I recently bought a pair of black jeans at Forever 21 for 20 bucks. I lost my last pair, and I was admittedly desperate for a new pair of sleek, stylish black pants, but I was broke. I needed to make a fashion compromise. So one day after class, I marched into the fluorescent-lit foyer, past the piles of knit sweaters and fake leather pants, and headed upstairs, where I found messy stacks and disorganized racks of skinny-leg jeans. I tried to hide behind one of racks while I rifled around in the piles for my size, praying that no one would see me. I grabbed a 24 and rushed to the dressing room. What I discovered once I was safely inside the confines of a private dressing room was shocking and, frankly, fantastic.
The jeans fit perfectly. Better than perfectly. They gave me a little bit of butt in the back and they hit at just the right spot at my ankle. I wear them constantly now, but I still avoid telling people where I bought them. I’m ashamed. But after living in New York for a year, the embarrassment must end. So here is my confession: My “leather” jacket is from H&M. My trench-coat is from Urban Outfitters. I once bought a six pack of socks from Rite Aid. I should no longer be self-conscious that my favorite clothes are most often bargains, that the pieces I wear the most aren’t designer, but generic brands that I found straight off the rack and made my own.
Looking cheap and wearing inexpensive clothes are two very different things in fashion. In a place like New York, one of the fashion capitals of the world, separating the two can be difficult, especially when couture ensembles are often the norm around the city. The trick is to work your wardrobe around the system: pick flattering pieces that you feel comfortable in, that speak to your personal style more than that of the trendsetting population at large.
People aren’t mannequins for the latest trends featured in the display cases at designer boutiques. Sometimes the only purpose buying expensive clothes serves is to show off a label, but that’s not being fashionable, its being a follower.
Fashion is self-expression, an outlet to project personality and character. It’s a costume certainly, but not one to hide behind — one that gives you the chance to help define your identity. Style is visible optimism; dressing well, no matter what the price or brand of your clothing, shows the world that the life you lead is worth putting out effort for.