Monday, November 7, 2016
Expat Talk: How Living in London Has Changed My "Style"
I recently read this post on one of my favorite blogs, Cup of Jo, and the reader comments fascinated me.
Some women praised Lisa Fine for her unique, vintage and menswear-inspired style (which, in my opinion, looked amazing and enviable) but others complained that they couldn't "relate" to her style and that, if attempted in their hometowns, would translate into looking "homeless" (which I found pretty offensive, by the way, as if homelessness could be diminished or compared to a fashion choice) or "too eclectic".
"I would love to see a more traditional style featured!" one reader exclaimed. "This style, while cute, would make me look homeless in my town." (Seriously?!)
Another requested that Jo profile someone with a "not particularly fashion-y style", whatever that means.
Amused, flabbergasted, and incensed all at once, I reflected on my own style and how it's evolved and adapted to big-city living since I first moved to London.
As I write this, I have an enormous, oversized black faux fur stole draped around my shoulders - because it's cold in the office and I'm writing this after work. But I know that this stole would never fly in my small hometown. There, the dress code is casual: jeans, leggings, yoga pants, and hoodies are typically worn to run errands, to the movies, to dinner ...
And, growing up, I wasn't particularly into fashion. I loved clothes and shopping, but this was before Instagram and fashion bloggers, so I had a pretty narrow view of what "fashion" actually meant. I dressed to fit in - as most of us do. And yeah, "fitting in" involved a kind of uniform, sourced from the same five or six stores at the suburban malls.
But then, I moved to London and as my style slowly changed, I began to realize that I was dressing to stand out. Not overly so - not like Susie Bubble, for example (who is so ridiculously cute and cool) - but in my own, subtle way.
I realized this when I sat down on the tube one morning, on my way to work, wearing a metallic pleated skirt, an oversized cashmere sweater that was falling off my shoulder, and space-age silver heels. I could imagine this look attracting stares (and not in a good way) in the Pacific Northwest, where the style is far more low-key and, well, less "fashion-y".
Today, I'm influenced by Scandi style from stores like COS or & Other Stories, plus the trendy, off-the-catwalk interpretations from fast fashion giants like Zara and Topshop. I definitely pay more attention to trends than I ever did before, clocking high-end brands via magazines, blogs, and Instagram, and curating my closet to reflect a more, well, "big city" me.
In many ways, that's precisely what I've loved about living in London. It's the city that gave me the creative impetus to express myself in the way I dress (sometimes I joke to my friends that I forget that I'm not an ultra-cool fashion blogger, and that I probably shouldn't wear about 60% of the things that I do!).
Sometimes, I go home (to the States) and my mom will ask me, "Why are you dressed so nicely? You're just going to the mall. You know how people here dress. There's no one to impress." And I'll be wearing black tights, a navy sweater dress and ballet flats - something that I'd normally wear on a casual day off in London.
So, back to this post on Cup of Jo: I love trawling Pinterest and Instagram and blogs to discover styles that are different to my own. Some I find aspirational and inspiring; others, I might admire but leave. Seeing the curious responses to this post on Cup of Jo made me really grateful to live in a city like London where no one blinks an eye if your outfit is outrageous (unless you work in an industry with a strict, professional dress code - I'm quite lucky because I work in publishing and it's kind of anything goes!).
But more importantly, I'm grateful to live in a city that doesn't make me feel anxious or insecure about my style or any other personal choice, for that matter; a city that doesn't box me in for fear of being "too eclectic" or "fashion-y". I moved to London to escape that kind of entrapment.
Here, I can be me. Finally.