The integration of athleisure into my wardrobe isn't the only evolution my style has seen, a journey I've only recently realized began upon my move to Los Angeles nine years ago. This revelation came after a colleague of mine dropped in casual conversation that I'm "not very bold" in terms of my clothing. I played it cool, but internally I was all "How dare she!" As I sat there in some variation of vintage denim, gray T-shirt, and slides, I thought, certainly she didn't know me when I pranced around town in a 1940s bathing suit as though it were actual clothing or cherry red 1970s disco pants, or metallic gold knit culottes. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I've definitely had some potentially questionable fashion moments.
Let's start from the beginning. I grew up mostly in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — a city not well-known for its fashion forwardness. In high school, and even college, my wardrobe selections weren't made to be noticed, they were made to simply fit in with the crowd. In the '90s, there was the prerequisite baby tee/oversized overalls combo and in the early aughts my friends and I would all hit up the 18-and-over clubs in practically the same pair of "hot pants" (stretchy boot-cut black leggings from Express) and a handkerchief top that tied in the back with a string. It wasn't groundbreaking stuff, but I was certainly up on contemporary trends.
In fact, I'd even consider myself more daring than most; I'd been incorporating vintage (mostly due to budget) for some time and my best friend Jennifer and I had even begun a game we called "Fashion Dare," in which we were forced to take random/decidedly unfashionable articles — like a banana clip post-1980s or satin gloves — and, as Tim Gunn would say, "make it work" into our wardrobe. Still, when I moved to Los Angeles in 2007, it was certainly a fashion wake-up call.
My first roommate in my very first Silver Lake apartment was Stephanie, a buyer at vintage and consignment store Squaresville who sincerely loved Lisa Frank everything, collected those big-eyed kid paintings, and rocked an authentically 1970s style of clothing I'd never dreamed of (bell-bottom jeans, overalls, jumpsuits, etc). It was totally refreshing that she seemed to genuinely be dressing for the person she was on the inside — a girl whose vintage Barbie collection may have qualified her as a bonafide hoarder. I loved it (and her).
The introduction to Stephanie's store as well as the inspiration of her not giving an eff began to make me question my own wardrobe, which at that time consisted mainly of things found at Urban Outfitters or Old Navy. I discovered Shareen Vintage and, soon enough, 75% of my closet was filled with polyester, floral-print dresses. I wore high-waisted short-shorts and backless leotards with a visible (on purpose) bra or vintage circle skirts, stacked sandals from the flea market, and super chunky necklaces my mom would have worn in the '80s. I was all over the place, but I was having fun.
In my late twenties/early thirties I began styling, which influenced my style of dress in a whole new way. As I dressed up musicians and models, I learned about contemporary designers. I started to pepper my wardrobe with trendy pieces from Zara and Topshop. Suddenly, a structured black blazer and studded Chelsea boots made their way into my closet — but still not a sneaker or T-shirt in sight.
When I began working at Racked just over a year ago, I got to not only stay abreast on the coolest trends, but I also became introduced to the breadth of designers and makers based in LA. By the time I had completed a Marie Kondo-inspired purge, I had a whole new concept of dressing: I still loved vintage but no longer felt the need to purchase any wacky thing found at the flea market just because it was $5, and I also didn't need to compete with other women by buying all the trendy pieces that probably wouldn't even last a whole year. Comfort became more paramount than ever (I'm old now) and my newly cleansed closet made me only want to add items that were timeless and made to last. My love of vintage can now be seen in a perfect pair of Lee's (though my Wisconsin friends and family may always consider them "Mom Jeans") and a white linen button-down I might pair with custom suede mules by a contemporary maker. I see the value in splurging on pieces made uniquely, carefully, and sustainably by artists I admire.
So, while my current uniform may not exactly be "bold" (to borrow my co-worker's word), I can feel good that it's my own and that it's evolved quite naturally both through trial and error and by living in a place that gives me inspiration on the daily and lets me explore things without too much judgment — even if that means I just end up in a pair of sneakers and a gray T-shirt. Even such a non-remarkable outfit is a sign of that evolution.
Ashley Tibbits is Racked LA's editorial assistant.