“Who Made You King of Anything?”
You’ve got opinions man, we’re all entitled to,
But I never asked.
So let me thank you for your time and try not to waste anymore of mine…
Who cares if you disagree?
You are not me, who made you king of anything?
So you dare tell me who to be!
Who died and made you king of anything? –Sara Bareilles
“What are you wearing?”
“Oh my God, do you see what Kathleen Coffin is wearing?”
“Whatever you’re comfortable with…but everyone else is going to think you look ridiculous!”
I’ve heard these kinds of comments all my life. They used to make me feel ashamed and miserable but now they only vaguely irritate me. Generally, they amuse me.
Narrowing down when people started talking about how I dressed is tricky. Mostly because in my sordid fashion history, there are two parts—one when I dressed funny on accident, and later when I dressed funny on purpose. For the first part of my childhood, I didn’t care how I dressed.
Frankly at eight years old, I had other things to worry about. My family was being torn apart at the seams—my mother, feeling worthless, started taking classes to help her feel good about herself. This worked but it also meant she for most of the evenings out of the week, she wasn’t home. My father’s mood swings were passionate and scary—I never knew what mood he’d be in when he came home. Our financial struggles only seemed to make things worse.
The move from a little town where I knew everyone to a new town near a big city where I knew no one was difficult. Like the rest of my siblings, I struggled with crippling shyness. When I did talk, I generally told stories about myself to make me seem like the sort of person you’d want to be friends with—rather than a miserable little girl who was scared of her own shadow.
My fashion sense then was…nonexistent. I didn’t care. I grabbed whatever shirt was on my floor, clean or dirty and fling it on. Often, because I was desperate for my parents’ affection, I wore their old T-shirts. This was also the start of my hygiene problems too—when you’re praying that your mother gets home before your brother and father start screaming at each other and you’re crying in your room, listening to music as loud as you possibly can, showering that night and remembering deodorant doesn’t seem quite as important.
Even when I started longing for the clean, pretty clothes my friends had it didn’t make much of a difference. There was never enough money for designer jeans or the specific clothing stores where my friends shopped. Luckily, certain people caught onto this.
I remember one of the popular girl’s moms coming up to me and asking me if I’d like her two daughters’ old clothes. “They’re so much taller than you and they grow out of their clothes so quickly, I hate throwing them away.” My father, who was present, was furious but he couldn’t very well say no. He grumbled the entire way home about accepting charity and how he was perfectly capable of buying me clothes. (Which wasn’t true.) I, on the other hand, was delighted. New clothes! New clothes belonging to the popular girls, the girls who had lives I’d always wished for.
This wasn’t the only occasion. I remember borrowing a pair of P.J’s from a friend who told me to keep them when my father came to pick me up. From seventh grade to the summer I went off to college, one friend gave me all of her old clothes and shoes. I remember one teacher even giving me a nice blue hoodie that she claimed didn’t fit her goddaughter and she was unable to return it.
When I started becoming interested in clothes and dressing, at around eleven, also came the realization that my parents would never be able to afford the clothes I wanted. So I decided to make do. I became creative with my outfits. I made my own jewelry, I cut up old clothes and made them into scarves, headbands, hats, bracelets, anything that struck my fancy. Now bear in mind, I am pretty far from a designer. My handmade things weren’t very nice looking—they were downright odd to be truthful. But I liked the feeling of wearing different clothes. I remember wearing a short black velvet skirt over a pair of jeans and how daring I felt for doing it.
That’s about when the comments became more frequent. I remember wearing an old man’s dress shirt, burgundy colored to school one day and someone asking why I wore it.
“I wanted to wear something different,” I told her.
“Well, you definitely did that,” She commented. Her tone wasn’t complimentary, and since this was a friend I admired, I felt sheepish and stupid.
High school was a good time for me—at least after freshman year. I was sure my first year of high school would be perfect if I wore the ‘right’ clothes. I tried pretty hard too, following the gospel of Seventeen magazine. In time, I got lazy and stopped caring.
My mother tried to help me. After tearfully telling her about my lack of cute clothes, she saved up her paychecks and took me shopping. I usually went to Rave and Rue 21, because they had the best sales and the nicest clothes. There was a salesperson at Rave—she helped me pick out clothes, clothes that were different and trendy. As I went through high school, I started to develop my own style, a style that has stuck with me from then on. This style wasn’t always approved of either—I remember wearing a green flowy gypsy skirt one day with a fuzzy sweater and having someone direct a rather lofty comment about it. But I stopped caring, which I think was the most important part of my style evolution.
And what style is this? Retro? Preppy? Punk? Bohemian? Sporty?
None of the above. I refused to box myself in one little label and just wore clothes I liked. I also didn’t stop my love of oddities—I still like making jewelry and adding something different to every outfit. When I got to college, I discovered that I had a deep love of vintage styles, and started wearing my mother’s old clothes from the 70s and my grandmother’s old clothes from the 40s. I wouldn’t say no to a pair of Manolo Blahniks but I also like wearing brandless shoes from Payless. I love Stevie Nicks and Kate Voegele’s artsy styles but sometimes I am just too lazy in the morning to put a great deal of thought into an outfit.
For the most part, the commentary on my style choices has stopped. I like to think that most of us have realized that different people maintain different styles and that’s the way it is. But every once in a while, someone will offer a ‘helpful’ comment to me. I’m thinking of a specific case that I’m sure a few of the people tagged will recognize and grin. I think my favorite part of that little situation was one of the people who defended me, is possibly the most gorgeous person on the planet and I have always been jealous of her adorably trendy style. I love how irony works sometimes. But I’m still a little astounded at how some people can be so limited in their clothing choices.
So what is the real meaning of fashion? Of style? Well, I’ll tell you. Absolutely nothing. Your style of clothes, be they straight out of Vogue or an eclectic mish mash reveal nothing about your character or intellect (unless you wear a Twilight T-shirt…haha, just kidding!) and that’s that. I wear cute clothes cuz I like looking nice every once in a while but I equally like wearing jeans and T-shirts because I like being lazy every once in a while. And that’s all I’m saying.
If you have an opinion on my character or intellect or beliefs, by all means share it. I’m still young, I’m still learning about the world and how it shapes my views. But if you have an opinion on why I choose to wear my mom’s old dress from the 70s, blue jeans, cowboy boots, my grandmother’s ring, and a random jumble of jewelry…keep it to yourself. Everyone loves a compliment, but constructive criticism in that department is a little ridiculous. My style is done, developed. It has no more evolving to do. But hopefully, if you have a negative opinion on that, you have more evolving to do. Good luck with that.
You sound so innocent,
All full of good intent.
You swear you know best.
But you expect me to,
Jump onboard with you,
Ride off into your delusional sunset! –Sara Bareilles