I was a teenage goth, and no self-respecting goth would ever be caught dead at Hot Topic, the mall retail chain known for commercializing the counterculture by selling crushed velvet Morticia Adams dresses, Korn tees, and spiked stomping boots to the subversive adolescent masses. (Hi, #suburbiaproblems.)
I'm still not sure why I decided to make a sartorial stance by going lite goth. Maybe it was my last year of middle school when I discovered that fashion was the simplest, superficial way to brand myself as The Mysteriously Unconventional Girl™. (Or maybe it's because my friends Mallory and Leigh* were doing it.) Alt-girl heroes like Fairuza Balk and Fiona Apple became my patron saints.
My high school freshman uniform usually involved some variation of a black top, black or purple fishnets, silver l.e.i. pants a la Billy Corgan circa Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness, or a thrifted pink slip skirt with Live Through This-era Courtney Love in mind — and no blue jeans, not ever. Naturally, post-punk bands like Depeche Mode, The Cure, and Siouxsie and the Banshees were on heavy rotation in my Sony CD player.
When I wasn't perusing the PVC corsets and Manic Panic hair dye at Retail Slut — after my idol Tori Amos confessed in an interview that she was once a frequent shopper, I'd built up the courage to step into the then-intimidating punk institution — I was hanging out on the perimeter of the Burbank Town Center, stopping short of technically being a mall goth by sitting with friends on the benches of not-that-cool San Fernando Boulevard. At this point, my discovery of Rick Owens would still seem lightyears (and several pay grades) away.
To be clear, I was not the my-heart-is-as-black-as-the-clothes-I'm-wearing teen who broodingly penned Edgar Allan Poe-inspired prose in English class. Really, I was a fairly happy-go-lucky school newspaper nerd who genuinely enjoyed making friends across clique lines. This skill would serve me well a few years later when I'd find myself serving a short-lived stint as a red carpet reporter.
Senior year I befriended Jane*, who was bussed into my high school from Echo Park (to me, she was legit LA) and introduced me to the world of early-2000s Silver Lake and bands like Pavement. I traded in the moody sounds of Switchblade Symphony for Stephen Malkmus's nonchalant vocals and jangly guitars, which came along with (le gasp!) skinny jeans, thrifted vintage tees, and faux red bowling shoes.
Like most, my fashion choices of my late teens and early twenties revolved around my clothing budget — or lack thereof. Sunday mornings were spent at Jet Rag's legendary $1 parking lot sales, where I'd scoop up slightly damaged cardigan sweaters and vintage dresses to be reworked into my anti-fashion indie girl wardrobe. (My sewing machine usually hemmed to the beat of Bright Eyes or Le Tigre's debut album.)
A frequent Livejournaler, I regularly checked the online community hot_fashion (a pre-style blogger breeding digital ground of sorts), where members like Gaga-faved harness designer Zana Bayne and blogger Keiko Lynn would share their outfits, back before they were called #ootd.
It wasn't until my friend Shannon* — who I'd met by way of Cinespace through mutual friends and is still a close pal — declared her recent eBay conquest when I really delved deep into designer fashion. We'd just arrived at Stila's warehouse sale, where she proudly showed off a silk Marc Jacobs shift dress (probably from his spring or fall 2006 collection) while I thought, "What's a Marc Jacobs?" Soon thereafter, Style.com was basically the only website on my browser's history during February and September fashion weeks.
Seemingly out of nowhere, I spotted those quilted Stam bags everywhere. In college, I'd storm into the university newspaper room — where I spent most weeknights as the editor in chief — wearing a white leather Alexis Hudson shoulder bag with sleek silver hardware (my first official designer splurge, which may or may not have been purchased using grant money). When I realized that I'd have to forgo a month or two (or three) of rent for those Ann Demeulemeester lace-up boots from spring '09, I snapped up Free People's "inspired" version. (Sorry, Ann!)
By the time I joined the Racked LA team three years ago I'd already built up a healthy collection of Alexander Wang, but by no means would I have defined myself as a "fashion girl." One of my first Devil Wears Prada-like moments was when I sat at an editor dinner alongside cool-girl designers and bloggers I followed since my college days when the street style blogosphere exploded. There are times I still can't believe how this fishnets-wearing Hanson fangirl (this is totally true) went from listening to Bauhaus non-stop to getting to know respected journalists and It Girl crushes.
These days my regular haunt is Melrose Place, where grown-ass women in chokers and designer denim are commonplace; I'd be lying if I said that the current ‘90s comeback hasn't spark a tinge of nostalgia. Though my struggle to not wear all black everything is still very real, I've matured past the need to adhere to a style code to find like-minded souls. Inside, my 17-year-old self happily awaits the day when her 20-eyelet Doc Martens — still standing tall in the back of her closet — will finally see the light of day again.
*Names have been changed to protect my friends's identities and save them from embarrassment. I'm taking one for the team here.
Danielle Directo-Meston is Racked LA's associate editor.