Sonically and stylistically, my dad’s piles of albums next to his record player was one of the biggest influences in my life. I remember thinking that all things cool were somewhere in those stacks, that all of the answers to the mysteries of being grown up, of being an individual, and being beautiful were in those records, in the music and their packaging, and I memorized it all the best I could. There were covers I loved – the unforgettable camp of Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, the black & white graphic cool of Blondie on her Parallel Lines cover, Joan Jett’s hair, leather pants, studs, and sneer while she jumped from the front of her and the Blackhearts’ studio album and into my heart – but one image in particular always challenged me in a way that none of the rest of them did, and that was Patti Smith‘s Easter.
I mean, the armpit hair was the first thing that made me go…’Huh?’ Because as much as I wanted to be a free, wild woman, I was innately drawn to glam, to the slick chic of a red lip, to the power of a high heel, a mini skirt, and the occasional middle finger. Why didn’t this lady want to be ‘beautiful’? This image was everything all of that other stuff wasn’t, and I was entranced, but mostly repulsed by it. I wanted to be pretty!
It took me a lot of years to more clearly understand why I felt that way – because there was something in me that innately wanted to please, wanted people to like me and, later, men to want me (although once you start getting it at 10 or so, you wonder why you wanted male attention in the first place), about conforming to the regular, male-centric ideal of beauty that was very important to me then and that makes me want to break shit now. Add to that years of walking the NYC streets as a woman and I now have an innate drive to challenge the male gaze, to take the parts of ‘pretty’ that I do like and twist and distort them enough to make them less likely to elicit whistles as they are stares. The older I get, the more I want to style myself less and less like what I’m ‘supposed’ to and more and more EXACTLY what I like that day, with much less regard for what other people think or say or do. I love a pair of leather pants, a red lip and a tight tee one day, but the next day I want to rip it all off, wash my face, and flow through my day in loose layers and whatever the fuck I feel like throwing on over them, because more than anything I love challenging myself, and because what I wear is, for some reason, very important to my sense of self.
Sometimes I wonder what that says about me. Is it innately superficial and selfish to put thought into your dress, to put weight on what you wear? I like to feel very in control of how others see me and how I see myself, and that makes me wonder if that’s just aftershocks of years of caring SO MUCH about what other people thought about me, if everyone liked me and everything I did and said. I hope to hell that it’s not, and that it’s honestly an outlet for my creativity just like any other – music, art, writing, etc – because those years of caring, of worrying so hard about everyone else’s opinions really took a toll on me. I also wonder why I revel in the admittedly uncomfortable feeling of wearing something that’s really out there, whether it ends up working or not, just to push myself. I LOVE it when I dream up and put together something that can make jaded New Yorkers riding alongside me on the L train look twice. Why?!
*Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming that I am someone who actually has any authority within the fashion world. Please don’t in any way think that I am setting myself up as some kind of a style authority or oracle. Fuhreal. This bitch is making it up as she goes.*
All I know is that as I get older I have a clearer vision of what I want, and that I find I want to push myself out of my comfort zone more and more. What is classically attractive calls to me less and less, and what Patti embodies (as opposed to, say, a Blondie) draws my eye more and more – being unquestionably yourself, doing and wearing exactly what you feel is right for you, and the real beauty that comes from doing that. Authenticity is what’s beautiful to me now, and not just in someone’s appearance, but in what one does and says. That’s not to say that Patti’s specific style, that undone cool, the shorn hair and thrifted clothes and makeup-less face, is the ideal – that’s just it. There isn’t any one ideal. Trying to look like anyone else is a waste of time. Comparing yourself to others is useless. You’re never more luminous than when you’re doing/wearing/saying what you love. And look, I’d never claim to not see the trends – I’m constantly surrounded by fashion and beauty editors, I read the magazines, I see the style stalking the streets of NYC – and I am undoubtedly as influenced by all of that as anyone else, but I can filter through it in a way that I hadn’t been able to before. I’d love to be one of those chic, effortless women who have a wardrobe of perfect basics that blend together in a classic way. I’m not. I’m odd. I will later inevitably hate some of what I wear now, because my brain craves pieces that are, shall we say, less than timeless. But dammit, I know what I like so much clearer now than I ever have, and that’s the number one reason I do, say, and wear what I do. It feels good to be weird old me! It’s funny – when I was little, all I wanted to do was be a grown up, and to me all that meant was heels and red lips and gowns and glamour. Then, as a teenager and in my young adulthood, I obsessed over every detail of my body and my self, craving impossible perfection and wanting nothing more than to fit in, to embody the perfect woman I had created in my head as a tot and constantly falling short of it all. And while my womanhood does have some of all of those elements, grown me craves fitting OUT more and more. Not for attention, per se, but more to defy expectations, inciting reactions and then luxuriating in not giving a fuck what they are. Because in the end, that’s it, right? That’s the goal. Being unapologetically you, and loving every minute of it.
Growing up rules.