I think we are all well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.
– From ‘On Keeping a Notebook’, Joan Didion
Whenever I look at photographs of myself as a child, I am always struck by my predisposition to wear jewellery. Without fail, old photographs reveal a little girl adorned in clunky necklaces, beady bracelets and enormous, dazzling rings. My obsession with jewellery rivalled that of Elizabeth Taylor, and soon after came my interest in clothes. My mother spoiled me: the bulk of my childhood clothes came from Marks and Spencer as opposed to cheaper, home grown department stores and I quickly built up an enviable wardrobe of fringed jeans, bejewelled t-shirts and a particularly covetable Schiaparelli-pink furry jumper, not unlike that worn by Nastassja Kinski in Paris, Texas.
My teen years were more awkward. I read ElleGirl, a now defunct teen fashion magazine with the tagline ‘Dare to be different’, and found myself constantly trying to unite my more ‘out there’ taste in clothes with general expectations. At school, non-uniform days were especially painful and on the lead-up to one such day, at 14, I panicked and begged my mother to buy me a zip-up top to wear. My close friends remarked that it was a different look for me, but I was happy in the knowledge that I was the same as everybody else. On a previous non-uniform day, an anonymous someone put a sticker on my back that read ‘Loser’.
At 16, I was slowly beginning to surrender to my interest. By now, fashion was not just about clothes and shopping, but it was my all-encompassing passion. I bought Vogue every month and requested fashion history books for Christmas and birthdays. I edited my school magazine and wrote an article on the evolution of fashion. Just as friends of my mine were interested in horses or music, fashion had become my ‘thing’.
A week after I turned 17, I set up a fashion blog like any dutiful fashion-mad teenager in the mid-to-late noughties. That was a summer spent indoors, trawling through Teen Vogue’s forums and writing about Balenciaga, Luella Bartley and subcultures. By anyone’s standards, my blog was a bit cringey, complete with the cheesiest name I have yet to encounter on any other blog, She’s in Vogue.
I thought that name signalled good taste, self-assuredness and timeless simplicity. In reality, it implied the exact opposite and I would soon learn that the really cool fashion bloggers I admired did not so much as read Vogue.
It quickly became my special place. For the first time in my life, I had somewhere I could be myself in all of my slightly eccentric entirety. She’s in Vogue evolved over time, and while I began by writing posts about trends and celebrities whose style I admired, my blog quickly changed to cover fashion in a way that was unique to me. In particular, I liked fashion that was vintage-inspired and my posts were both research and image heavy. I loved old movie star looks – red lips, pearls, floor length satin gowns – and I was equally enamoured with ladylike 1950s fashion – big skirts, cat eye sunglasses and Audrey Hepburn ballet slippers. My favourite fashion era was the 1960s and I wrote extensively about all aspects of Mod fashion: parkas, mini-skirts, brogues, buttoned-up shirts and my greatest love then, Paul Weller from the 1970s Mod-revival band The Jam.
Looking back, I am still somewhat impressed by the sheer detail of my posts, even if the writing was poor and the content hardly what one might call cutting-edge. Nonetheless, I can appreciate my pieces for their refreshing lack of cynicism. Back then, I was into everything – or so it seemed – and my blog posts covered the gamut from Debbie Harry to Land Girls, snooker players to Buddy Holly, Marie Antoinette to Lee Miller, Lady Lavery to The Smiths, Bette Davis to Betty Draper, Pre-Raphaelites to Picasso, Peggy Guggenheim to Elaine Benes.
From these diverse and somewhat bizarre references, I put together outfits and sheepishly posted pictures of myself posing in my bedroom. I have long wondered what the psychological impulse to do this is – why put yourself out there like that? – but I think I may just have really liked cobbling together outfits from unlikely sources. My outfits were not particularly fashionable or even very exciting, but everything was thoroughly thought out. These posts were complete with mood boards, rigorously compiled in Photoshop, to correspond with my ‘Outfit of the Day’ (OOTD), the term for this type of post in blogger jargon.
At university, I continued to blog. I also edited the fashion section of the campus magazine and newspaper, styled photoshoots and wore a lot of ridiculous outfits. Then, somewhere along the line (I’m not sure when exactly), I grew tired. Years of obsessing over clothes, trends and the right accessory suddenly seemed so silly to me; so futile, so narcissistic and worst of all, so superficial – the last thing that any educated ‘fashion-girl’ wants to admit to.
I put fashion on the back burner for a while. I had nothing more to say on the matter. I no longer wanted to be another ditzy fashion-girl and buried my teenage dreams of becoming a fashion journalist. I tore down those by now yellowed magazine editorials from my bedroom wall, and wore nothing but scuffed Converse and my Dad’s old jumpers for months on end. My blog dropped off. When I did post, it was generally atypical fashion stuff: screen shots of non-fashion films, unconventional style icons and weird rambling musings on memories. Most of all, the idea of doing an OOTD post terrified me. I had long since ceased to wear anything that deserved documentation.
In the grand scheme of things, it was only fashion, but for me, fashion, and my interest in fashion, was my identity. So then, when I realised I did not really like fashion all that much anymore, it was, in some respects, devastating.
As any fashion-fan will tell you, you grow up ardently defending it to every one of your curmudgeonly interlocutors. You are a seasoned spokesperson on the merits of fashion: fashion as self-expression, fashion as art, fashion as mirror of society. You quote Coco Chanel to anyone who will listen: “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening”. I featured this quotation on my very first post on She’s in Vogue. And now, I could no longer believe in my mantra.
Having set up her blog Style Rookie at the age of 11, Tavi Gevinson documented the development of her own personal style for several years before setting up Rookie, her thoughtful and intelligent website for teenage girls. Gevinson has since spoken widely on her own fraught relationship with fashion, and in particular, her struggle to unite her interest in fashion with her passion for feminist politics. In an article from The Cut, Gevinson likened fashion week to catching up on homework, and in another interview, Gevinson says “Sometimes I even still get embarrassed when people are like, “You have that blog, right?” And I worry that they’ll think I’m shallow because I write about fashion, or used to.”
Tavi’s fear of being seen as shallow is one shared, I am sure, by innumerable fashion bloggers, stylists, writers and general fashion fans the world over. It is exhausting to constantly be on the defence, proving to others, and to yourself, that you are actually a person of substance who is not just fixated with what they wear. And so, like Tavi, you quit fashion. You can no longer ignore the glaring problems inherent in this multi-million dollar industry: its ageism, racism, sizism, and sexism. In short, it becomes impossible to reconcile your own burgeoning interest in feminism and scepticism with society in general, with the industry’s well documented penchant for young, white, super skinny bodies and how, we as women, are controlled and dictated to in the matter of how we should look by a disembodied capitalist machine.
I uploaded my final post to She’s in Vogue in November 2013, but my last real post was in May of that year. Here, I posted a strange, fragmented piece on summer and memory dispersed with images from an Oyster magazine shoot and my own photographs from a previous holiday. I would never return to She’s in Vogue to post an outfit.
It is certainly difficult to reconcile your childhood passion with your fretting, grown-up cynicism. These days, I am neither ardently anti-fashion nor do I actively follow it but, in short, I have come to appreciate fashion on my own terms as something as much rooted in routine and necessity as it is in elaborate and elusive notions of creativity and ‘style’. Now and then, I browse Vogue.com to admire particular collections, and sometimes, when I am at the hairdresser’s I may surreptitiously tear out an image from a fashion spread. When it comes to what I wear: I have a particularly extensive collection of jumpers, numerous shirts and one great pair of mock crocodile-skin boots.
My thoughts on fashion may no longer be as lofty and profound, but there is a part of me that will always appreciate what people wear. I cannot consume fashion with the same unconditional innocence as before – the old issues remain unchanged – but I think it’s disingenuous to dismiss entirely the part clothes play in one’s experience and identity, not least in my own, for better or for worse. For me, fashion, or rather personal style, is a conversation more so, and one which is complex, ambiguous, and in continual flux.
Every once and a while, I scroll through the archives of She’s in Vogue. It is embarrassing in the same way that looking at old photographs of oneself might be. But there I am. Much like a diary or a scrapbook, my blog serves as a record, a souvenir, if you will, from a particular time in my life. While I may flinch at the things I posted about, equally there is an undeniable sense of loss in reading something your 17 year-old self wrote about with such resounding passion.
And in the end, this essay is not really about fashion, but more so about our lost and younger selves. For every book you read, every class you take, every job you work, you lose a little bit of your own pure, primordial energy and enthusiasm along the way. Now, when I re-read my blog, it is touched with the bittersweet knowledge that I could never write it again, and that is a sad, strange and powerful thing at once.
Kathryn O’ Regan blogs about other things (but sometimes fashion) at kathrynoregan.wordpress.com