Being Cool

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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.

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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.

I was not 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.

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  1. I fully agree Kathy.  If I could go back and tell my 14-year old self this, I still would have gone the same route.  And through trying to be cool and fit in is how you find yourself. 🙂

    Oh Goodwill…. tres chic!  You were an original hipster! 😉

  2. As someone who was a 15-year old who dyed her hair black, wore biker jackets and lots of black liner and loved skeletons for the sheer beauty, not the morbid part of it, loved to draw them, but also loved more “cheery” things, I say embrace both sides. There’s nothing wrong with mixing the two, and at your age it’s great to show the many facets of your personality and interests. Just know that while those who “get” those sides will see your darker side as just another layer of your fabulous self, strangers may not always get it. I can remember times when I was teased in public for being “goth” even though I was one of the most bubbly, goofy, happy teens you could meet. I remember one time a school bus full of the opposing school’s soccer team called me mean names and spit on me because I had short black hair, black clothes, black lipstick and I guess looked scary or strange to them though I was a soccer stat and team cheerleader for my school.

    You have experienced the persecution, and I think you probably know how to carry both off together in a great way. I can remember wearing girly floral dresses with my biker jacket and combat boots, they balanced each other and I wasn’t a walking cliche. To wear dark looking clothing with a bit of pink blush and gloss, to even out a pink top with a dark pair of pants… it not only showcases your two sides and interests but adds depth to your personal style. Best to you, and stay strong. It’s hard to believe it now, but those who face adversity in high school often grow to be the strongest, most successful adults.

  3. I’m fifteen, and I have a question, if anyone could answer it for me: I absolutely adore Tim Burton, I’m intrigued by skeletons and vampires (the Dracula kind, not the Cullen kind), the idea of aliens and walking dead fascinates me, and I like to draw pictures that other people would perceive as dark. I’m not depressed, suicidal, angry, or homicidal *reader wipes sweat from her brow with a sigh of relief* — in fact, the idea of murder and suicide sickens me, I’m an unusually happy person, with a relatively calm, accepting, and forgiving temperament. I just draw dark pictures and like them. At the same time, I have a very outgoing, happy-go-lucky personality, a bubbly, rather stupid, though at times sarcastic and cynical sense of humor, I’m very polite, very smart, very creative, still have imaginary friends, love flowers, long dresses, the color yellow, have long blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and I smile and laugh a lot, sincerely and heartily, too. The bubbily, romantic side is the one that is more evident in public, because my darker, quirkier side earned me a lot of persecution and unacceptance in elementary school. My question is, do you think I should let my darker side come out more often? I’m mostly just afraid I’ll frighten my friends. Do you think I should let that side of myself out in public? It isn’t a bad side, or even a mean side. Should I?

  4. Great post. I feel, however, that it’d be truly difficult for a teenager or even a college-aged student to really understand what is cool until they have the wisdom of age behind them. It takes a long time to realize that you should be who you are and not what society tells you to be.

    And Forenza! I could not afford one of those sweaters in college but was surrounded by girls who wore them and always seemd to be the “cool” girls with the boyfriends and such. I was the dork shopping at the Goodwill. Who knew that shopping at Goodwill would become so cool!

  5. Great post!  Off-topic:  I went to that science and tech school, and it was wonderful to not really need to worry about being cool there.  Smart was cool.  I know you are a PGCo girl like me from your use of the word maypops ;^)

  6. i love this post and so agree with everything you said! i still do this sometimes, buying things and thinking that if i have them i’ll be more confident.  oy.

  7. Thanks, Allie, for another great thought-provoking blog.  I too remember trying to be cool and never quite achieving it until after my second year in college.  I worked in a department store and realized that my style wasn’t trendy but more in the classic.  That’s why I like your blog, as your continuously wear items that remain in fashion even though they are not brand new.

  8. Allie, this post is beautiful!  Thank you for sharing your thoughts today.  What a great subject to meditate on.

  9. This is such a great post!  It’s so easy not just for fashion bloggers, but all women to get caught up in consumption.  Finding or rediscovering style as very little to do with owning the latest and greatest and everything to do with working with what you’ve got and it’s nice to read posts like this that remind you of that.

  10. I SO remember the outfit I wore the first day of ninth grade!  I bought it with my mom because it was the “in” thing at the fashionable store in town.  It was so bad that I will not describe it here but I will always remember that day.  I discovered my style somewhere in 10th and 11th grade and I have only left it for a few years.

    I remember the day that I didn’t care about “cool” anymore.  It was 10th grade honors English and the coolest boy in school was doing an oral presentation so poorly and all I could think was that he wasn’t so cool and definitely wasn’t good looking.  

    Thanks for sharing your experiences.  It’s good to know that I wasn’t alone!


  11. I love this post – it’s posts like these that keep me coming back to your blog, even more than seeing what you’re wearing that day. I love the fact that you’re a real person and that you’re brave enough to share your real body, clothes, triumphs and insecurities with us – especially since there are trolls everywhere on the internet ready to take potshots at just about everything. 

    I love that you don’t jump on trends and stay true to yourself, while still updating your look for the new season. And I love that you have favorite outfits and show us how to remix a limited wardrobe instead of constantly buying new and more stuff. 

    I found this blog when I was about halfway through my weight loss and it’s been invaluable to me as I’ve shopped for a new wardrobe. I’m not always successful, but I try to focus on buying fewer, but better quality garments and finding multiple ways to wear them. 

    While I enjoy other fashion blogs, yours is the one that I consider a must-read everyday. Not because I’m love everything that you wear (although I love most of it) and not because I’m looking to copy your look, but because you help real women find their own true style. Thanks for everything that you do! 

  12. Aw I love seeing that old photo – I think I was just a year younger than that! Also love this post for making me THINK and examine my motivation and choices with fashion.

  13. Great post, Allie. Cool was something always elusive to me. Only other girls could be cool! But to have one’s own sense of style, that is something we can do, following many of the steps you describe. P.S. You are so cool!

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