I love fashion. Trust me—it’s bad. I am the Style Police of One: always assessing the outfits around me, silently dolling out “It’s a Do” or “It’s a Don’t.” I have a fashion Instagram, in which I inflict my OOTDs and #fashiongrams on the world with the enthusiasm of Oprah giving away free cars. I frame ads from Vanity Fair and Elle like wall art.
However, I recently noticed that I’ve been a bit…closed-minded in my fashion choices lately. I’ve worn various incarnations of dresses/tights/boots too many times to count.
So I decided to try mixing things up. This was a difficult decision. I love trying new things but I don’t like wearing new things. It’s easy to say fashion is “just clothes” but our clothing is a key component of how we are perceived, whether it’s accurate or not. And my dress/tights/boots uniform has been working for me.
Still, in an effort to be open-minded, I decided to take inspiration from three major fashion brands and dress according to the images they present online: ModCloth, Urban Outfitters, and Free People.
Why these? I’ve always been intrigued by these companies and the images they peddle. These companies are commercially successful while still selling very unique, definite looks. So I shut the dresser drawer on my countless dresses and opened up my laptop for some fashion brand inspiration
Look #1: ModCloth
I started by browsing the website, which features retro-inspired fashions and housewares. It was like falling down a rabbit hole full of Zooey Deschanel’s bangs. Each product had a daffy yet delightful name, like the “All Manners of Merriment” dress and the “Furry Up, We’re Dreaming” flats. There was just so much…happy. I became convinced that all the twee in the world had found its way to ModCloth.com and given birth to necklaces with bicycle charms and adorable shoes with birds/cats/Osos on them.
One silhouette was prevalent: the A-line, which I don’t typically wear. But determined to step outside of my fashion comfort zone, I donned my ModCloth outfit.
It consisted of a blue polka-dot skirt, a high-necked lace shirt, a long necklace with a rose charm, and a pair of vintage-inspired yellow shoes. The shoes had a demure one inch heel that perplexed me to no end.
“Are you a flat?” I asked the shoes. “Are you a heel? What are you?”
I don’t think I’ve ever felt less like myself. Maybe it was the yellow shoes. Or the polka dots. Or the fullness of the skirt. It was beyond delightful. But it was not me.
Determined to get the full ModCloth experience, I took a stroll with my sister around the campus where she works. The first thing I noticed was that I walked differently. I think it was the shoes in conjunction with the flirty, full skirt. I adopted a strange pep in my step that I typically do not have. I think it’s the ModCloth happiness. It’s scarily infectious.
Afterward, when I stopped by a store on my way home, an older gentleman smiled at me and said, “You look very lovely today.” This in and of itself was amazing. In my life, I’ve received a fair share of unsolicited comments from males and this was the first one that didn’t feel sexualized. Trying to maintain the ModCloth vibe, I said the first thing that came to my mind:
“Thank you, good sir.”
Good sir? What? Where did I think I was, Medieval Times? Note to self: Dressing like a retro housewife does not make you speak like one.
Look #2: Urban Outfitters
Urban Outfitters was next and it was the complete opposite of ModCloth. Scrolling through its website, I took in the unique silhouettes. It was strange—half the looks were borderline man repellent (trapeze dresses, draped pants, paneled shirts) while others were all about showcasing the body (backless dresses, side cut-outs, cage bras).
There were some references to the 60s and 70s and the whole thing felt like the brainchild of the people who gentrify decrepit neighborhoods and watch Wes Anderson films. After perusing its section of graphic T-shirts (hard pass on the “She’s So Mean But I Like It” T-shirt), I was a bit unnerved.
I donned a black UO dress with side cutouts. I topped it off with a wide-brimmed hat and buckled boots. Hats are a thing for UO. It has a whole section dedicated to hats.
That day, I learned something new about myself. I am not a hat person. I felt utterly ridiculous wearing the hat. I just wanted to take it off my head and find a ranger to give it to. Maybe I’m hat phobic? Is that a thing?
Whatever the case, the outfit went over well. Maybe a little too well. My husband, Mark, and I went out with friends for dinner at the Anaheim Packing House. This is a feeding ground for hipsters, so, in a way, I was taking the outfit to its natural habitat.
I got compliments, both on the hat and the dress.
“I love your hat and dress,” a girl told me the bathroom. “Did you get that hat from Urban Outfitters?”
“Why, yes,” I said. Success! I was passing!
At the end of the evening, I took stock of my feelings. I think I wasn’t just thrown off by the hat. It was the hat in juxtaposition with the dress and boots. It made me feel like a sexy hipster. I’m fine doing sexy. I’m sometimes fine incorporating a little hipster. But the two together were a little too much for my sensibilities.
But this was the point of this fashion experiment: to try the styles offered by established fashion brands to understand them and myself better. However, I was happy to return the hat from whence it came, which was basically just back to my little sister.
Look #3: Free People
The last designer on my list was Free People. Funnily enough, FP has the same ownership as UO but a different demographic. I love everything boho: the thought of traveling the world in fringe while pursuing the literary life feeds my soul. FP is labeled as having “Women’s Boho Clothing and Bohemian Fashion.”
However, my first thought, as I scrolled through the dresses featuring graphic laces and drapey tops, was that the bohemian lifestyle is expensive! $98 for a ribbed Henley? No, thank you! I would rather, you know, buy groceries for a week.
I loved the overall aesthetic of the website. It was a place of eternal festival, moonstones, and flowy scarves. Still, though, the steep prices seemed to undermine the free-wheeling, wanderlust lifestyle FP touts. Like, if I’m supposed to reject the bourgeoisie ways and live as an untethered artist, how can I afford a $378 “Two In One Stone” necklace?
I snagged a Free People dress on sale. It was a sheer black slip with beading and a handkerchief hem. Typically, I would never wear anything like it. It was much too dramatic. I paired it with a blue slip and several necklaces and let my hair do its natural thing. The FP look is great for your #messyhairdontcare moments. Most FP looks are styled with some manner of closed toe shoes so I slipped on a pair of boots.
I gave Mark a spin in our living room. He was not impressed.
“It’s too…flowing,” he said. It definitely was flowing. I pranced for the rest of the day, as dictated by the voluminous layers of tulle swirling around me.
Deciding to get the public’s read on my outfit, I went to the grocery store. I definitely got some looks from various women as I pushed my cart around the bins of fruits and vegetables. I think it’s because the style, outside the context of a music festival, is a little perplexing. I could swear that one mom, who slowed her cart to take in my getup, was thinking “This is Ralphs, honey, not Burning Man.”
It made me feel self-conscious until I got to the parking lot. Then I couldn’t help it and I started cavorting again.
So what did I learn at the end of this experiment? Well, for one thing, I realized that each fashion brand tailors not only to certain personalities but to particular female body types as well. For example, ModCloth features a lot of A-line/full skirts which flatter a range of figures. UO’s short lengths, cut-outs, and tricky silhouettes are better suited for girls with no boobs. FP’s longer shapes are good for lots of height and leanness. Of course, there is crossover within the clothing options but those were the overall trends.
How did all these styles affect me? Well, I found it fascinating how these different outfits influenced my internal disposition and the way I interacted with the world around me. It’s strange that these companies can influence and determine our identities, if we are passive and completely accept certain looks wholesale. I realized the importance of cultivating my own identity through my fashion choices.
Overall, despite the moments of discomfort, I do appreciate that my horizons were broadened…while I don’t think I’ll be rocking the hat anytime soon, I may go grocery shopping in the free-spirited FP dress every now and then.
Mark: Urban Outfitters (I think it was the side cut-outs)
Me: Free People
Instagram: ModCloth (by a long shot)