From Hemp Pants To Furry Suits: What Your Boyfriend’s Ex-Girlfriends Can Teach You About Fashion And Your Relationships.
“It has pockets!”
“I like it. I don’t love it.”
“Only you could pull that off.”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been exceedingly interested in what I was wearing. I distinctly remember a day back in the first grade when I despondently sulked on the playground and refused to talk to anyone or play because my mother had had the gall to dress me in a Disney Pocahontas t-shirt with Keds that didn’t match and my most ill-fitting pair of black leggings that bagged. When I toured colleges during my junior year of high school, I noted with interest that the chic college-aged girls on Ivy League campuses (I almost went Princeton,) favored solid-color tees over graphic prints. I came home and promptly purged my wardrobe of all graphic tees, vowing to never buy another again in the interest of appearing more sophisticated and older. A few years after that, living in Italy and commuting to classrooms in the middle of Florence’s fashion district taught me how to run in 4-inch heels over ancient, pitted cobblestone streets, as well as how to achieve a blow-out, full face of make-up, and a carefully edgy, fashion-forward ensemble before 9 in the morning. (Also, that a small-planet-sized gold or rose gold men’s watch when paired with a white lace shirt and skinny jeans is the most ridiculously expensive-looking outfit ever, even if it’s all H&M.) My friends in college always vocally voted me “The Most Interestingly Dressed Person I Know.” (This could be both compliment and insult, and I accept both willingly.) I consume numerous women’s magazines every month for both work— reading the sex & relationship sections for staying up-to-date in my professional life— as well as play: the fashion spreads, where I can dog-ear and rip pages to my heart’s content to build folders full of staple pieces to look for the next time I’m in a second-hand store or have no idea what to wear to a gallery opening/date/girl’s dinner/festival.
I also have one more life-long style guide: My relationship or sex partner’s exes.
“What?” I heard you just say.
I first discovered this when an old ex of mine commented on the fact that while he was very urban/hip-hop in his dressing choices, his ex was very much a hippie, and he dug that about her. I Facebook stalked her for shits and giggles to verify what he said, and sure enough, there she was: Unwashed, tousled hair, hemp pants, cropped tops with environmental messages hanging somewhere above her belly-button, and thumb rings. I instantly heaved a sigh of relief and stopped dressing more Harlem so I could slide back into my Greenwich Village vibe without feeling like he’d hate it and refuse to be seen with me in public anymore. Then came the ex who wore heavy black eyeliner and convinced me it was OK to do so, too; the ex who loved leopard as much as I do; the ex who was a HORRIBLE dresser; the ex who always wore scarves; and the ex who shared a closet with my then-boyfriend and left some summer dresses and size large blouses behind. I perfected my cat-eye, purchased a signature leopard print scarf, and reveled in being a well-dressed, fashion-forward size small. It was like using other women’s Look Books to help hone my own. And the best part was, I knew all of these dudes I was dating wouldn’t be flapped by it (or hadn’t been and wanted to be). I knew I could still be my edgy, Man Repeller-outfitting self (See: “Outfitting oneself in a sartorially offensive mode that may result in repelling members of the opposite sex. Such garments include but are not limited to harem pants, boyfriend jeans, overalls [see: human repelling], shoulder pads, full length jumpsuits, jewelry that resembles violent weaponry and clogs…”),and that my dude du jour would still stick around and weather the fashion shit-storm.
Twig’s (AKA: Dreamboat’s) ex is a soft-goods designer. In other words, she designs and makes clothes, among other things. On the other hand, as much as I love and aspire to fashion, on a good day, I can hem something if really given the time. Maybe sew a button back on. As I picked his discarded pants up off the hardwood floor at the foot of the bed, I noticed her meticulous patches she’d covered his rips and tears with. I am not a mender. As he wrapped his arms around my bare torso one early morning and rested his chin against my shoulder, causing me to say, “This is your plan to keep me from getting dressed, isn’t it?”, he reached behind me to the hanging rack of one-of-a-kind pieces his ex had created for a winter show and plucked at the sleeve of what looked to be a skinned Sasquatch. “No,” he said. “I just wanted to see you in this furry suit.” I am not much of a clothing creator. As I happened across photos of the two of them together that he’d packed away while we were looking for photos from his awkward long-hair phase, I scoped out her tweed and wool and vintage thrift-store style. I am not a straight-up-and-down built woman; I will never be able to pull off tweed or boxy jackets that hang and ’70s cocktail dresses made for waifs. I am more Jessica Rabbit than Coco Chanel and the Roaring ’20s (the tweed-loving, slim-fitting empire designer, not the label). I actually really, aesthetically liked her stuff. Girl’s got talent, like whoa. But I will never be able to pull off a Peter Pan collar or a dropped waist, or an empire waist. I will never be fond of wearing tweed or skirts that hit below the knee or long jackets made out of furry materials.
But I learned from her.
I saw bits and pieces of her style on the hanging rack; saw how she puts herself together in their photos. I saw what style he was used to, and what parts of it he’d adopted, knowingly (the patches, a tweed vest), and unknowingly picked up (a “Great Gatsby”-esque formal wardrobe) as well. I knew that it would be OK to leave my UK-edition ELLE magazine on the nightstand and he wouldn’t judge me for being a clothes-loving uber-consumer. I felt comfortable vamping around in some seriously personal sartorial choices (romantic, sheer white lace top and yoga shorts, anyone? Braless? Oh, his roommate came home early and surprised me? Hey man, here are my tits. Congratulate your friend on bagging me later). I was confident he could live through my floor-length, flammable-orange, backless, side cut-out, slit-to-the-thigh jersey dress, and that though it was different from anything he’d probably ever seen on one of his romantic interests, after living through the ’90s and “furry suits”, he’d be able to deal with the fact that it was a dress that was very Me, and that I was expressing something through my personal style. (Mostly, that I was not wearing a bra. Or, perhaps, no underwear either. God, it’s hot out. Isn’t it time for sex again?)
I will always have my own sense of style. I will always prefer Victoria Secret’s yoga shorts over paper-bag-cut long shorts in twill. I will always let my tits run free, be it in “THIS IS MY SCREAMING PLEA FOR SEX” exclamation-point dresses, or skinny-dipping with a lover and his roommate, or at least, until they no longer defy gravity like 36D balloons. I will always reach for anything in leather, or heavy metal accessories, or 5-inch stiletto heels before anything even remotely pedestrian and functional. (Fuck it, I will MAKE it functional! Look at these heels function for me! Hey, wait up!) These things will always be a part of me, carbon-imprinted and as plain and unique as my own fingerprints. But sometimes, playing dress-up needs to be shook-up a little. Sometimes, it’s fun to pretend to be another facet of who you are. Sometimes, even the most savvy girl needs to be reminded that other women came before, baring knobby knees and midriffs and donning hemp pants and furry suits, and that it was OK; that the relationship could survive (or couldn’t, so don’t try it). And so two days later and the next time I was in a consignment shop, I picked up a structural black top in chiffon that looked like Twig’s ex could have had a ball designing. I bought a silk A-line skirt in an autumn gold (for me, that color is conservative; if it occurs naturally in nature, I usually won’t like wearing it,) that actually skims my knees. I fell in love with a cropped, swingy jacket with large, functional buttons (that was also bright, jewel-tone blue enough for me to make it feel like it wasn’t a total concession). And you know what? I felt GOOD in all these things. A little different, but let me throw on my pair of 4-inch gladiator wedges from Italy and my worn-to-death leather leggings under that chiffon shirt, and I’ll be GOOD. So look at the women who came before. Not only have they shaped your boyfriend and his wardrobe, but they could help shape your relationship and your wardrobe, too. And that’s what I call being thankful for other women and our sartorial sisterhood.
Because really, if you can’t love the above sack-like heeled open-toe booties like I do, do I really want you loving me, either?