Traditionally I’ve prescribed to a version of balance where big complements small. If I’m wearing big jeans I’ll wear a little top, fancy pants and a junky jacket, frilly dress and functional kicks. Salad and french fries, less sleep and more coffee, nights in and nights out.
Sophomore year is a more is more time. It crept in first in clubs, where I started doing one in a much bigger way and ended up doing them all “bigger”. Then with classes, where I started out thinking I would take Spanish and ended up in a class on translation. Slowly everything is becoming more, more, more, until it’s not so slow any more, time, like everything else, speeding up.
The rules of balance seem to be those of give and take, a loss of pareto efficiency where if one side wins, the other side must surely be losing. But as ridiculous as it sounds, my big boots are adding value to my outfit, balancing not through detraction but through enlarging my sartorial pie. Clearly I’ve been spending too long in economics classrooms. And clearly I’m in need of grounding, of figuring out how to let all the big things in my life slide together, make space for each other. But I do believe that even if this pace is unsustainable, it’s forcing me to learn to balance through adding rather than detracting, forcing growth in a brutal but ultimately exciting way.
So big boots. And even on days when I only manage to scrounge up a small bit of motivation, big dreams.
I’ve been putting clothes on myself for the past 20 years, which should make me an expert. And yet I routinely feel like I have nothing that’s quite right to wear. My jacket’s don’t “get” me, my shoes are just a little too this or that. I demand perfection out of clothes that were never made to be perfect, a doomed relationship from the start where inevitably I’ll lose interest and move on to the next shiny thing. I’ve talked about how real sustainability is finding pieces that can last forever, about how buying new with the intent of wearing just a few times creates a hell of a lot of waste. But I’m still irresponsibly searching for my personal style.
This isn’t a new thing. Not for me, not for people in general. With the industrial revolution came greater choice (and even before then people were changing up their looks- let’s not leave early civilizations out of the fashion party) and with greater choice came the feeling of confusion. Having to pick out an outfit feels more like having to pick up a self. In today’s cycle of fast consumption, we violently tear through those sartorial versions of self. And all of those past selves accumulate, macabre girls hanging in our closets, waiting to be slipped into but never to fit quite right again.
That being said, we’re on a journey here, and let’s not stop. I still believe in a completely naive and optimistic way that there’s got to be some perfect way to find your style. I’ve always loved to hear how other people get dressed (one leg first, womp womp). Maybe they’ve got the secret for putting together the perfect outfit, styling everything just right, drawing inspiration from overworn and tired clothing.
So here are some of my favorite methods. For getting dressed, for finding your personal style.
It’s obviously contradictory to look to another person for personal style, but it’s also the easiest way to figure out what styles you’re drawn towards. The Instagram age makes it easier than ever to creep on what other people are wearing, and whether you’re drawn to clickbait-y colors and photo inducing shoes or Girl, Interrupted Angelina Jolie inspired looks, drawing from outside sources widens the scope of personal style.
Another completely opposite but equal valid technique is to look at what you already own. Are you drawn to high waists or low waists, clingy pieces or oversized looks? Look at why you actually like pieces. I’m into my favorite jeans because they nip in at the waist but have a more straight leg, have fallen in love with crew neck sweatshirts because they’re comfy but not sloppy. Pay attention to the way styles make you feel.
In the same vein, I’m a big believer in fabrics. I love 100% cotton jeans because they’re structured, don’t stretch, and wear well over time. Other people can’t stand them because they’re basically rigid denim straight jackets for your legs. Sometimes silk is great, sometimes it’s a sweaty nightmare. Being realistic about the types of fabric you feel great in, match your lifestyle, price point, and sustainability ideals narrows the shopping pool more than even style does. Since transitioning to almost all natural fibers, I’ve basically had to quit fast fashion (which is great for my sustainability goals, and significantly less great for cost minimization).
Also, in all of this, think about color. Having a signature color isn’t a necessity, but it’s another great way to understand and refine your shopping patterns.
And another totally contradictory thought! This one is possibly the most fun (and also most confusing for your closet/ the idea of creating a personal style). Clothes tend to elicit feelings. Sometimes they strike when you see the perfect vintage emerald green slip dress hanging on the rack. Sometimes they strike when you’re trying on a pair of very practical work pants. And sometimes they don’t strike at all. But listening to those feelings, following what you genuinely like, and forgetting any early 2000’s fashion magazine “Do and Don’t”. It’s just clothes, it’s not that deep. Confidence is such a powerful thing, so let your little heart flutter for those flare jeans.
Functionality! Imagine this: you’re caught in the rain, it’s ten blocks to the nearest subway, and your shoes are satin!!! Now imagine this: same thing, but you’re in rain boots. Women’s apparel is all too often not functional, with pockets that fit absolutely nothing and sheer blouses that no camisole can rectify. Careful shopping for the things you actually need is like when you go to the grocery store and just buy the one veggie you need for dinner, and not the mountains of other greens. Hard to do in the moment, sensible in the end. This is probably the most parental approved shopping version, but hello, they know what they’re talking about. Fill your wardrobe with the pieces you need (and nothing more! Nobody needs 15 LBDs). But do buy those rain boots.
I don’t know how to shop, I don’t know how to find my personal style, but I do know that I love to know how other people do it. What’s your personal style game plan?
Here’s what I’m wearing: some faded blue jeans that I tailored last year and recently rediscovered to be comfortable pants, a basic black tank top, Birkenstocks with more than a little dirt on them, two hair ties on my wrist, an assortment of rings, one half hoop earring and one white tiger.
I’ve been at college for a week. Moving in other people, moving in myself, remembering what it’s like to be here. It’s been good, fun, exciting, overwhelming at times but generally a state of happiness. Relearning being in a space as intense as college is like relearning the slouch of a favorite pair of pants, just how they like to be worn and how the waistband slings over your hips.
It’s good- maybe not quite as good as my white tiger earring (named Benny) but good in a simultaneous fresh and well worn way.
Also new! New instagram handle. It’s one of the few actions I’ve taken on my internet self as of late. No blog posts. No editorial calendar. No instagram for a week (okay, so it hasn’t been that long, but that’s years of internet time). I took a break, didn’t feel guilty, and here I am.
I changed my handle to clarify my voice. When I started No Longer Grey, I was incredibly careful to separate it from my real name, my hometown, any identifying factors that were a little too accurate. The internet is a big and scary place, and it was absolutely the right choice. But a few decisions along the way started merging myself and my blog, to the point that the two became indistinguishable. I talk about school here, talk about my blog at school. A screenshotted reminder, “What is honestly when your life is your brand?” brought me to the tipping point. For me, it feels more honest to remember that I’m a college student before blogger, a person before the brand.
Also, in the very practical sense, I was tired of having to explain that my name isn’t Nolon Grey.
Other changes: I finished my internship, left New York. I made the best cake I have ever baked. I swam in the river, hiked, slept. I’m feeling rejuvenated (or maybe it’s the black tea I’m drinking).
I’m excited to see what the future holds. And as much as I’m sure it’s nothing like what I’m expecting, it’s still something I’m so grateful to get to shape every day.
Blame it on the Bon Appetit youtube channel, but lately I’ve been super into cooking. The timing couldn’t be more perfect, because living away from home and the dining hall means I’ve been doing a lot more cooking. It’s been a great time to explore something new, to learn about sauces and spicing, test my baking abilities, and get to eat the results.
Styling is a bit like cooking. You’ve got your base, your bread or rice or main veg. Then you add some spices, simmer up a sauce, and, while balancing salt, fat, acid and heat, create a product that’s greater than the sum of the ingredients. A well accessorized look is just the sartorial equivalent to freshly cracked black pepper.
This is all a long way of saying I dressed up like my (current) favorite summer recipe, vegan creamy pasta with asparagus. Nothing says delicious like matching your clothes to your plate.
Set the pasta water to boil, salt it well, and once it’s roiling, stick in your pasta. In another pan, heat some olive oil, enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Did I mention this was going to be imprecise? Smash two cloves of garlic with whatever is nearest, chop them up and add them to the oil. This is the most basic starting block for most pasta and sauce dishes, and I chose a sartorial equivalent to match. The first piece, a one shoulder crop top, is the carb, oil, and garlic. It’s a basic, yes, but delightful nonetheless. The color of this top is also beautiful, a dusty rose that somehow made my (extremely pale) skin have a healthy glow. Like pasta, it would look great dressed up fancily with some statement pants, piles of necklaces, silk scarf as a headband. But also like pasta, which is sometimes best just with butter and pepper, it worked equally well with some basic black pants and a tote meant for schlepping. It has a similar vibe to a women summer swim suit, sporty yet functional.
Cut your asparagus into little slivers, about the width of a pea, and add them to your (browned) garlic. The next look is inspired by those lovely green asparagus. I started with a little wrap top, part of a co-ord set (the pants will make an appearance later). It’s a super stretchy material, which means it wrapped around me multiple times. The skirt is asparagus green, silky, and made the look a little more laid back, Sunday morning rather than Friday night. And while we’re on the topic of asparagus, stir around your asparagus and garlic babies. Feel free to add a teensy bit of salt, to get the flavor going. Something in me thinks that makes the asparagus let go of water faster, but I’m honestly out of my depth.
Once the asparagus is looking slightly browned, in the same pot because we’re not fussy and also we hate washing too many pots, throw in some oat milk. A cup or two, enough to give the asparagus a good swim. Give it a stir, wait for the oat milk + oil + deliciousness to come together slightly. To celebrate the basis of the sauce, I dressed up like an Oatly carton, with a white long sleeve, blue silky shirt, and black one shouldered top. This outfit has a sum total of 3 sleeves. It’s creamy, it’s elegant, and the shoulder mixing makes it almost cooler than the ultimate non-dairy milk.
Returning to the literal and non metaphorical oat milk, add some rosemary! Delicious. Give it a smell, because it should be looking delish. This is also the moment to add the tip of a spoonful’s worth of veggie bouillon. It’ll be salty and give the sauce some umami.
Your sauce should be looking kind of thin, so let’s fix that! Pour a small amount off into a bowl, and stir in about a tablespoon of flour until it’s a smooth liquid. Then add that back to your pan and disperse. If it congeals, don’t sweat it too much. Turn up your heat a little and stir vigorously. Also, once the pasta is in, you’re not going to notice any lumps and bumps.
And oh! Speaking of the pasta! It should be done! Try a noodle. It should be pretty al dente, because we’re going to finish it in the sauce. Pour out the excess water (if your sauce is too thick, pour some of the glutenous pasta water into it), and then plop it into your delicious sauce. Stir, let the noodles soak up some of your sauce, and add pepper and salt to taste. This sparkly, semi-sheer top is a visual salt and pepper, but I styled it on its own, which isn’t how most people choose to consume S&P. We’re giving the underdog a chance here.
For the final look, I’m wearing these amazing flare pants, which are super stretchy, meaning I can consume lots of pasta without any pesky waistbands getting in the way. They’re also ridiculously high waisted, which I love because they feel rather supportive on an inevitable food baby. Plus, they’re also ideal for cooking with in the summer, because they’re super breathable and easy.
So much about living in the modern world involves an element of performativity. Am I using metal straws because I legitimately care about the sea turtles, or because I want to prove to everybody what a good environmentalist I am? Do I watch Sex and the City because it’s hilarious and timeless or just so that I can understand Man Repeller’s articles about Sex and the City? And online, do I write, photograph, caption, post as I do because it feels the most genuine or because I’m performing the idea of The Girl Blogger?
The online performativity is inescapable. If I present a hyper curated self online, I’m performing a “perfect” life. But by the same token, presenting a “quirky”, “interesting”, even super artsy personality online is equally performative. The degree of separation between the real time, me acting in the present, and the me I post online involves an obligatory pause, a question of “do I want to post this online?” And while that pause is important and was drilled into me through middle school computer classes about stranger danger, it also results in inevitable curation. Just as a brand can go through tens, if not hundreds of photos, tossing ones aside driven by the search for on brand content, I go through photos, ideas, throwing away anything off brand for my online self.
The nature of my account does naturally lead to this curation. My business account is my personal account- friends from elementary school as well as people I’ve never met follow me on Instagram. In tying my actual brand, No Longer Grey, to my personal brand, myself, I’ve created a heightened sense of performativity where I must not only question if a post is “me” but also if it’s “No Longer Grey.” At this point the separation is almost hindering, adding another layer to an already complicated puzzle of my online presence, to the point where I’ve considered rebranding to just myself, taking out the verbal, if not actual, separation.
But the issue, of course, exists even for people without brands, or people whose brands aren’t themselves. Apps like VSCO, Planoly, Facetune, apps created to plan and edit content all create the ability to plan, and therefore belief that content should be planned. Gone are the days of un-self conscious blurry sunset photos. And while Instagram looks a lot better, there’s nothing like a painfully self aware selfie to represent the ethos of our era.
In doing “content creation” or “influencing” or whatever kind of vague buzzword, I profit from that planning. But I can also feel myself falling for it. Even though I know how staged even the most candid of instagram posts can be, seeing a beautiful post is still inspiring. Greenwashing, clickbaiting, thirst trapping are all mediums of performance, created to inspire, to influence, and they all work best when the content looks real.
We’ve all read too many stories about bloggers and influencers who appear perfect but are falling apart offscreen to buy into the Insta perfect life. But now the urge to perform imperfection, to, in a way, perform genuineness instead of perfection makes influencing a whole lot harder. As Instagram has become less perfection driven and more interesting (overly curated feeds are so passé), the rise of less perfect content drives this belief even more. Because I’m no longer striving for perfection, but instead that je ne sais quoi imperfection that’s somehow even more difficult to attain. We all know relatability isn’t just liking the Office and being clumsy, but rather having genuine problems, thoughts. It’s just that those ideas are so much harder to share online, both to be vulnerable but to also capture, to portray in a genuine way.
I know who I am, or, at least, I know moments of myself. Even though the entire picture is something only slowly coming into focus, I know what feels like me, feels right. And maybe that’s the genuine, regardless of how planned out it is. I’ve taken enough photos of myself to know the ones where I look like me.