I felt like I could dress “for me” in a way I never could in New York.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about the decade I spent living in New York. It was and will likely always be the most turbulent and eventful 10 years of my life, filled with many ups and downs, mistakes and successes, and a lot of, like…realizing things. The same can be said of my personal style throughout that time, from an 18-year-old aspiring “hipster” (cringe) and party hopper trying to catch the attention of nightlife photographers, to a 28-year-old editor wondering if she should be trying harder for Instagram.
New York is a great place to experiment with your style, and a place that motivates you to do so. You’re constantly out in public, surrounded by some of the most stylish people in the world — in addition to people who just dress batshit crazy — and those who simply dress to blend in; and all of the above can do so without fear of judgement. That said, what you wear can also signal what group or “tribe” you’re a part of. And while I generally made do with my thrift-store and Urban Outfitters/American Apparel sale-section budget in trying to look like the 2007 version of a cool girl, and actually managed to have quite a bit of fun with fashion, there was never a time I didn’t look around and feel like I was falling short. Everywhere, there were girls who were cooler, richer, prettier and better-dressed than me. And — shout out low self-esteem! — it weighed on me.
Unfortunately, this unhealthy tendency to compare myself to others outlasted my college years, and proved quite strong throughout my 20s as I began working in the fashion industry, earning what could barely be considered a livable salary in New York City without any of the financial help that many of my peers clearly had. Getting dressed in the morning — particularly on days that I had appointments or events that would put me in rooms with people other than my coworkers — would sometimes lead to full-blown panic attacks. And the insecurity I felt with my cheap fast-fashion outfits would exacerbate my existing social anxiety in situations where I’d have to interact with my richer, better-dressed peers. Add to that the utilitarian challenges inherent to New York — needing walkable shoes and protection against whatever elements might present themselves that day, and never being able to go home before going out at night — and getting dressed became more about doing mental gymnastics and checking off boxes (✓won’t die of frostbite, ✓is a normal thing for a human to wear, ✓has at least one element to suggest I know something about fashion) than personal style.
Over time, I began gravitating toward a more minimal, quiet aesthetic, avoiding trends and color like the plague, in part out of admiration for French Girls™ and minimalist style icons like Sofia Coppola, but also because it was economical, and perhaps a way to cope with my sartorial anxieties. I became an expert at finding inexpensive basics that looked expensive. But even if I felt confident in my Uniqlo oxford, vintage Levi’s and Topshop shoes at home or in the office, I’d still feel woefully inadequate at, say, a fashion show. Meanwhile, the rise of Instagram provided yet another way for me to compare myself to others, without even leaving my house. I felt like maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough, but simultaneously resented the idea that I was supposed to try harder.
Throughout the years, I made pretty regular trips to Los Angeles, either for work or to visit family, and started to notice how much better I felt there, in pretty much every way. One symptom of this, I suppose, was that I actually enjoyed getting dressed in a way I almost never did at home. Sure, the perfect weather opened up some options, but there was also just a general weight off my shoulders. I felt like I could dress “for me” in a way I never could in New York.
When I moved to Los Angeles in 2017, I wasn’t sure if my newfound sartorial freedom would last — “wherever you go, there you are” and all that — but it has. My appreciation for a more relaxed approach to getting dressed has found its home here. I can wear any shoes I want without regard for weather or walkability, and have ample closet space to store them, both privileges I will never take for granted. I have no qualms about running errands in sweats — something I inexplicably refused to do in NYC — but I also find more joy in getting a little dressed up to go out than I had in years. And I never feel like there’s a fashion-industry box I need to fit into: I dress more-or-less the same for a dinner with friends as I do for a work dinner. And I always feel confident because I always feel like myself.
Of course, my personal style evolution was never entirely tied to the city I lived in. A lot of my struggles had to do with my own anxieties and insecurities, financial instability and just being in my 20s and trying to figure out who I was. Today, I’m 30, I make a little bit more money and I often work from home in sweatpants (albeit cute ones). I didn’t move to L.A. just because it would make getting dressed easier or solve all my problems — that “wherever you go” adage is absolutely true. What I think it boils down to is I needed to make a decision that was 100% about me — not (entirely) my career or a boyfriend or my family or the peers I was comparing myself to — and when I finally did that, being myself, and thus dressing like myself, became so much easier.