Life’s too short to wear boring clothes.
-Carly Cushnie & Michelle Ochs
I went with my roommate this morning to Value Village (a thrift store that sells everything from bed sheets to Halloween costumes). Everything was 50% off, and as luck would have it their dress selection was actually quite good. My roommate found a dress, and I foolishly left a pair of blue suede pumps behind that would have cost a total of $2.50 (even I don’t understand how I let that happen). Thrift stores are wonderful things, they’re my second favorite place to shop after antique stores. The reason I love them so much is because it’s one of the few places you can go and find something unique. Yes often the items are a few years old and not quite in style anymore, but I’ve never been one to care about what’s in style. I care more about fit and comfort then whether or not my shirt will look exactly like the other 15 women in my office who saw the same shirt in the store or online. And while I do like shopping local, where the uniqueness factor also exists, the thrift stores are much easier on my wallet.
I was the youngest of three growing up, and so the concept of new clothes existed, but more often then not it was hand-me-downs with a belt looped around me to keep my pants from falling down (I was the skinniest child ever my first few years due to an undiagnosed dairy allergy). Imagine a grade 6 girl with an afro perm, sweatshirt and navy blue corduroy pants cinched to her waist. I was definitely not in the running to be named most fashionable in my school yearbook, but I really didn’t cared.
I think the best outfits I ever had to wear though were the matching flower dresses and headbands my mom would put me and my two sisters in for special occasions. It was all the rage back then, and I’m sure many of you remember wearing something similar. Even better was the bowl/mushroom cut that me and my middle sister sported (somehow my older sister was able to keep her long blonde hair, meaning she got a matching scrunchie, while me and my other sister were forced to shed ours). It was the style of the 90’s, and looking back at pictures I do look pretty cute.
In high school I began to get an allowance of $50 per month, and it had to cover any fun things I wanted to do, as well as any clothes I wanted to wear. Being the scrooge that I am, I chose to pocket most of my money, and my wardrobe was never updated until I was in grade 11. When I got my first job working at a Tim Hortons, a job I would keep for six years, my oldest sister decided that my first check should be spent entirely on a new wardrobe, and considering I was wearing four year old t-shirts and six year old pants, it was probably a wise decision. My sister took me to the biggest mall in the city, and we shopped for hours, I had never spent so much money in my life before…and it was exhilarating. So much so that it became a yearly tradition, every summer until I went to university, my sister would take me to the mall and I would spend my first $400-$500 paycheck on clothes, accessories, shoes etc. Today I couldn’t imagine doing something like that, but at 16 my fiscal responsibilities were quite a bit less.
So why the foray into my fashion choices? Because it wasn’t until I was in university and had to make fashion choices for myself that I realized that what I wore and how I chose to present myself was an expression of who I was. Before that it was just me picking a shirt up off the floor sniffing it to see if it was clean and walking out the door with it on (confession time, I still do on occasion dig clothes of my laundry hamper and if they don’t smell too bad, worn them out – sometimes a girl just doesn’t have time to do laundry). My first year on of university I lived on campus, and by lived on campus I mean if I took the elevator to the main floor and stepped out the campus bookstore was on one side and lockers were on the other. I could literally roll out of bed five minutes before class if I wanted to and still have time to grab a coffee while shuffling down the hall in my pajamas. I, however, did not take advantage of such luxuries, and even now refuse to leave the house in pj’s or sweatpants (I have also banned my roommate for doing the same if we’re in public together. My biggest fear is becoming one of those people of
Wal-Mart memes). Instead, I would get up extra early and put together what I thought was a super trendy outfit such as skinny jeans, a green sweater, beige vest with matching green earrings and eye shadow and heels. Yes. I wore heels in university, every single day for a year! Coincidentally I stopped wearing heels in my second year after I realized that wearing heels and running to catch the bus was a recipe for multiple face plants.
My first year of university I really felt like I had arrived. I was on my own, making my own decisions, and killing what I believed to be adulthood. However, as I was looking through my Facebook photos of high school and university I realized something. From about 2008-2011/2012 my wardrobe was pretty much exactly the same! I wore the same shirt in my grade 11 school photo that I did to my first day of university class! Here I was in this new environment thinking I was killing the whole adult thing and really expressing myself and I looked like I was 15. In fairness, when I was 20 Costco wouldn’t let me have a sample because they thought I was under 12 and didn’t know what food I could eat, so I’m pretty sure I’ll always look younger then I am.
Every item of clothing I owned when I was a kid was a hand-me-down. I never picked what I got, I just was thankful I had clothes to wear (shout out to my mom for spending so much time ironing on patches to all my pants because I insisted on wearing holes in them by playing animals on the playground). When I hit high school I adopted my sisters style, if she told me it was cool I bought it, which carried into my university years. I hardly ever actually looked at clothes and formed my own opinion, they were always just there hanging in my closest. And when people would tell me that I had such good taste, I would smile and nod, and pretend that I really was that good at picking out my own clothes while secretly feeling ashamed that it was really someone else who had chosen them for me. I don’t know why I never said thanks “my sister actually picked it out,” I highly doubt anyone would’ve judged me for that, I mean I looked amazing either way.
So now what does fashion mean to me? Now that I’ve realized it can actually be an expression of who I am? Honestly not much. I have a few items that I’ve picked out because I loved them and no one was going to talk me out of them, to the detriment of my roommate who still can’t believe I own a cape pea coat (it’s exactly as it sounds) or a faux fur vest. I think these items rank up there with my alpaca hat and the orange tank top and pineapple pants I wore a few years ago (I recently made a comeback with those pants and a coworker looked at me and said “You would own a pair of pineapple pants”). I still don’t pay attention to the trends, it took me three years to understand the difference between jeggings and skinny jeans, and even longer to own a pair. I don’t know why you need more than three pairs of jeans or 12 different coats. And now when people compliment me on my outfits I answer truthfully by saying “thanks, it’s my mom’s/grandma’s.” Yes you read right, 90% of my closet is hand-me-downs from my mother and my grandma, and it’s awesome, because trust me no one I meet is wearing the same style anymore, which means I’m exceptionally unique (also why pay for a wardrobe when your mom’s is actually much cooler than anything you’d be buying…and free!)
And even though for the most part I don’t care about fashion there are times when I have used it to my advantage. My roommate can probably tell you the countless times I’ve tried on outfit after outfit before going to hang out with someone I was interested in. Or how many dresses I’ve bought for every wedding I’ve been to. There’s the chaos of trying to find the perfect date outfit, and the perfect post-breakup outfit that’ll show that ex just what they’ve lost (at this point I think I need to realize that they’re just clothes, not miracle workers). Fashion, it would seem plays a much larger role in my life than I would like to admit. And when I do go shopping I often find myself in the junior section, especially at places like Marshall’s and Winners. Everything’s just so much cheaper, and more my style. Which is great until I show up somewhere and realize that I’m twinning with a 12 year old. My shoes are generally from the kids section unless they’re high heels. I am not joking, I fit a size 4 kids, and again, their shoes are often much cuter (and easier to get on, screw laces I love my Velcro shoes they take like two seconds to put on). Sometimes I wish I understood fashion better so I wouldn’t have to wander into my roommates room and ask her if my outfit matches or if I can mix gold and silver accessories. I’m sure she wishes that too. I wish I had my own sense of style, or could at least learn not to wear white, especially to work. How many coffee stains do I need to get on my pants before I learn? But then I realize that even though I don’t hand pick most of my clothes or really know how to match them I still find a way to be uniquely myself. I still add my own flair to my wardrobe (even if sometimes it doesn’t match or quite fit me properly…I can be really stubborn when I find something I like). Fashion is ever changing, much like I am. It evolves and becomes something entirely different, just as each season of my life changes me. So while I may hold on to a certain shirt or dress for nostalgia, I really hope that 10, 20, 50 years from now I won’t be looking at a picture from my twenties only to look down and realize I’m still wearing the exact same shirt.