My grandparents, Lois and Stu, are a classy pair. Born in New York City but currently residing in Palm Desert, California, Lois loves home decor and can rock a black poncho like nobody’s business. Stu was a film producer in his day, and he now enjoys wearing moccasins and setting the itinerary for his next visit to Paris.
When together, the two of them are known for breaking into song and dance midway through seemingly rhythmless conversations (don’t talk about employment around my grandma or she’ll bust into “I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line). An untrained eye might view my grandparents’ behavior as eccentric, but in my view, this is simply the way of two spirited seventy-somethings who know who they are and what they want. Lois and Stu are everything I hope to be when I am their age: distinguished, stylish and full of life.
Stu asked me a funny question at dinner the other night.
“Piper, what’s something you’ve always wanted to ask us? You know, something you’ve always wondered, but were too afraid to ask?”
It felt like a juicy game of truth or dare, and I was ready to rumble. At first, I couldn’t think of anything to ask the old coots. But then, the following words left my mouth before I had the chance to conjure them up.
“I want to talk about fashion,” I stated, revealing the vapid disposition of my subconscious mind. “When you’re picking an outfit in the morning, how do you manage to look so chic, yet so authentically you? How do you maintain such a distinct personal style?”
Lois and Stu offered wise bits of advice such as, “Don’t bother with trends,” “Try to avoid patterns” and “If all else fails, shoplift!” (I may have slightly embellished that last one).
Amid my grandparents’ pertinent adages about timeless fashion, I found myself questioning my question. Was this really my burning inquiry for a couple whose combined life experience totaled nearly thirteen decades over mine? Were Vivienne Westwood necklaces and Christian Louboutin pumps the extent of my intellectual curiosity? After all those years studying Marx and Nietzche at UC Berkeley, was I really this shallow?
As I begin the process of leaving college and entering “the real world,” it appears that — to the likely disappointment of my professors — my greatest desire is to feel good when I look in the mirror (or open my closet). And in an era of micro-trends, influencers and a surplus of visual inspiration waiting patiently at my fingertips, I suppose I am justified in seeking fashion advice from folks who came of age during a less aesthetically polluted time than the present.
With all its fads and styles, the current state of fashion makes me feel like a fish on cocaine: overstimulated and easily distracted. I often assume that everyone my age feels similarly when it comes to attire, but whenever I embark on a mindless scroll through “fit check” TikToks, I’m forced to reckon with the fact that this dilemma is not shared by the younger members of Gen Z. You know, the 13 and 14-year-olds of the world, a.k.a. the type of teenagers who you (I) will cross multiple streets to avoid. Decked out in fishnets, corsets and ultra wide-leg jeans, Zoom school may have left these pre-teens academically stunted, but when it comes to apparel, the kids are quite alright.
It’s not that I’m totally out of the loop, and it’s not that I don’t give fashion my best effort. I promise — I watch runways, I buy vintage, I do all the things that someone with good style is supposed to do. The problem, for me, is that everyone else looks so damn good these days. And well, I get excited easily. Does a 5’2” girl with a 28” inseam belong in a floor-length maxi skirt? Probably not. But did I buy a floor-length maxi skirt at the Rose Bowl Flea Market last week? I bought three.
My life is a constant ebb and flow between delusion and disillusion. I’ll walk out of my college apartment feeling dressed to the nines, but when I catch a glimpse of myself in a lecture hall window, I want to either gouge my eyes out or hurt a small cow. Perhaps if my jacket were real leather I’d feel like less of a phony.
Last week I graduated from Berkeley and moved back home to West Los Angeles — a side of town where pants with zippers are considered overdressed. The journey to finding my personal style might take some time, but at least I know where to start: back at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, buying my fourth floor-length maxi skirt.