Are you let­ting how you look dic­tate what you wear? Grace O’Con­nell calls for fash­ion free­dom.

ELLE (Canada) - - Story Board - By Grace O’Con­nell

Do you have fash­ion fear?

when I was in my mid-20s, a strug­gling writer with a hand­ful of part-time jobs, I got a poorly paid gig as a film ex­tra. My scene was in a hip bar. On set, I sat down to have my hair done. The stylist mussed it around a bit and then pulled it into a high pony­tail. She stuck a bunch of bobby pins into my head so hard that I thought she was try­ing to stim­u­late spe­cific ar­eas of my brain. Then she frowned at my head in the mir­ror.

“No,” she said. She ex­tracted the pins, brushed out the pony­tail and then tried some teas­ing. She added a sassy braid along one side and then un­braided it. She called over a fel­low stylist. And then an­other.

“I just can’t,” she said. She pushed my head around a bit, a sub­con­scious kind of move­ment, like an ir­ri­tated re­cep­tion­ist drum­ming her fin­gers. “I can’t make her look cool.” No mat­ter what she did, I looked as clean­cut as an Archie-comic char­ac­ter.

The other stylists nod­ded sym­pa­thet­i­cally. It was, in­deed, a prob­lem. Fi­nally, some­one put a leop­ard-print hat on my head, Blos­som-style. “There,” said the stylist, with a sort of de­ter­mined cheer. “Much bet­ter.” We eye­balled each other in the mir­ror, both fully aware that this was not much bet­ter.

We’ve all cov­eted a look that we felt we couldn’t pull off, whether it’s preppy, boho or my luke­warm at­tempt at edgy cool. But why do we take it for granted that some styles are out of our reach? Of­ten it’s be­cause we ac­cept the com­mon wis­dom that fac­tors like our body and hair type, and even our face, dic­tate our sar­to­rial op­tions. Could Reese Wither­spoon be be­liev­ably made up like a badass? Sofía Ver­gara as a nun? If you’re more pa­tri­cian Gwyneth than punky Lorde, you might as­sume that dab­bling in black mesh and chok­ers will make you look silly; if you’re a tomboy type, you might feel like evening­wear never looks quite right on you.

Then there’s the fact that we’re of­ten more in­ter­ested in hid­ing trou­ble spots than ex­per­i­ment­ing with the looks we re­ally h

love. Too long-waisted, too busty, too short—by the time we’re in high school, we’re al­ready in­ti­mately ac­quainted with what the world deems wrong with us. Not look­ing clue­less be­comes more im­por­tant than feel­ing fab­u­lous: In a world of un­lim­ited fash­ion op­tions, we learn to play it safe. I know I did. In high school, my best friend and I would walk the halls like a pair of mis­matched book­ends: She was in 14-hole Dr Martens and ripped T-shirts fea­tur­ing Paul Si­monon smash­ing his gui­tar; I looked like my fam­ily owned stock in Gap. Se­cretly, I would have loved to try her look, but even as a teen with a nascent sense of style (and self), I was al­ready too shy to take a sar­to­rial leap. I fig­ured my girl-next-door looks would suck the cool out of any punky threads.

Of course, a wider va­ri­ety of styles will come more eas­ily to some women than oth­ers, and a new look will al­ways give you a bit of a jolt when you first look in the mir­ror, like the first time we saw Felic­ity’s shorn locks. But some­times tak­ing the plunge is all it takes—hav­ing the for­ti­tude of style­cen­tric imag­i­na­tion. Be­fore I saw Kill Bill, I wouldn’t have be­lieved Uma Thur­man could pull off a Bruce Lee jump­suit, but damn if she didn’t wear it like she was born in it. And who would have looked at clean-cut cutie-pie Bet­tie Page and re­al­ized she could not only pull off sexy fetish gear but would be­come an icon for it?

Re­cently, my friend threw a party in a goth club not far from my apart­ment. I combed through my wardrobe, feel­ing lost about what to wear and wish­ing that my high-school friend still lived nearby. I couldn’t help but think wryly of the film-set stylist: If I couldn’t muster hip­ster, what chance did I have of pulling off goth?

But fast-for­ward to half­way through the night: I’m on the dance floor, sweaty hair stick­ing to my neck, mu­sic blar­ing in my ears. I’m in mo­tor­cy­cle boots, a stud­ded sleeve­less top and a black miniskirt, with vampy lip­stick and se­ri­ously smoky eyes—worlds away from my usual evening look. A fel­low dancer shouts over the mu­sic, “You look amaz­ing!”

And I felt amaz­ing. Some­times there’s a fine line be­tween cos­tume and ar­mour. A new look can feel awk­ward, even silly. But if you give yourself over, some­times it can feel more like a va­ca­tion in the su­per­hero ver­sion of yourself—a chance to let your sex­ier, more mys­te­ri­ous or edgier self step out.

Fash­ion, af­ter all, is as­pi­ra­tional, and it’s a long life to stick to sen­si­ble pumps. n

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