At age 14, a close personal friend of mine stopped being emo after proclaiming, "You can't be an emo as an adult." I was shocked and offended to my core: My personal style was never going to change, thank you very much. I knew I would be emo forever, because dressing emo and embodying every aspect of the alternative culture was entirely who I was as a living, breathing, human being.
Obviously, I was wrong. Emo didn't last forever, the summer of love is over, and punk is dead. Fashion movements, even when tied to social or political issues, always seem to move on. Upon growing up, our personal styles change, too. That isn't to say that they dilute or lessen somehow. Rather, that they grow. Instead of solely drawing inspiration from one subculture, I currently find myself adoring and representing many in a single look.
This is arguably how personal style is created: From multitudes of inspirations being combined in a unique way.
But if this is true, why do we so often get defensive over our personal styles? Why can "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" feel like total tosh when one is faced with a Snapchat pic of the girl you hate wearing the jeans that you totally owned first? All of this leads me to wonder whether establishing a personal style, and proceeding to abide by the stylistic rules associated with said style, is a worthwhile pursuit in the first place.
In 2016, it's fair to say that almost everything has already been done. Don't worry: I'm not going to get all existential on your ass. What I mean to say is that originality, especially in style, has evolved beyond creating that which is brand new. Instead, fashion and our personal styles have seemingly become an amalgamation of different inspirations from different trends, different eras, and different people. This is why I feel the need to argue against the notion that a person's style must always be "on brand" — catering to a sartorial genre they have chosen for themselves and deviating very little thereafter.
As much as this might apply to personal style as a whole, the argument might be more relevant in regards to specific fashion subcultures. When a person's style is so largely about a certain aesthetic or culture — be it goth, rockabilly, punk, etc. — certain style rules arguably come into play. They are rules that may seem arbitrary to those on the outside; but within these circles, it can feel like they must be adhered to (á la thick black eyeliner as an emo or fake tan as a Jersey Shore copy-cat). Otherwise, you're at risk of being labeled "inauthentic" or a "poser."
As someone who has both adhered strictly to a fashion movement's rules and somebody who grew out of doing so, I believe this is wrong. Adhering to rules can stifle a person's creativity and individuality.
From my experiences, there exists a superiority complex in certain stylistic circles; and a fear of being outcasted within the community will regularly lead to people refusing to take risks in order to not ~upset~ the crowd. In this sense, the subverted subculture becomes as strict a style hierarchy as the mainstream it's trying to deride.
Personally, I find it far more inauthentic to abide by one fashion culture entirely than to mix and match with other trends and create something entirely your own.
Outside of subcultures, however, labels of alleged "inauthenticity" are still applied. Many of us feel stuck between seeming like we're not trying too hard, but at the same time, still attempting to look good.
My friend and fellow writer, Hatti Rex, encountered this phenomenon recently. When wearing a KISS T-shirt, a man asked her, "Do you even like KISS?"
First off, Hatti does indeed know who KISS is, and is in fact a fan of the band whose T-shirt she owns and wears often. Additionally, KISS is one of the biggest rock bands to have ever existed. Unless Hatti had lived in a cave for the past 24 years of her life, I'm sure she would have heard a KISS song at some point during her time on planet Earth.
Most importantly, however, why would it matter if she didn't? There is arguably no superiority to be garnered from knowing more of a band's albums than another person does. Similarly, a human doesn't need to listen to a band in order to wear their T-shirt. IMO, simply liking the design and handing over the money are more than enough prerequisites to qualify a person to wear a garment.
So when I ask myself whether it's important to stick to one type of style, I cannot help but think no: No it is not. In fact, I actively encourage people to do the opposite.
Instead of abiding by any alleged fashion rules — whether your own, those of your friends, or society's — question them. Instead of feeling like you need to "stay true" to a certain aesthetic, put your own spin on it. And if anybody tries to judge you for trying too hard to look cool, just ask them whether they know anyone who gets up in the morning and actively tries to look terrible. Chances are, they don't.
Images: Georgina Jones