The cliche is that we are supposed to look back on photos of our teenage selves and cringe. Sure. There’s a lot that went wrong. But for every crimped fringe, or over-plucked eyebrow, are little glimmers of creativity, individuality and fearlessness, that we could all do with a dose of in our adult lives.
Our mid-teens were when most of us broke free of the clothes our mums would buy for us, got jobs, which in turn gave us financial freedom and the ability to express ourselves, and started to form an idea of what kind of adult we wanted to be, and use fashion to represent this. Heck, I still use fashion to try and portray what kind of adult I want to be.
Last night I was looking back through my photo album of my teenage years (wow nothing like having to dust off the old album of Kodak moments to make you suddenly feel really, disproportionately, ancient), and was struck by how full of creativity, individuality and fearlessness I was.
Fuelled by a childhood watching far too many period dramas, and a desire to be Helena Bonham-Carter, 16 year-old me had developed a real penchant for a kind of masculine, Victorian, vintage aesthetic – all shirts, ties, waistcoats, heavy coats, dramatic scarves, corsages, tweed and flat caps. A lot of these elements I still carry with me today. That kind of combat-boots with a petticoat aesthetic.
I was really impressed with baby-me. In the early 00’s, the era of rhinestone jeans, butterfly hair clips, and baby-pink-spaghetti-strap-tank-tops, I had carved myself my own fashion niche. I had little money, life experience, social skills, and I certainly wasn’t one of the cool girls – but I was somehow still able to decide on my own style and assemble a cohesive look from the very little that I owned and had access to – with the exception of my thrifted ties and hats, most of my clothes would have come from the mall. How resourceful!
So this morning, inspired by my younger self, I dug out the big, jumbled, bag of random accessories that I had lurking at the back of my wardrobe, and was relieved to be able to retrieve all of my old ties from that era. Each one collected, back in the day, carefully and diligently, like an adolescent treasure hunt, made up of many lost days filled with endless bus connections, to the back and beyond of town, skipped maths classes, and cans of V.
I wasn’t too sure where I was going with the look, when I started putting it together this morning. But once the shirt and tie was on, the rest all fell into place. My unruly fringe, that is at the awkward, infuriatingly droopy, stage of growing out, magically slicked to the side without hassle. My $5 waistcoat buttoned up without struggle – it seems it was always destined for this look, I just didn’t know it until today. And the skirt that I’ve worn 100 times before, has never seemed more perfect, or in proportion than when put together with all of these elements. Sometimes fashion is just pure and simple instinct, and when you get into the zone, everything just comes together without thought or effort.
Today I walked with the swagger of 16 year-old me. Everything felt possible. I was strong. Bold. Fearless. A quite dramatic departure from my usual very-feminine looks. Then, immediately, compliments flew my way, all day long. And I could see little girls staring at me with smiles on their faces. I hope they went home and raided their fathers tie collections, and burned their fairly wings. These things, these examples, I don’t mean to sound arrogant, or to imply that I looked any better than my usual self – I was still very much just me – but it was the air of confidence, the character, that brought those things my way.
I always tell people that the trick to pulling off any kind of look or style is simply that – confidence. A fake-it-til-you-make-it attitude. If you believe in yourself, and walk like you own the entire universe , no one will question you, ever. And today 17 year old me reminded me of that very important lesson. Which even I need a reminder of from time to time.
Today I was part Annie Hall, part Marlene Dietrich, part Shakespeare’s Sister, and a whole ton of Baby Me.