In the late 1990s I wasn't all that interested in fashion. I did like clothes, though, or more precisely, I knew what types of clothes I liked. For two years straight I wore nothing but flared second hand jeans, a tight tiger or dragon print t-shirt, gold-tone sneakers and a denim jacket with a multicoloured stripe detail and the name "McQueen" (that would be Steve, not Alexander) printed on the back. My accessories included a huge bird skull ring and a cowboy hat. As far as I can remember, nothing in particular influenced the way I dressed. I didn't admire anyone else's style, I didn't read fashion magazines. I bought clothes only if I saw something I really loved (and if I happened to have the money).
I remember the moment when things started changing for me, and shockingly, it wasn't all that long ago. I lived in London at the time, and needed a new pair of jeans. I found nothing but skinny ones. I remember thinking that skinny jeans seemed profoundly unflattering to me and that I thought I looked ridiculous in them. I bought a pair anyway. It might have been the first time I bought (into) something because I knew it was trendy. I don't really know what had changed. Perhaps it was my exposure to intense, all-over, cheap high street fashion in a big metropolitan city. Maybe I felt insecure, like I didn't fit in. Maybe I just needed a change. I think that particular purchase (the skinny jeans) was the first link in my long, turbulent chain of compulsive shopping, the one that eventually led to the launch of No Signposts in the Sea a couple of years later. I shopped, I shopped and I shopped, and I lost my personal style in the process. Buying new things was like a drug. Essentially, I forgot what it was like to have a favourite pair of jeans, or what it felt like to want to wear the same jacket day after day.
I am writing about this today because I got to thinking about the meaning of personal style the other day. I was channel-surfing and came across some indie band performing on the Jay Leno show. It hit me that the young men in the band wore the typical indie/electronica gear that all the other bands in their genre wear: slightly oversized retro glasses, neat haircuts, button-up shirts and skinny trousers. They all looked the same. The band's style looked so over-referenced that I didn't even know what to think. It occurred to me that as much talk as there is about personal style today, there seems to be an awful lot of style but very little personality.
Read any fashion or style blog, and you'll encounter elaborate statements of self-expression through personal style. Many blogs feature inspiration boards and images of "style icons". We are inspired (and influenced) by 1960s French cinema one day, the new Topshop catalogue the next day, and the day after that, Alexa Chung. One could argue that all style is referenced from somewhere else. Whether we realize it or not, we filter our clothing choices through an intricate maze of the things we see: a cool girl in a street style blog, the selection of clothing at the store we visited the week before, the old picture of our mother we stumbled upon in our family photo album. Some of us might be open to influences and directly copy what we see and like, and confess to doing so. The process can also be more indirect: we might not even notice where our ideas come from. In this sense, nothing in our style is organic. It all comes from somewhere. So where does the word "personal" fit in?
For me, it comes down to love. I loved my McQueen jacket so passionately that I wanted to wear it every single day for many years. (I still have it, of course, and I still love it.) There are clothes in my wardrobe that are practical and easy, there are mistakes, and then there are the clothes I love. They are not what fashion magazines would call "cornerstones" of my style, because there is no logic in the way I operate them. They are not a "foundation" for the rest of my clothes either. They don't belong to one particular clothing genre, nor do I feel like I wear them to express my personality. I just love them, and I want to wear them. The love is natural, instinctive. There is nothing forced about it. I don't try to do anything with those clothes. The less I think about what kind of style they result in, the better.
The short time that I was on the Great American Apparel Diet was very useful. It allowed me to see my wardrobe in a different light. I realized that I had bought a lot of clothes I had never loved. I saw very little of that late 1990s passionate love, the one that I used to have for my clothes. At some point some years ago I just started to think too much about what I wore. Maybe I tried to be someone else for a while, and got lost. Working in clothing retail certainly didn't help. That moment when I chose to wear skinny jeans without loving them - I will try to keep that in mind for the rest of my life. I want to wear what I love. And there is nothing more personal than the love we feel.
Long-sleeved tee & denim shirt: Salvation Army
Cardigan: Urban Outfitters
Vintage necklace and bracelet: presents from Lynn