I’ve been slouching in grey sweatpants from a school I don’t even go to, sitting by the fire with wool socks on my feet. I’ve been avoiding taking too many pictures of myself, age? Self awareness? Laziness, preventing the narcissistic egoism that it takes to shoot life on selfie mode.
So let’s not worry too much about the pictures.
Last year I resolved, in somewhat flowery language (ha!) to bloom. In my personal style, in school, in the way I lived my life. To an extent, I think I did that.
I just finished reading the book Autumn Light, by Pico Iyer. Iyer talks about the fallacy of works with clearly delineated ends and beginnings. The book is a celebration of the seasons of change, but also how time loops back on itself, season repeating, the maple leaves budding, growing, yellowing, and falling, over and over and over.
I’ve noticed I don’t like wearing black as much as I once did. Part of it’s a byproduct of living with an exceptionally furry cat who likes to leave her hair on everything. A black turtleneck is her favorite canvas. Part of it is boredom, in wearing the same things I’ve been wearing for years. There’s nothing quite like the mirror-shock after coming home for the holidays and putting on the clothes of a self of five years ago. Part of it is wanting a little more light in my outfits. It’s so dark out: why bring the darkness with me everywhere I go?
(My trusty black overalls, don’t worry. This is not about you).
This won’t last. It’ll come and go as all style moods do, as all phases of life do, maple leaves yellowing. So much of fashion is searching for classics, for the perfect white blouse and pencil skirt that are timeless, ageless, personality-less, because how else could a shirt work from ages 15 to 52? Nobody is the same through time. Even these words won’t necessarily be here forever, something I learned about via a hacked blog and a necessary two month hiatus, along with a good amount of head banging on my keyboard.
Anyways, on to the new year. Bring on the glitter. For once, a LBD simply won’t do.
Beep beep! I recently rolled up (it rolled up to me?) to the Primark on Tour bus. There was a prize wheel to be spun. There was a candle mysteriously scented “cashmere”, which sounds like it would smell like smelly goats but actually smelled like a warm night in. Also there was me, because aforementioned bus came right to Harvard square. And as a college student who basically lives in a bubble and rarely leaves campus, that the bus came to the square was amazing (they parked about four minutes away from my bed).
Primark’s business model is almost completely opposite from most brands. We’re in the era of direct to consumer models, online first, cutting costs by cutting overhead by staying out of brick and mortar. And as much as that’s changing, with major DTC players choosing to open up more and more storefronts, a huge retailer like Primark that doesn’t actually have an online shop is an absolute rarity. You can’t tap through on instagram, you can’t do one click shopping. You have to go to a store (or a truck!), see it in person, interact with each and every piece in a tangible way. As branding today isn’t so much about a logo as it is about an experience, an alignment of views or interests on a deeper level than just visual, the truck stop with its games-and-freebie-fun mixed with fashion-fun really came together as a brand, not just some faceless store in a mall.
For the uninitiated, Primark is 50 (!!) years old, sells trendy things and basic things and lots and lots of fluffy things. My first Primark purchase was a pair of maroon sweatpants that basically started off my revelation that comfortable clothes are inherently superior to uncomfortable clothes. They also cost $12. I’ve worn them about once (okay, sometimes more than once) a week for over a year, and they still nail that tight at the ankle, thick but not too thick jogger style. I also recently got a pair of platform boots ($23!!) which prompted me to write about more being more, and are also great for stomping around and being approximately 1.5 inches taller. Primark is where I took my Freshman year roommates, who are all from the south, sweater shopping once temperatures started dipping under 50 last year. Affordable style is central to the brand, and as a college student, that’s pretty central to my brand too.
Snuggled up in some pillows by the back of the bus, surrounded by Gilmore Girl-esq fall clothes, I got to wondering more about the brand’s practices. Primark publishes a sourcing map, along with lots of information on employee training about sustainability and ethical practices (you can read it here). It’s the kind of transparency that acknowledges the difficulty for a major retailer like Primark to completely monitor all of its supply chain. They’re clearly trying; are a part of several ethical initiatives, and a part of the conversation about ethicality and sustainability in fashion. Which to me made the whole event much more meaningful and exciting.
So they’re going somewhere, physically, in the little blue truck, and less concretely, in a more environmental and ethical direction. Also, I got to spin a prize wheel, which made me feel like a little kid in a candy store. If you’re in Boston, check out where they’re headed to next, and definitely swing by!
This is a sponsored post in partnership with Primark and the InfluenceHer Collective. All words and opinions are my own
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.