When I was a little kid, I relished being “the weird girl.” I had a pet goat. I wore whatever I wanted, including long shirts tucked in to cotton leggings so that the shirt bunched perplexingly around my hips. In a third-grade talent show, I tucked my knees into a light brown T-shirt on stage, then waddled around singing a song I had made up about being a hamster. I knew not the meaning of self-conscious — I was all self-love.
Wearing whatever I wanted was the part I took the most pleasure in. I loved playing dress-up as a kid, and my parents were pretty indulgent about letting me go out in the world looking however I chose. I didn’t care if I got teased, I didn’t care about anything, just that I felt good. Not to be all wah, wah about it, but then I got to high school. My freshman year, I was a bona-fide baby freak. My dad had buzzed my hair for me (see what I mean about being indulgent?) and I had black bands on my braces, smeary eyeliner, and Sex Pistols lyrics scrawled in sharpie on my school bag. I wore tops I made myself — basically taking ironic vintage tees and making them tighter and more cropped — with men’s plaid golf pants. I bought a pair of gold loafers at the Savers in Austin and loved them so much I made my AIM screen name GOLDENLOAFERS.
Now I’ve made a career out of unusual style pairings, and it’s the best part of my job. I get to do things like dress models up in re-imagined Western wear, which is one of the biggest trends of the season, and throw in “ugly” makeup just because I think it sounds neat. Most people would advise against wearing two “look at me” trends at once, but the beauty in doing just that is that you can go all out, and somehow, it works. (I knew this in third grade, and am reminding myself — and all of us, really — now.)
I used to stay up late playing around with makeup, even though I wasn’t really wearing it in a contour-and-smokey-eye way. (It was more like: How many curlicues of electric blue liquid eyeliner can I draw out of the corner of my eye?) I’d cover my ENTIRE face in glitter one night — like, my whole face — and once I remember rubbing green sidewalk chalk all over my body until all my visible skin was lime-colored. It was never about looking pretty. Makeup, for me was all indulgence and impulse, all about feeling good. Maybe this dusty-matte chartreuse eye look is the ever so slightly more wearable version of that same sidewalk-chalk experience. And if that’s the case, I’d encourage you to try it. It was fun. It felt good.
But anyway, then I got to high school, and I felt weird as hell, not hell yes I’m weird. I started growing out my hair. I begged my mom to take me to Abercrombie and Gap. I got the same exact pair of Doc Marten sandals every other “cool girl” in my grade had — an intriguing style you can view here, in my family’s 2001 holiday card. While you’re there, be sure to check out 1997 for JNCO jeans, a lime-green velour tee, and a sick pair of Airwalks.
In those days, I never felt that great dressed “preppy,” which was the predominant style of cool girls across the country. I never had that ugh this feels good experience while getting dressed anymore. I always worried I had sweat frisbees under my arms in the on-trend heather-gray tees everyone was wearing (because I often did). I never felt like I had chosen the right thing, always the almost-right-but-nice-try thing. I liked Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers when my friends were all wearing Clinique. I had a half grown-in buzz cut when they had hair so long it would cover their boobs should they find themselves emerging from the ocean after somehow (oops!) having their bikini tops pulled off in the waves. (We decided, by committee, that this was the optimal hair length.) When I think about how I felt about myself in high school, it was, predictably, not that great.
You can probably see where this is going: Eventually I moved to New York, found my freak flag packed deep in the “memory box” I saved from boarding school, and I flew it proudly. I wound up finding my path and my tribe and a fantastic group of like-minded friends while working in fashion. I made a name-ish for myself by wearing sequins and overalls, creepers and Carhartts — irrational pairings I felt great in. My closet made very little sense, equal parts men’s workwear, flowy printed dresses, and sequins. Just the way I liked it.
And with beauty, it was even better. There was a solid three-year chunk of my professional life where I wore childish, chunky glitter nail polish every day to work (excusable) and picked it off (inexcusable) when I got nervous. I’d spend weeks wearing not a single stitch of makeup, then one day decide I was going to darken my eyebrows and wear neon orange lipstick. I started my publishing career in beauty, and I would bring home 20 pound bags of every electric eyeshadow, pot of glow in the dark body glitter, at-home hair color product, and strip of fake eyelashes I could find. And once again, I’d spend hours at home alone playing with them — indulging in the pleasures of all those colors and textures.
But then I got older. And then I had a baby. And things shifted again.
Loath to fall into the trap of tired-mom dressing, I decided I needed a new uniform when I went back to work: a new way of dressing that made me feel pulled together and presentable, even when I had an eye twitch from lack of sleep, and the mom version of sweat frisbees (leaky boobs).
I sold or donated everything that wasn’t essential, and didn’t make me feel polished — which included all of my high heels. My new uniform is a mix of men’s button-downs, gray sweaters, fancy trousers, and great jeans. I cut off all my hair (a look I’ve returned to a few times in my life), my nails are bare, and every day I wear tinted sunscreen and very little else on my face. That’s my version of “dressing like a mom,” and now that I’m there, I actually feel pretty comfortable. At 32, I think I’ve settled down and found my personal style. Without placing too much importance on clothes, hair, and makeup, I think I know myself a little better now, too.
Which isn’t to say that sometimes I don’t still get the urge to deviate, style-wise. And lucky for me, I have a job that lets me do that — sometimes it literally IS my job to mix-match looks myself, or even experiment with how they’d look on someone else. Like, say, this person.
So, how does this all relate to this lovely model in odd makeup and Western wear? It doesn’t, really, except that I thought how good “ugly” colored makeup sounded with the cowgirl trend, and I wanted to do it just for the pleasure of doing it. I thought a lot about how I could rationalize this pairing, what greater thread I could pull from the story and at the end of the day, I came out empty handed — empty other than the sense that anyone should be able to wear whatever they want: find their inner fashion hamster and let her loose on the world.
Wear that jet-black lipgloss. Wear that impossible-to-style thing you own, and out of the house. Wear orange eyeshadow. Just do it if it feels good, or is fun, or whatever! Sometimes I think we try to intellectualize our style choices so much that we rob them of joy. And, like I knew back in third-grade: Wearing whatever you want should be a joyful experience. (So much that it makes you want to sing a song about being a hamster, hypothetically speaking.)
What harm can possibly come from experimenting and having fun with clothes and makeup? None, that’s what. And by dipping a toe back into my wilder style sensibilities, I’ve learned that sometimes, spiraling out can be a great way to find your center.