Would You Wear That If Nobody Else Did?


Gather round, friends. For I am going to tell you two stories of fashion and culture and my (apparently) very fragile ego and sense of style.Story 1

It’s 2012 and I’m visiting Stockholm for the first time.  I’ve packed for six weeks and six countries using only a carry on.  I have successfully convinced myself that even with my extremely limited wardrobe I can keep up with the painfully good looking, insanely fashionable inhabitants of this, one of Europe’s most stylish cities.  Integral to my tiny wardrobe is a grey jersey maxi skirt: comfy, layerable, trendy.  RightAnd the first time I wear it in Stockholm, I realize that absolutely nobody else is wearing maxi skirts.  None of the fashionable women in Sodermalm.  None of the girls on the metro.  None of the cuties at the club.I continue to wear mine (because I only have, like, three clothes) but instead of feeling “on trend” I feel sort of dumpy and mum-sy.

Story 2
It’s 2006 and I’m traveling through Italy, stuffing my face with gelato and teaching English at a summer camp for Italian kids.  At a weird little shop in San Remo, I see a pair of harem pants and buy them as “a joke,” mostly to wear while I sleep or ride trains for hours and hours.  But.  Once I get to Milan, I see every fashionable Italian girl and her friend wearing harem pants.  Maybe they’re not a joke?  Maybe I should wear mine all the time, too!

On the last leg of my trip, I spend a week in New York.  While riding the subway, a stylish woman approaches me and asks where I got my pants.  I nearly turn inside out with pride and say “at a weird little shop in Italy.”  I become convinced that I’m Carrie Bradshaw.  I proceed to wear said harem pants every summer for the next five years.  Until they finally become fashionable in America.

So let’s peel back those layers of neuroses and navel gazing for a minute and examine this.

* I’m not really blowing anybody’s mind with the ‘realization’ that fashion is 100% imaginary and just an arbitrary set to tools and measurements that we’ve all agreed on (or been informed of).  Said tools and measurements change every few months and we (usually) scuttle along behind, trying to keep up.

* The World of Fashion has decreed some places and cultures more fashionable than others. New York, Tokyo, Stockholm, Paris, you’re in.  Any place in Midwest America, you’re out.  Bolivia, Laos, you’re not even on the map.

Apparently, this means that I’m embarrassingly influenced by what those attractive Swedes are wearing.  I want to dress like The Cool Kids!  I want to belong to the tribe of attractive, stylish people! 

And I can apparently I can gain entry into said tribe by giving up on my maxi skirt.

When I had this realization I was surprised and, honestly, a little bit disappointed in myself.  I’ve always liked to follow fashion trends – at least a little bit – but I’d like to believe that my sense of style is based more on what I know looks good on me.  Clearly, I’m way, way more influenced than I’d like to believe.

But in an effort to give myself a bit of slack I also realize that very few among us would wear something that absolutely.nobody.else is wearing.  You probably wouldn’t wear your yoga pants to a club.  Or a ballgown to coffee with friends.  Your fashion sense has probably changed a bit since 1998.  Right?

What about you?  Are there things you wear that are patently ‘out of style’?  How would you feel if you arrived in a city you perceived to be ‘stylish’ and weren’t dressed ‘appropriately’?  How much do trends influence your style?

maxi skirt by mabel collections, for sale here

26 Comments

Sarah Rooftops

You've just made me feel a lot better! At home, in Scotland, I will wear whatever I like and I rarely feel self-conscious about it, but that's probably because I've figured out certain approved limits within even realising I was doing it (or maybe Scotland's very forgiving about clothes…?); when I was looking for hotels for an upcoming trip, I did find myself ruling some out because I just didn't feel trendy or put together to stay there! I was worried the staff would judge me – and my heavy metal boyfriend – for being scruffy, and I felt AWFUL when I realised I was doing that. It's good to know I'm not alone!

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Laura

The first thing that sticks out for me in this article is the example of a maxidress – because I have never understood the maxidress trend and always think they make people look frumpy. In general, my style tends to be more "classic" and I avoid trendy items like those. I can't think of anything in my closet that is out of date or that I'd feel uncomfortable wearing today (aside from some Halloween costumes). I think Banana Republic, to name one store, does a good job giving a nod to currently trends while still making clothes that are mostly timeless and can be worn for years.

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Kaitlin Johnson

I thought the same thing, until I tried one! And it was a revelation. Without tooting my own horn, I look tall and elegant. Also, I've never received more random compliments from people on the street. (Most recently, a toothless woman in a subway station told me that I "should be a model." Of course, then she asked me to adopt her. So, perhaps she isn't the best person to take complements from….. But still! I swear I'm not the only one who thinks it is a flattering style on me!)

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Cassie @ WittyTitleHere.com

This is precisely the reason why I'm having a hard time pack for a trip to NYC this weekend. For one, I can only bring a tiny bag, so the shoes I'm wearing on the Megabus will be my shoes for the weekend. That means everything else has to match 'em… but everything else also has to be ridiculously good-looking, because I'll be in NYC. Now, I know you can wear WHATEVERYOUWANT in New York because even traipsing around in a headdress would barely cause a New Yorker to blink, but I still feel the need to be more fashionable than usual. I love my $30 boots from Target, but maybe they'll look a little too $30-dollars-from-Target-ish in the Big Apple? Yup. Forehead smacking myself as we speak.

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Amber Goodenough

Sarah, I feel your pain. As a new resident of Amsterdam, I am feel like a frumpy American daily. I did purchase a cool army green parka so that I sorta fit in. And my new ankle boots are very on trend here. But I don't see a whole lot of converse, which are my go-to shoes. The craziest thing I've seen so far are women in heels riding bikes! What? And some of them are even on their phones while they do it. It's nuts. Also all the women wear tight mini skirts, tights and boots…not sure I can pull off that look but I'm sure as hell gonna try.

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Mirthe Jasmijn

I'm a Dutch girl, living only a 45 minutes train ride away from Amsterdam – and guess what I wore today? A dark blue parka and ankle boots. And yup, I've even cycled in high heels while using my phone, too – as a 16 year old Dutchie my bicycle is my main means of transport so whatever I wear, whatever the weather is like, I'll cycle. It's funny to me to read your reply, because I never realised how much fashion in my country influenced the way I dress.
And don't worry, wearing Converse probably won't get you any strange glances because lots of people here love them too! 🙂

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Helen

This is a good point, not only do we think about what is fashionable but what is appropriate in different situations and cultures.
A few years a go I went to India to volunteer, while I was there I had a couple of salwar kameeze suits made for me, I really love them and they're very comfortable but I wouldn't wear them in the UK other than to sleep in. I spent this summer in Ghana and Burkina Faso and wore them there, it was the perfect outfit for modesty, heat and cycling, I guess what you feel happy about yourself in changes depending on where you are
http://ahandfulofhope.blogspot.co.uk/

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E.

Sarah will you PLEASE post a painfully detailed packing post soon?! I am going to Spain in 2013 for four months (Jan-April) then to London (June-July) and desperately need tips in how to a)pack for the weather b) leave room for the shopping I will probably do c) how to look fashionable if not on trend! (Also I will be dealing with some bipolar weather….layers here I come!)

I also think it is possible to rock harem pants EVERYWHERE.

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Caitlin

This is something I noticed a while back… I lived in London for 6 months and worked in a "High street" flagship store in Oxford Circus. All the trendy ladies shopped there and I learned A LOT about fashion and styling and all that fun stuff. I bought the things I thought were cool and wore what I felt looked good on me and that other people would appreciate seeing on me.
When I moved home, I brought my new things with me, and wore them proudly when I saw my friends. Previously a T-shirt and Jeans kinda girl, they were noticably a little surprised to see my style had changed. It made me feel a bit uncomfortable seeing them and just being out and about in my mountainy small town area.
I've now adapted a good halfway mark. I wear what I want, but if it's too weird, I try to tone it down a bit. I want to be trendy, but where I am dictates just HOW trendy I can be without being a weirdo. 🙂
p.s. I'm DYING to find a decent pair of black harem pants, but I just can't! 🙁

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AlexCarolyn

Yes! I poked into my closet the other day and found a paid of gorgeous leather riding boots that I bought about 3 years ago and NEVER WORE. I felt like I won the lottery, but when I thought back to why I never wore them, I realize that its because 2 years ago, all anyone was wearing in my hometown was Uggs and those little booties. And I believe that one of my (no longer good) friends had made a weird comment about them, which must have convinced me they were awful. I'm so relieved that I didn't get rid of them!

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Mia (MiaMoore.net)

It's a mix of both — I like to feel like I look up-to-date, but at the same time, I don't go out of my way to keep up with trends. I feel like very few of them appeal to me AND look good on me. That always takes priority over following the trends.

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Kay

My high school was a total hippie high school–if you were cool, you wore Birkenstocks and tie-dye, listened to the Grateful Dead, and played in a jam band. When I was 16, I went to Germany for an exchange with a group from high school, and we were all so excited to buy Birkenstocks in Germany. (This was back in the days of Deutschmarks and a favorable exchange rate.) When I arrived with my three pairs of Birks in tow, my host sister asked me why our group was wearing our house shoes out in public. She was HORRIFIED.

Honestly, it didn't affect me when I was that age (and I stocked up on two or three pairs to bring back to the states with me) but it's absolutely stuck with me, so much so that when I travel, my goal is to look as much like a local as possible, right down to my non-nondescript black flats. I can't tell if it's a good thing or a bad thing.

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Katy Cousins

Cassie, I found NYC less intimidating than I thought it would be fashion-wise, so sure you'll rock whatever you take 🙂

When I was packing for my RTW trip lots of US blogs mentioned that 'Europeans wear a lot of black'. Being a European ho wears a lot of black, I really didn't expect the US to, well, not until I started looking around and realised I was repeatedly the only person cloaked in darkness. Felt like a movie baddy!

E, I made a pinterest board for my packing list and, aside from adding a maxi skirt to cope with the heat, it's holding up quite well. I'm no Sarah, it you're welcome to peek: http://pinterest.com/katgirl25/backpacking-packing/

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Mandy

I think it's natural to want to fit in. Also, to be honest, it can be safer. You don't want to be the tourist who stands out in some cities, and an easy way to do this is to leave the sneakers/college hoodie/maxi dress (I guess?) at home. Of course, you should still have your own style, but sometimes it's nice to feel a bit like a native. 🙂

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Livvy

When travelling, I usually like to look as low key and comfortable as possible. So that means lots of nautical striped tops with jeans/chinos and a well cut jacket or coat. This combo makes me feel comfortable, and doesn't really make me stand out hahah. The only country I felt under-dressed in was Taiwan. Girls there are really feminine, and I felt like a boy there.

I always wear my corduroy blazer, even though some of my friends think the material looks dated (I got it for a bargain at a thrift shop; around US$1!!). But then I saw some corduroy jackets and jeans in h&m the other day, so hopefully they are making a comeback 😀

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Renée

Since I often struggle to find clothes that fit my giant Viking-inherited body (very tall, very curvy) I focus more on what works for me than on what's in style. I like knowing what the trends are but not necessarily following them.

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Nessbow

I'd like to think that fashion and trends don't influence my style. However, if I'm honest with myself, I have to admit that they do on some level. On the one hand, I'm happy to wear things that most people wouldn't wear. Also, I wouldn't feel down-trodden if I noticed something I loved had appeared on the 'out' list. In fact, I'd probably be even more tempted to wear it, because nobody else would be.

However, If I show up somewhere dressed in a way that differs vastly from everyone else, I do feel a bit of a twat. Last year, I went to a wedding dressed in a vintage silk gown in emerald green and a fascinator with a veil. Every other girl was wearing skimpy dresses in pastel colours. I felt a bit odd, until four people stopped me to ask where I'd gotten my hat. That cheered me up.

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Anonymous

Nessbow, totally agree with you on that! I love to dress vintage from time to time, even if that means some people throw weird looks my way. Fashion trends don't influence me. Of course, it doesn't mean I would dress in 19th century clothes or wear an extemely short mini to a job interview, but I'm ok with wearing only the colours, cuts and type of clothes I like, regardless of whether they are "in". Most of the times I don't even know if they are in, as I don't read the magazines and rarely notice what the people wear, unless it's something I would also like to have 🙂 I have a grudge towards fashion – because of it, I have problems buying the stuff like – if something's out of fashion, it's impossible to find it in a shopping centre. Luckily I have a mum who is a sewing genius, so I ask her to make me clothes from time to time.

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pneu

Isn't the whole point of fashion to demonstrate that you're "in the know"? Wearing trends or fringe trends, or breaking current fashion rules in a way that shows you know exactly what the rules are (but you're so fashion-forward the rules don't apply) — all of these signal to others that you understand what's what. Many of us want to be raging individualists, but only in a way that others will recognise as fashion-y, rather than weird.
However, this topic is really complex, as your post shows, because there are different levels of fashion as well as very different trends in various areas of the world.
For example, living in South Korea, I stick to what suits my body and taste even though I look quite different from the Korean girls wearing shoooooooooort skirts/shorts, huuuuuuuuuuuuuge tops that don't show any skin, and sky-high heels (or…sneakers with socks; I wish I were kidding.) It's a lot easier for me to reject certain trends here because wearing the above would be ridiculous with my lifestyle and job (how do they walk anywhere? how do they bend over? why the socks with a miniskirt? so many questions…) I guess I'm saying it's much easier to stay true to what I like because the current fashions in Korea seem so irrelevant to my body and life, and also because I stick out no matter what as a Caucasian in an Asian country where people do double-takes or comment when I walk by. (Sigh…)
On the other hand, if I lived in Europe, say, I bet I'd wear more clothes that help me fit in with the general population, because of what I said at the start of this insanely lengthy comment.
Thanks for giving me something interesting to think about. 🙂

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Erika

I'm a swede myself, and maxi dresses were huge in Sweden last year, and still is, actually. I can assure you that noone thought that you were weird when you were in Stockholm, 'cause maxi dresses are still popular. I honestly find it weird that you didn't see anyone else wearing it, 'cause I know many people who does, and fashion bloggers in particular.

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Franksexual

I love leggings and if they go out of fashion I don't care. Jeans are too tight and they wear away at the thighs. I like to wear leggings with little girly skirts…no one else does this but it pleases me and so i shall continue. I got continuously harassed by my mother and sister to stop wearing coloured socks over my leggings with brogues…I have since stopped with the contrasting colour but who knows…I may go back to it!

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