Growing up, I was blessed to be brought up by a fashion expert and art graduate. Whilst other kids were picked up by parents in athletic-wear, my Mom would arrive at school in chic white jeans, patterned loafers and a striped top. I was always taught to express my identity through fashion, and was encouraged to make mistakes. Despite attending American public schools with no uniform, students often followed conformed rigidly to trends. In many ways, I broke this expectation. On most weekends, my peers would go to the mall and spend their pocket money on name-brand clothing. Contrastingly, my family would spend our free time flicking through the racks of charity shops and flea markets. For these experiences, I am extremely grateful.
My mom attended Harrow University for fashion in the mid-1980s. She always had a knack for styling clothes, and found that she was good at it. Studying fashion in London in the 80’s was, as expected, a unique time to be in the field. She found it to be ‘experimental’ in comparison to the sleepy village she came from. In school, she was well known for her daring taste, but with little cash to spare, she often looked to charity shops for cheap alternatives. This is a tactic she still employs today, and recommends to any university student looking to revamp their style.
“Stay away from fads and trends. Shop the thrift stores to death, and buy the best you can with the money you have without going into debt. Get the gaudy jewellery from charity shops as a statement piece.” She notes that it is especially worth investing in one fabulous jacket that could be worn with jeans or a dress.
At that point in time, London was incredibly popular for fashion and everyone looked to it for the latest trends. However, it was still quite possible to be ‘noticed’ despite the number of other fashionable young people. She found it relatively easy to make an impression, and seeking work with high end designers was an attainable goal.
Soon after she graduated Harrow in the 90’s, she moved to Washington DC. Compared to the grandeur of London, DC was boring. Her avant-garde style was perceived quite differently across the pond. Professionals in Washington displayed preppy, uniformed pieces like khakis and button downs. Even as DC has become trendier, and my mother’s style develops into something more polished and professional, she still faces judgement from colleagues donned in athleisure.
I asked whether she appreciated the comeback of the 80’s and 90’s styles she experienced so vividly. To this, she said she remains ‘ambivalent’. As my Mom frequented charity shops at my age, she often wore the 50’s and 60’s fashion that her Mom would have lived through. My Granny disliked this, saying that she had already worn it and didn’t feel the need to relive it. In some ways, my Mom can relate to this with the reawakening of late 20th century fashion. It seems that this is a trend in my family, in that I am now reliving my Mother’s trends through my own thrifted finds.
In the thirty-five years since her fashion degree, her love of clothing has never wavered. When she was my age, my Mom notes, she was very aware of the way that clothes made you feel; if she wore the wrong clothes, she felt like a complete idiot, but when she found the right clothes, an incredible feeling rushed over her. She was untouchable. The confidence boost that fashion gave her was exhilarating.
I am so grateful to have been brought up in a household where I was encouraged to take risks and find the clothes that worked for me. Over time, I have found my own clothing-induced adrenaline rush. While I don’t see myself pursuing a career in fashion, I appreciate it as a hobby that has allowed me to express myself.