No Longer Grey

The sartorial experiments and ramblings of a girl named Sarah

Genuine Faker

by Sarah on June 30, 2019, no comments

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.

The Jouissance of Clothing

by Sarah on June 14, 2019, no comments

It’s only appropriate, 50 years post-Stonewall and during Pride month to be honoring the spirit of jouissance that goes hand in hand with and has characterized LGBT+ history. And what better way to celebrate that spirit than through clothes with a bit of boom-shaka-laka? Testing whether a piece has jouissance, joy for the sake of joy is the ultimate Marie Kondo test. My clothes, so frequently rooted in practicality, don’t tend towards jouissance. They spark joy, yes, but of the practical, comfortable, Friday night curled on the couch with a good book kind of way.

I’ve been leaning into the jouissantic (a Google search reveals that I just made that word up) pieces in my wardrobe. The swishy red silk skirt, the light brown pointy toed boots, the lime green shirt so bright it imprints a silhouette in your eyes even when you look away, all bring a bit of jouissance into my life.

What fills these with jouissance, whereas my delightful, joy sparking overalls can never quite be defined as jouissantic, is that these pieces possess a sort of ephemerality. While I hesitate to suggest that queerness implies ephemerality (hello Lee Edelman’s No Future and a long history of the kill-your-gays trope), I would claim that joy for the sake of joy can only be experienced in bursts. Therefore, the experience of jouissance is less a static state than a transient mood. Clothing that won’t last has the same quickly fleeing spirit. White pants doomed to fall to grass stains, overly trendy Bardot tops that will seem dated in just a few months, party dresses that get one night to shine and then are banished to the back of a closet, all are jouissantic, and all short lived.

That ephemerality also implies impracticality, which, once again, I want to clearly separate from queerness. Although jouissance is typically rooted in the inability for many queer couples to bear biological children, in an arguably overpopulated world, not having biological children could certainly be thought of as a practical choice (and sexual experience certainly doesn’t need to be a practical endeavor for hetero or queer couples). But in the context of clothing, an all-white outfit is wonderful and could hold jouissance, but it’s also a walking canvas for stains. A tiny triangular clutch is superb, but also doesn’t work for carting around much more than similarly triangular Doritos. These joy sparkers, jouissance holders, exist in a space of delightfulness without needing to be practical or timeless. They’re good, no further obligation to fit into a larger scheme placed upon them.

This dress, which could basically be a Reformation x Laure Ingalls Wilder collab, holds an enormous amount of jouissance. It features leg o’ mutton sleeves, a cupcake-esq skirt, and a neckline so high and yet so lacy it feels distinctly Gibson Girl. It’s white, which none of my clothes are, for aforementioned staining reasons. It’s also handmade (not by me), and thus super delicate while still featuring an industrial slip that’s potentially made out of rain coat material. I bought it simply because it felt right, not because it filled a gap in my wardrobe. And while that feels like a recipe for needless consumption, I would argue that sometimes, just the existence and creation of joy is a worthwhile goal.

When was the last time you bought something jouissantic?

What Harvard Really Taught Me: Freshman Year

by Sarah on May 31, 2019, one comment

Every day of my freshman year, I walked through a gate bearing the statement “Enter to grow in wisdom”. The gate was my portal to the outside world, right outside of my window, the nearest way to access anything beyond of the narrow confines of Harvard yard. But upon returning, going back into the sanctuary of campus, I’d be reminded. Enter to grow in wisdom.

College is a weird time. You leave home, live in some slowly crumbling dorm and meet a bunch of people who use phrases like “minoritizing perspective”. In my first week, I’d already met two opera singers, which was more opera singers than I ever thought I would meet in my whole life.

Coming off of the heels of my first year, it’s easiest to see only the best parts of Freshman year. The first time I wrote an essay that didn’t totally suck. Learning to skateboard. Late nights with friends doing absolutely nothing and yet absolutely everything.

And let me be clear; I got lucky. I had an easy transition to college, loved my roommates, had great classes, made real friends early on. I was only two hours from home, and never was truly homesick. I’d lived through New England winters before, and knew how to layer to stay warm in -10 degree weather.

But however smooth my transition was, the first few months were challenging. The truly meaningful moments of college take time. Creating deeper friendships, going from seeing people just in the dining hall to hanging out in the wee hours takes time. Learning how to think about books in a way that is conducive to writing essays takes time. Finding the shortest way from the quad to my room takes time. The necessary self reflection of growing up takes time.

The best piece of advice I got all year came from my English professor. “It takes time to be about time.” He was talking about the length of Anna Karenina, how the novel is necessarily long so that it takes a significant amount of time to read, each moment stretching out in both literarily and real time. A gorgeous concept, and one that made reading capital-b Books a more forgiving process. It was also a concept that seemed to reflect everything I was experiencing as a freshman.

The day to day of freshman year was long, but the month to month, semester to semester, so short. If this first year as been any indication as to how the rest of college will go, it’ll be over in a flash. Putting in time, the care necessary to learn, to grow relationships, to live a life truly worth living, takes time. So much of college is repeated experience, eating in the same place, seeing the same people, walking the same paths. And it takes time to allow those singular moments to come together into an ongoing past, the imperfect tense created by the compiling effect of memory.

But time is also at a premium in college. Every moment is a choice between activities, each yes a no in equal measure. There’s a business economy, clout measured in brightly colored google calendar blocks of time. Friendships, clubs, schoolwork, dating, working, sleep are all placed in opposition to each other. And as much as everybody has to find their own equilibrium, I heard far too many people bragging about stress and inability to commit to anything by nature of committing to everything not to feel like the Harvard perception of time is massively skewed.

I can’t speak for anybody else, can’t pretend to understand anybody else’s perspectives (another lesson gleaned from that English professor is the inability to understand other’s thoughts unless you can inhabit their mind through stream of consciousness narration or the first person perspective). But if Harvard has taught me anything, beyond the history of urban renewal, beyond Keynesian macroeconomic theory, beyond what the best food in Harvard square at 3 a.m is, it’s to take that time. Have a longer meal with a friend. Stay all the way through a Q and A session at the end of a lecture. Spend just one more moment watching the sun set by the Charles river.

In those moments where I felt left behind, where it seemed everybody had it all figured out and I had just fallen back to square one, it became my mantra.

I’m taking my time to be about time.

I’ve gotten boring

by Sarah on May 14, 2019, no comments

shirt- Zara, jeans- thrifted, shoes- Vans

I don’t know what to wear.

Actually, that’s not true. I know exactly what to wear, which is kind of freaking me out. I’ve pared my wardrobe down so much that there’s not a lot of options. There’s the three tank tops I wear as a varying rotation, the two pairs of black jeans that got me through the greater part of the winter, black boots, beat up white sneakers. None of this is interesting, none of this is groundbreaking. I’ve started to feel a sense of imposture syndrome when I tell people I work in fashion, because I wear the same thing almost every day.

The uniform is, of course, a well documented phenomenon within the fashion (and other) industries. Karl Lagerfeld had one. Anna Wintour has one. Zuckerberg’s grey tee shirt, Steve Job’s turtleneck, all are iconic styles and clothing choices that the viewer has no choice but to connect back to the icon they pertain to, the person they almost, in a way, belong to.

For years I’ve looked for pieces that stand the test of time, that feel authentically me and are always great to put on. But now that I have them, they’re almost too comfortable, the sartorial equivlant of a relationship where all you do is stay in and watch netflix in pajamas.

But now whenever I go shopping I’m caught up on the practicality of things. I want clothes I can be comfortable in all day, in classes and coffee shops and sitting on the floor of a dorm room. Clothes that can be for winter and summer. I’m asking a lot (too much?) from my wardrobe, and it’s gotten me stuck in a place where I’m satisfied, but not content with the contents of my wardrobe.

This is, of course, coming from a space of tremendous maximalism. I have a lot of clothes- just ask my mother. But somewhere between the packing for college and growing up and laundry cycle I’ve stopped reaching for much outside of my core pieces. And in stepping away from variety, into simplicity, I’ve somehow ended up at blandness, a place I never wanted to be.

I don’t think the answer necessarily lies in a shopping spree. The whole fixing oneself before taking on more thing feels appropriate here. Plus, my stylistic apathy has extended to shopping. I’m no more able to pick up a sweater in a store without examining its fabric composition than I am able to abstain from wearing black jeans four times a week.

So here’s my prescribed style diet: discomfort. Not in the tortuous sense of high heels or jeans that dig in at the hips. But clothing that isn’t quite so easy, clothing that takes a little longer to style. I want to bring the intentionality back to my style.

Tomorrow’s look? Red ankle boots. It’s time they came back.

Balancing Act

by Sarah on April 17, 2019, no comments

shirt- Zara, jeans- thrifted, shoes- Converse

Currently amidst a mess of papers, oncoming finals, problem sets and projects, trying to find a balance between everything. It’s all stuff I want to do, which is an amazing feeling. Taking time off of school while being on a gap year genuinely made me miss learning for the sake of learning. And even though I hope and truly believe that what I’m learning now is shaping me as a person and will be important to me in the future, indulgently taking time to learn about the Savannah park system, modernist novels as music and the history of blazers just for the sake of knowing things also feels wonderful.

There were so many times last year that I craved the support and learning for the sake of learning that is college. After moving out and being on my own for more than six months in two big cities, I had this me versus the world mentality that both was exhausting and largely unnecessary but also created tremendous internal growth in a very short period of time. Learning how to navigate the subway, how to grocery shop, write a tricky email to a boss, advocate for myself, even just how to come home to an empty apartment and be okay was something that I had to learn to do overnight. Obviously, I had a tremendous amount of support that buoyed me up and helped me along. But in the day to day, I had to be more self resilient than ever before.

Now I’m in a completely different environment, one built to support, one that is supposed to be a natural easing between life at home and life out in the Real World. I don’t cook for myself. I don’t have a 9-5 job. Instead, I have multiple advisors, deans, people that are employed with the sole purpose of providing support. Friends who I get to take classes with, eat with, live with, exist alongside every single day, all helping me manage it all.

And in that amazing, incredible support, I’ve lost some of my street savvy. I’m not quite as on guard, not quite as scheduled, not as fixated on what’s coming next. It’s a wonderful thing, because I’m learning every day how to prioritize my life according to how I would like to live, how to live a little more presently. But I also worry that I’m getting lazy about projects where nobody else is holding me accountable. Because so much of what I do is for a class, a club, a friend, for myself I’m more likely to want to take a break than I am to log some hours at work or write a new blog post.

This isn’t burnout. This certainly isn’t an abandonment of blogging. I’m just finding my footing underneath me, trying to allow both space for a five year plan and space to laugh at the idea that I could possibly predict what I’ll be doing (or even want to be doing) in five years.

Finding that balance. Taking some time, and remembering to work on balancing the “if it’s meant to be, it’s up to me” mentality with the one that tells me to relax, take a break, enjoy each moment with no endgoal in sight.