My family and friends I have had since childhood call me Allie, but I have introduced myself as Alison since high school when I decided to become cool.
Looking back, I was a pretty cool kid. I won art contests and made up lyrics to songs with my friends. In middle school I was very creative with fashion, wearing sweaters as skirts and using my bedroom curtain as a cummerbund. I would draw on my jeans and denim jacket, and had classmates who commissioned me to do similar on their clothes. However, I never felt cool. I always felt as though I was on the fringe – I wasn’t rich enough, thin enough, blonde enough, good enough.
I had three high schools to choose from – the neighborhood school, the science and tech school where I was accepted, and a magnet school for humanities. I chose the magnet school, not just because I preferred foreign languages and reading to math, but because I felt I could start new. I only knew a handful of people attending the magnet school, while the majority of my classmates went on to the tech or neighborhood schools.
Before 9th grade started, my mom took me on a shopping spree at The Limited so I would have “cool” clothes. I got a “cool” haircut, which in 1989 was a wavy bob with puffy bangs. Though I was of average size, I dieted so I was a “cool” size. On the first day of school I wore my beloved Guess? jeans with an oversized striped rayon shirt and matching oversized vest. My bangs were high, my lips were shiny and pink, I was dressed in a way where I felt I would be perceived as cool.
Cool isn’t created by what you wear, but by who you are and how you interact with others. In middle school, I was blinded by Forenza sweaters and Benetton rugby shirts, parents in shiny new sedans and birthday parties at houses with great rooms and breakfast nooks. At this small high school that bussed in kids from all over the county, kids who were deemed cool were confident, whether they wore maypops or Reeboks. They weren’t easily intimidated, and never seemed ashamed of who they were, what they wore, where they came from.
I never fully “got” this notion, still thinking that my appearance would determine my lot in life. I went through many style phases over my years in high school, college, and beyond. I was constantly changing my costume hoping to find my niche, hoping to be accepted, hoping to be cool.
I wasn’t able to understand the role of style until I became a personal shopper for other women. I got to know them as people, and saw their shopping habits. I could see them buying items that I knew would collect dust in the back of their closet, refuse to purchase garments for being too “bold” or “crazy,” though they fit their personality and lifestyle better than what they had at the register. I saw women like me, who were trying to make themselves something they were not, hiding behind a designer label or a popular fashion trend. While I did my best to help them find their personal style, mine began to emerge.
I think our society encourages people to find happiness through consumption. A great pair of shoes will make you feel fabulous, these are the five must-have items in a closet to be fashionable, celebs use this face cream – buy it and you too will look younger than the age on your driver’s license. But happiness… and coolness don’t come from what you buy, but what you already possess.
You already possess personal style, you just need to find it. As a recent commenter said on this blog, try trends and “see what sticks.” Write down what you enjoy – colors, foods, artists, TV shows, books. Remember your passions from childhood, think about what you would do with your days if you didn’t have to work or go to school or manage your home. See the running themes in these lists, the connections. This is a map to your personal style. This map will have to be rewritten from time to time; as a street map has to change with the addition of new highways, so will your personal style with the addition of new experiences and outlooks.
I started this blog with a pseudonym; I called myself Dilly after a nursery rhyme my parents used to sing to me as a baby. As I gained confidence with blogging, I decided to use my real name. Though I am still known as Alison in everyday life, I chose Allie for my blog persona. While I chose it because it sounded similar to Dilly, I also chose it because it was my name before I lost my self on that journey to attain coolness. It’s normal to lose your way once in a while, but coolness comes from realizing that and finding your way back.