My husband and I had a double date with another couple recently — bowling and beers. As I dug out my old suede bowling shoes, I was unexpectedly nostalgic.
I received the shoes when I was freshman in high school, a “gift” from a family friend who owned a bowling alley. In reality, I begged for them. They were handed to me rubber-banded together, like they were just pulled from a cubby behind the counter. My family was incredulous that I’d want to wear those shoes in every day life, but that is exactly what I intended to do.
I was fearless in my fashion back then — I wore what I wanted, when I wanted and where I wanted. Oversized vests, an embellished denim jacket that changed often, rhinestone earrings, bolo ties, bowling shoes and lots and lots of vintage in all shapes, styles and sizes. Was some of it cringe-worthy? Absolutely. But much of it was 100 percent me: My own personal, slightly skewed style.
Somewhere along the way, I don’t know where and when, I lost my personal style voice and inexplicably started dressing to fit in, essentially for others.
College? A blur of Grunge-era Docs, flannel and denim. I was indistinguishable from others but I was a happy girl swaddled in lumberjack layers.
My early years in the corporate world — well, as corporate as one can get in newsrooms — all dress pants and suit coats with the ubiquitous neck scarf tied as a choker (I think I was operating under the delusion that it looked sophisticated).
My first few years in Charlotte (in the early 2000s — gasp!) were especially bad: all the khakis I wore, the flat shoes, the jumpers (yes, that is horrific, no doubt). I don’t know what I was thinking other than I wanted to fit in, I guess, assimilate into a corporate structure that was vague, uniform and most definitely not me.
Working as the Style Editor at the Observer helped me realize I had lost my style joie de vivre — there is little that is more inspirational than watching the peacocks strut at New York Fashion Week, and I don’t mean the models on the runway.
Those bowling shoes took me on a five-minute trip down fashion memory lane and reaffirmed where I am right now. It’s a maturing of my fashion sense, for sure, perhaps construed as elitism and snobbery by some, but I’m more confident in my fashion voice than ever before. I wear what I want, never forgetting the importance of dressing for the occasion, but always remaining true to my own style voice.
There’s a reason those shoes have been with me for more than 20 years, but I didn’t realize it until this past weekend. They’re a quiet reminder, tucked up a corner of the closet, of the importance of being faithful to my fashion truth.
If you see me at Costco rockin’ the red and blue suede oxfords with an 8 on the back, you’ll know I’m celebrating my personal style. Join me.