d wear X and Y…”. After all, this wasn’t about staying within the equations I’ve carefully drawn out for my outfits. This was about breaking the mould with a little help from an external source.
The blazer made a lot of sense, and helped in terms of making me feel like myself. When the outfit itself was done, I could tell he wasn’t altogether satisfied. “I need to leave my mark,” he said, sounding something like a perp on Criminal Minds before leaving the corpse in a very specifically creepy way.
I handed him my jewelry bowl and let him pick through the tangled mess. He picked up a few hoops and shrugged before coming across, arguably, my most extra earrings. I warned him that they hurt (and that’s why I wear them so sparingly despite my love for them) and he assured as long as I wore them around “MUSE people and in class” that would be okay. Despite the pain, they truly did tie the whole outfit together.
Although I was excited that Marcus chose a skirt (for variety purposes) for Tuesday’s outfit, I immediately regretted telling him he could dress me however, regardless of the weather. On my way to my 8:30, it was -8 sans wind chill. Bare-legged and sweaterless, I marched to class as quickly as possibly in an attempt to keep blood aflow and outrun the glares I got from just about everyone I passed by. I wanted to tell them that none of this was my choice but I feared any other output of energy would come at the expense of my poor limbs.
I liked this outfit, though. I would’ve never thought to pair so many prints together (while I do
like clashing prints, these ones specifically I think I’d have worn in a more conservative way). The peacoat truly elevated this one and made me feel quite British. I do prefer his shirt (vintage, and taken from his closet) on him but I had wanted to try it since we bought it together so- two birds.
So it was too bad that it only stayed on me for a couple hours. After a painful walk home, I changed back into my PJs and warmed up under my covers. You know that stinging feeling when your skin is slowly thawing back to its normal state after being frozen? That went on for a while.
Below you will find my scowl of failure as I recover under the covers. But I repeat the mantra, “If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today”. Pretty sure Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh was referring to poor sartorial choices here.
Tomorrow was better- and slightly warmer! Marcus played around with a few sweater over the dress shirt, but ultimately put me in a gold jacket. “You like HAIM now,” he said, then proclaimed me ready for the day as though HAIM was the goal we were working towards the whole time.
I tend to always wear tees under such a “fancy” jacket, but I think the jeans and slides did the trick in terms of balancing everything out here, so I’ve noted that for the future. The only thing worth noting re: feelings that day was FROSTBITTEN from the ankle down. I realize that’s not a feeling but it’s just as all-consuming, even if only my feet were directly affected. My stylist doesn’t care for the weather app, but did insist on the way my sleeves fell and the number of buttons were left open. Priorities.
My stylist’s choice to pair his father’s leather jacket with my puffy headband was the skeleton of this outfit. He added the “Enfant Terrible” sweater a little tongue-in-cheek and kept the rest pretty simple, save for the shoes which he ended up leaving up to me because of time constraints. I initially put on Docs but it seemed too literal so I pulled out some old Kooples booties.
What I’ve heard is nicknamed the “angry young man jacket” in Marcus’s family made me feel like a true badass. I love an oversized jacket with a structured shoulder, but this one had some added quilting inside which made it thicker, too. The next time I need a new leather jacket, I’ll definitely go for vintage.
So far, I have to say this was my most “me” outfit so far, and it made my feeling sick that day much more manageable. A good jacket, ripped jeans, and a signature accessory? Checks all my boxes.
I forgot to take a photo before leaving the house today so I figured this one in Watson Hall would do. The pose captures the essence of the outfit anyway, and the way I felt in it- funki! The leopard you see tucked into my pants is actually a dress but it’s super thin and can be played around with a little. Normally I like letting my dresses be dresses when I wear them over jeans but Marcus wanted to rips to show so we did a tuck.
The scarf around my neck was initially around my thigh, then around my wrist, and in my hair until he settled on what he wanted to avoid: tied around my neck like the other neckscarf he put me in earlier on in the week. The simplest answer is usually the right one, as they say.
Marcus tried to avoid the leather jacket (this one is mine, and much more fitted but still) but ultimately it worked best. Oh well. Although I am still in the painful process of breaking in my Docs, I love the way I feel when I wear them, and it was a chill Friday look to end the week.
Something that kept coming back throughout the week was this capital F, fear of not “feeling like myself”.
And often, it was unwarranted. I had a great stylist, and his knowledge of my own style undoubtedly helped. But I love planning and being in control so relinquishing things that I genuinely take pleasure in was unsettling. If I’m honest, each styling session had me slightly on edge- wondering what would happen if he put me in an outfit I didn’t love or even like.
I haven’t completely resolved this dilemma of feeling most myself in a good outfit. While I do believe in the power of a well-structured blazer to instil additional confidence or a vintage tee to feel cool, I wonder if that in itself is problematic. Fashion is a wonderful mode of expression, and presentation is a way to say to the world: this is who I am. The wonderful thing about it is it’s impermanence. It allows you to embody different things every day should you choose.
But, although fashion is a huge influence in my life, I don’t want to rely on clothing to feel like myself.
And this exercise was proof that I don’t need to. Ultimately, I was the same person under the clothes. This may have to do with having a good stylist, but also with letting go of control and focusing on what really matters. The concept itself was frightening, but nothing about my day-to-day life, my interactions, or my experiences were impacted.
While I’ll never deny myself an over-the-top outfit or a red lip for a boost from time to time, I want to remind myself to do so conscientiously, and not turn a source of creativity and self-expression into a crutch. As Yves Saint Laurent famously said, “What is most important in a dress is the woman wearing it”.