Fashion has always been a puzzling dichotomy to me. What drew me to fashion was its ability to allow me to express my personality and my mood with what I wore. Yet at the same time, the very language of fashion promotes prescribed trends - red is the new black, minimaism is in, maxis are out.
It's like an intriguing game for me - to love its cyclical nature but to absorb all of it in a way that nurtures my own individual style. I owe this attitude to caring about the way I dressed more than harbouring an obsession with high fashion as a teenager. Trying to find the perfect baby blue vintage slip dress in Camden to wear over corduroy trousers was far more important to me as a teenager than Tom Ford's collections for Yves Saint Laurent. In my liberal but sheltered girls' school environment and up against my more eloquent and overachieving peers, I felt that I could say everything I wanted to say about myself and my mood with what I was wearing. I wasn't the prettiest, the cleverest or the sportiest, but outside of school (and later in sixth form), I could escape with outfits that felt like personal achievements. Indulging in fahsion fantasies - inspired by Claudia Kishi of The Baby Sitter's Club books, the film Heathers or Harajuku girls in FRUiTS magazine - made the doldrums of north-London sububria a lot more interesting. With a like-minded gorup of friends, our conscientiously 'alternative' (didn't all teenagers think they were alternative?) choices of literature, music and clothes went hand-in-hand and clothing was my weapon of choice.
Fifteen-year old Tavi Gevinson and her inspirational blog Style Rookie constantly reminds me of those teenage years of carefree experimentaion and standing up against homogeneity. Gevinson's own style is inspired by 'people who have the guts to put themselves out there and disregard the reactions of other'. And I, too, have grown up thinking bending to the way people expect you to dress is not half as fun as pleasing yourself with your own style. it isn't about being deliberately zany, but about choosing clothes I have a personal connection to - clothes that evoke a memory or a certain cultural tidbit. To this day, it gives me a puzz to put together layers of textures, prints and colours in a way that people recognise as being very 'Susie'. Natalie Joos, a casting agent and blogger of Tales of Endearment, shares my enthusiasm: 'The shopping, the research, the curiosity, the discoveries; it's all part of the exciting process.'
For me, individualist dressing is not about ignoring what designers have created but choosing themes from the collections and blending them with my own personal style. Figures like Anna Dello Russo, who often wears head-to-toe runway looks yet pulls them off with her own brand of OTT panache, feel empowered by designers. She aptly states on her blog, 'I don't want to be cool. I want to be fashion!'
Still, 'being fashion' can be confusing now. We're no longer seeing designers proposing unified seasonal statements; we have designers who design to their own aesthetic beat and consumes who don't want to be dictated to. It felt silly trying to find connecting strands at the autumn/winter shows when we were better off celebrating designers and their strengths - Marc Jacobs' kinky sense of humour, Haider Ackermann's sensuality. Couple that with the rise of blogs and streetstyle sites, the plethora of online stores offering vintage and designers labels and the rise of local fashion beyond the 'big four' fashion cities, all of which has influenced a new generation of fahsion lovers, who pick and mix from this fashion candy store.
There's a differece between those that dress with a trend tick sheet and those that paint a picture of themselves with their outfits. People like Saga Sig, a photographer who mixes vintage and new in unexpected ways, and Anna Trevelyan, a stylist who wears a unique mix of edgy designers, exemplify that expression. 'Some days I dress up in a look similar to when I was five, other days I feel like dressing like an old lady,' explains Sig about her mixed-decades style.
Staking ownership over your image is now more aspirational - it feels easier to carve out a signature style. A light has been shone on the art of dressing to express individuality. As Trevelyan says: 'No-one on this planet is the same, so that makes everyone original, no?'
Text and picture taken from Susie's blog Style Bubble.
This article was published in UK Elle September 2011.