Why You Should Embrace Your Brutal Fashion Past

by Katie Hoffman

If cats have nine lives, women probably have at least 20 lives within the course of one lifetime; I’m talking about style lives. They’re different for each woman, varying in length and future embarrassment potential. I’m on my ninth life right now, and I’d describe this as my Attempted Neutral-Yet-Feminine Sophisticated Adult phase. I’ve come a long way since the reluctant hand-me-down stage, the OshKosh B’gosh era, the Aeropostale adventure of my preteen years, the half-hearted Emo experiment that encompassed my sophomore year of high school, the black eyeliner epoch, the “must wear leggings or layers every day” moment (that sadly lasted a lot longer than a moment), the sweatpants insurgence against the entire well-rested world that took place for most of college and the fast fashion period.

When we think back on our former style choices, we often hang our heads in shame and ask ourselves the tough questions like, “Why did I own so many chokers?” or, “Why did I feel like the second coming of Audrey Hepburn while wearing spaghetti strap tops over my t-shirts?” When we judge our prior style choices by today’s trends and our current fashion philosophies, it’s easy to dismiss our skinny belts and shrugs, but even our most brutal, cringeworthy fashion phases are so much more than humiliating relics immortalized in old photo albums; they add dimension to our memories and serve as souvenirs that remind of us the person we were at a specific time in our lives.

Maybe it’s superficial — or perhaps it’s just one of the consequences of being a Millennial and having a folder full of pictures on your computer to corroborate most of your memories — but when we think back on the special moments in our lives, often the first visions that come to us concern how we looked. So many of my "remember that time..." stories are peppered with things like, "I remember I was wearing that awful blue vest," or, "That had to be senior year because my hair was long." Style phases are like the modern answer to geological time intervals.

I recall one of the many BFF photo shoots that took place right in the comfort of my friend’s bedroom. It was just for fun, which in high school translated to, “Xanga and Myspace and waiting with bated breath for these pictures!!!” This was during my "Leggings Or Layers Every Day” stage. I was wearing black leggings with a blue tunic dress that was cinched right under my boobs with a braided, brassy belt. My friend and I were channeling Gossip Girl and I was totally evoking Blair Waldorf, right down to the headband.

Admittedly, I wouldn’t wear that ensemble again unless I had to raid a teenage girl’s closet during the zombie apocalypse, but I feel a connection to that outfit that makes it impossible for me to hate it completely. There’s too much nostalgia there. It reminds me of a time in my life that I didn’t appreciate as much as I should have in the moment. Every time I see it, I feel grateful that I'm no longer that insecure girl who’s always trying to look like someone else instead of herself. It makes me appreciate the bond I have with my friends despite how much our relationships have changed since the days we passed notes to each other during class and ate lunch together in the same cafeteria. That’s some heavy stuff to put onto a blue tunic that probably came from the Juniors’ department at Sears (I made good use of my associate discount), but I think it’s significant to remain attached to the vestiges of your former self, even if they happen to be in the form of a regrettably bad outfit.

Ralph Lauren said that “fashion is not necessarily about labels. It’s not about brands. It’s about something else that comes from within you.” I think that’s the thing that ties one person’s many fashion lives together: They all represent a mood, a time or a place from which we’ve grown, even though we were so certain it was going to last forever. My cheeks may redden when I flip through some of my most blackmail-worthy photo album entries, but time has made me realize that even my most cringeworthy fashion phases illustrate the chapters of my life, and I’m willing to bet yours do, too.

Take out a photo album. Open up that “Oldies” subfolder in your Pictures library. If you can set aside your tremendous mortification for a second, you’ll see that the fossils of who you were are all right there. Beyond the jeans with a glittery silver unicorn on the thigh, there’s the vulnerability and desire to fit in that seemed like the most important thing at the time. Beneath that Von Dutch hat, there’s a fearlessness the world hadn’t challenged yet. The memories of how we used to dress, do our makeup or style our hair shouldn’t be stricken from the record, they should be celebrated because they so humbly remind us that we’ve come a helluva long way from where we started.

You may not mourn all of the style lives you’ve left behind, but don’t forget that it’s from those ashes that you got to where you are now. The way you dressed back then might be out of style, but taking a second to appreciate the person you were and admire the person you’ve become is always fashionable. I say, let's embrace the foiled cat face shirts and sparkly blazers of our past.

Images: Author