Sunday, April 25, 2010

Parting sartorial advice, and no sweatpants ever

When my mother dropped me off for my freshman year of college, she gave me a hug on Bigelow Boulevard and whispered in my ear, “If you become one of those kids who wears sweatpants all the time, I won’t let you come home.”

The four years since my mother’s stern advice have flown by faster than Heidi Montag’s disastrous plastic surgery transformation, but I can confidently say I’ve learned a lot during my stay at Pitt. So I present to you, for my final column, a list of lessons. Some of these things I’ve said before — others I’ve just realized recently. They are all of equal importance. (Except, perhaps, the bit about skirt lengths. That you can feel free to ignore.)

Generally speaking, when people offer advice, I assume they’re not talking to me. The bits and pieces I do absorb, I struggle to keep at the forefront of my mental repertoire and only consider from time to time.

So I offer you this advice, knowing quite well that you might not listen to it all. “Sam is talking to someone else,” you’re thinking. And that’s OK. Head for the Sudoku. If you’re willing to put off studying for finals a little longer, though, here is what I’ve learned and what I’d advise:

1. Always thank the people who matter. To my roommates who have patiently waited for me to pick out an outfit all these years, thank you. To the professors who didn’t say anything when I slipped in to class late because I couldn’t decide on said outfit, thank you. To H&M, which has provided me with an endless stream of closet additions, I thank you most of all.

2. College is a time of consumption. You eat when you’re bored, spend money when you’re stressed, drink when you’re celebrating (even if you’re just celebrating the fact that you made it to Thursday). I’m not going to tell you to stop drinking — I’m no hypocrite — but I will tell you to watch your spending. Buy what you can’t live without. It’s possible to have a closet of things that are absolutely extraordinary if you don’t waste money on things that are positively dreadful.

3. Don’t overwork yourself. Sometimes it’s better to let yourself relax before you dive into an important assignment. Fact: Facebook stalking is a perfectly acceptable form of procrastination when it is used to look through the pictures of friends who dress well. There’s a whole world of outfit ideas to absorb by clicking though recently added photos.

4. I should say that my biggest accomplishment of college was learning the appropriate usage of the em-dash and to differentiate between its and it’s. In actuality, my biggest accomplishment was learning to apply eyeliner on the inside of my eyelids. It’ll make your Friday nights so much better, I swear.

5. Laugh at your own mistakes, but really, try to look your best at all times — you never know when you’ll be on camera. There was this time I accidentally thought it would be a good idea to film a Dating on Demand profile (curse you, persuasive Comcast recruiters!) on a night I hadn’t washed my hair. Embarrassing doesn’t even begin to describe.

6. When buying a new dress, always double check the length. I have had some near-disasters with night wear that could have easily been avoided if I had bothered to walk out of the dressing room and look in a three-way mirror. On the other hand, if any of you ladies enjoy walking down Oakland Avenue as the object of loose-moral mishaps, then don’t double check at all. The shorter, the better.

7. I recently borrowed (OK, basically stole from the trunk of my friend Alex’s car) a collection of New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell’s essays. In the preface, he says the best people to interview for a story are the ones who don’t have a reputation to protect. “Self-consciousness,” he says, “is the enemy of ‘interestingness.’” It is true — both in story telling and fashion. Think about it: The people who have the most compelling style are the ones who aren’t worried about protecting their image or conforming to a certain socially acceptable “look.”

I spent a whole lot of my undergraduate career being self-conscious — worrying that I wasn’t smart enough, talented enough, well-dressed enough — and you know what? It all really doesn’t matter. The second you stop worrying, good things start happening. I promise, you’re interesting just the way you are.

I think I’ve enjoyed college more than should be legally allowed, so it’s terrifying that it all will end in less than a week.

I’ve met some remarkably talented people who I’m privileged to call my friends, and I became, roughly, the person I always wanted to be.

The next wave of my life is still up in the air but there is one thing I know for sure: It is very possible to get ahead by working hard, but it is so much easier when you’re dressed the part.

To my fellow breed of anti-pajamas-in-public types, I raise a pumped fist and say, “Solidarity.” To the rest of you, remember: Sweatpants are never the answer.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I get you.

Before I begin, please don’t laugh at me.

I’ve harbored this weird obsession with fake glasses for the past year. I know they go against my anti-hipster bent, but what can I say? I want in on the cult.

It all began in London. While studying abroad, I spent nearly every Friday morning perusing Portobello Market — a huge outdoor cluster of street vendors in Notting Hill. At the market, there was a sunglass stand owned by this hilarious vendor who always wore giant plastic clown glasses. He’d help everyone figure out exactly which pair they should buy — throwing frames around the tent and giving customers a thumbs up or a thumbs down.

Once, I put on a pair of square fake glasses and peered into one of the stand’s tiny mirrors. I loved them, and I waved down the owner for a second opinion.

“No, no,” he said. “You look too serious in those. You look like my doctor.”

“Oh,” I said. Reluctantly, I put them down, bought a pair of huge tortoiseshell sunglasses and tried to forget about my craving for fake specs.

I had all but given up on my dream of looking like a bookish young coed until a few weeks ago, when I borrowed my friend Justin’s pair of plastic glasses for a day.

Immediately, I became re-infatuated and went out to buy a pair for myself. But thus far, they’ve been sitting on top of my dresser with the price tag still attached ($6 at Forever 21, if anyone’s interested). I’m chickening out — I’m too afraid of people making fun of me when I wear them.

Fashion, after all, is the most basic form of nonverbal communication — without a word, your dress can convey your personality. So what would fake glasses say about me? Either that I’m an extroverted attention craver or quiet and reclusive. You take your pick.

And it’s not just glasses. A few weeks ago, New York Magazine’s fashion blog, The Cut, posted an entry about the slowly evolving sweatpants trend.

But before any of you late sleepers get too excited, these aren’t the kind of sweatpants with “PITT” screen-printed down the leg. These are made of cashmere or high quality jersey and cut to look like much trendier pants.

The Cut’s article detailed how the trend started (with designers Alexander Wang and Isabel Marant) before explaining its paradox: To the untrained eye, they look sloppy and ridiculous, but to those in the fashion know, they look ahead of the curve. For all we know, everyone will be wearing harem sweatpants two years from now.

Despite my constant outcries against dressing like a slob, I actually kind of like the new iteration of sweatpants. But here’s the thing: Even if I did muster the courage to buy a pair, I’d be worried about how other people would perceive them — always fearing someone would cast me one glance and say, “Oh look, you’re a slob too.”

That’s the thing about fashion: For every person who praises your bravery to rock something different, there’s going to be someone who laughs hysterically at you the second you walk by. It’s up to you to decide who’s worth listening to.

As for me, I’m still trying to put on my brave face and wear my fake glasses in public. If and when I do muster enough confidence to head outdoors, please, I beg of you, be kind.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I'll take Isaac for $1000.

Without fail, whenever I visited my grandparents when I was little, we watched Jeopardy at 7pm. I rarely new the answers to any of the questions, unless it was college week and the categories were a little easier.
I haven't watched the show much since middle school (my grandparents switched to watching Lou Dobbs instead) but I am definitely tuning in for the show's Million Dollar Celebrity Invitational special.

Isaac is hands down one of the most hysterical people in fashion, so this is bound to be great.
Tune in May 3-5 for the semifinals.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Shopping always a gamble

I’m standing in the three-way mirror of Banana Republic, and it is not my finest hour. My dressing room is a veritable graveyard of black-suiting separates. This room, my friends, is where pencil skirts and slim-cut trousers came to die.

“I have my first real job interview on Thursday, so I’m, like, stressing, you know?” I whimper to the sales associate. “Everything has to be perfect.”

I have her cut pocket threads and bring me different blazers as I rotate in front of the mirror, smoothing seams and deciding which one makes me look the most employable.

I try on the same suit at least three times before I ask to put it on hold so I can look in other stores. I avoid glimpsing at anything that isn’t black wool, despite the fact that spring florals are far more fun to shop for.

“Your interview is on Thursday? Kind of late notice,” the lady at J. Crew mumbles to me. Note to everyone: Don’t wait until the week of your first important interview to find the ideal suit.

An hour later, I’ve found nothing better. I return to Banana Republic, pick up the suit I left on hold and wince as I swipe my check card. Fashion Catch-22: Suits are expensive. You need a job to pay for these suits. You need these suits to get a job. Someone should start a revolution where tunics and leggings are appropriate business attire.

As I walk back out to Walnut Street, I keep thinking about what that J. Crew associate said to me. “Your interview is on Thursday? Kind of late notice” rings over and over in my head. Was I wrong to wait until I actually needed a suit to bother buying one? Suddenly, I find my sartorial carpe diem — “Don’t buy what you don’t absolutely love or need” — severely challenged.

In recent years, I have been openly self-congratulating about my will power for saving my dollars for the clothes I really want. I do not have drawer upon drawer of things I don’t wear. My wardrobe might not have substantial variety, but I’m also not calling my mother once a month to ask for more money because I couldn’t resist scooping up H&M’s sale rack every weekend.

My mother, also a fashion lover, grilled the “buy what you can’t live without, leave the rest” mentality into my malleable brain at a young age. She taught me to choose quality over quantity.

There were a few years, admittedly, that I ignored her advice. Upon getting my first job (I worked at a sporting goods store. I know. The irony that I once knew how to fit people for shin guards is not lost on me.) and subsequently my first income, I spent an unreasonable amount of money on crap at the King of Prussia Mall. Once I realized what a pain it was to dig through piles of ugly retail mistakes, I vowed to keep my pennies until I decided what they were worth spending on.

Another lesson that my mother has continually tried to teach me — which I am just now realizing I should follow — is that it is always worth spending money on the perfect classics when you find them.

Many people insist, my mother included, that it is worth buying things like evening gowns when the deal — rather than the occasion – strikes. The likelihood of stumbling upon the perfect dress when a black tie event pops up out of nowhere is slim to none. Plan ahead and peruse the racks every now and then until you find something you love and you’ll likely be the best-dressed attendee.

But where do you draw the line between purchasing something “because it’s a steal and you’ll need it in the future” and buying something “because it’s a steal and you only think you’ll need it in the future?” “I’ll wear this all the time” is the mantra of the over-indulgent.

That isn’t to say there aren’t some occasions that are worth shopping for in advance — job interviews obviously being one of them. I also would have appreciated buying some summer clothes before the weather suddenly became unbearably hot a few weeks ago. I was completely unprepared to switch out my winter staples.

Shopping is, essentially, a gamble. The only advice I can offer is buckle down, calculate your odds and be as honest as possible with yourself when you ask, “Will I really wear this?”

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hate the girl, love the clothes.

OK, it's no big secret that Olivia Palermo isn't the most likable person. I mean she's, like, uptown and the rest of the world is like, downtown. She can't help that she was born into wealth.

But God does the girl know how to dress. I am instantly smitten with any magazine or blog feature focusing on her style, so naturally I was outrageously excited when I saw that she was British Vogue's April style icon. Each day of the month, she'll do a post of what she's wearing. It's pretty great.

Fashion more than dressing the part

When people ask me what my major is, I’m perfectly OK with saying, “Writing. I study writing.” It might not be the most lucrative program, but I’m proud of that identity. Do you finance majors get to sulk around in dimly lit coffee shops and contemplate the meaning of existence — for a grade? I don’t think so.

When people ask me what I like to write about, however, I hesitate. I’m reluctant to respond, “Fashion,” partly because whenever people ask, I always seem to be dressed like a complete slob. Can’t anyone ask when I’m wearing a cute blazer and not an oversized t-shirt with flat hair?

But I’m also reluctant because there’s a certain stereotype associated with people who center their thoughts on fashion — that they’re ditzy.

Now, I’m certainly not declaring myself a great intellectual mind. On the contrary, my mental capacity is fairly limited. I don’t understand the intricacies of the stock market, and bioengineering is a complete mystery to me. However, I am confident enough that my intellectual capabilities are at least greater than, say, Stephanie Pratt’s.

Back when I used to watch “The Hills” in the hopes of gaining some kind of insight as to how the fashion industry worked (I didn’t), I remember being astounded that this bimbo could maneuver her way into a fashion PR job. The real issue I had, though, was the message she was sending to avid “Hills”-watching girls everywhere: You can be a complete and total idiot and make it in the fashion world.

The perceived connection between unimpressive mental abilities and fashion is nothing new. I theorize that this stance is derived from a pre-feminist attitude that women should look pretty and nothing else. Ever since, fashion has retained a bad rep as an interest for those who have the time to bother with it.

But what qualifies something as an “academic” interest anyway? Art enthusiasts are certainly never questioned intellectually, and isn’t fashion, essentially, art? There’s so much brain power going into the industry that it requires creative and business-minded individuals alike. If the fashion world were actually run by a bunch of idiots, we’d all be running around in paper sacks.

And so I declare that if you are a blog-reading, magazine-studying, fashion-obsessed being like myself, it’s OK. I believe that it’s possible to be smart and still into fashion. So the next time someone asks what I write about (so long as I’m not wearing a sweatshirt and Vans) I’ll proudly say, “Fashion.”

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A win-win situation

If you watched the NCAA championship game last night, you either are feeling really bad for Matt Howard right now, or are totally sick of CBS playing his missed, title-losing half-court shot over and over.

If you're not remotely into basketball, but still wish you could have gotten your own piece of bracketology, then I hope you checked out the Fug Girl's Fug Madness, in which they created a bracket of the most heinous celebrity fashion crimes. Miss Amber Rose took the Fugly title this year and their accompanying article, all in the voice of Kanye West, is the most hilarious thing I've read in awhile. Go check it out.