I am very excited to introduce a new contributor to theSTYLetti, an extremely talented and engaging fashion journalist who I was fortunate to meet on a photo shoot in San Francisco. You may have seen her in a recent post in which she is featured (candidly) in a denim/chambray jumpsuit. Her name is Justice McNeil, and here is her first post for theSTYLetti: Personal Style.
The thing about fashion is that it is about so much more than clothes. It is about so much more than pieces of cloth sewn together, it is more than the individual garments, it is more than the way it fits, it is more than what is shown at New York Fashion Week. These are all aspects that make up the fashion system. But it is really so much more complex than all of that. Fashion is also history and it is people, it is a story. Fashion tells a story of time. We can look at the styles of any given time and know something about the people, the land, the time, the world. The same can be said of individual people. The way a person dresses says a lot about who they are. It is a form of expression that needs no words. We may not be particularly aware of it, but with every “fashion choice”, even the choice to wear dirty sweatpants, we are deciding what we want to tell the world about ourselves, or what we want to hide. And just as fashion has changed throughout time, so can it change for the individual. You probably do not dress the same now as you did in High School or Middle School. You may not dress the same today as you did last week. As we change so does our style. We find new ways to express the new people we become.
Let me tell you my story. My name is Mary Justice McNeil, but I go by my middle name Justice—no, I do not intend to go into law and I have not as of yet become a super hero, but I am still waiting for my powers to develop. My entire life I have had this obsessive love of clothes. When I was about 2 I threw a tantrum when my mom tried to dress me in overalls when I wanted to wear my tutu and fairy wings. I won. From then on my mom just decided to stop trying to dictate what I would wear and I was given free range with my stylistic choices. Naturally this resulted in some weird combinations of princess costumes and cargo shorts. I was an extremely shy child; dressing up was my way of expressing myself. When I was 8 I taught myself how to sew. My first complete garment was a hooded cape made of different colored felt squares. I remember asking my mom if the kids at school would make fun of me. She said, “Yes honey, they probably will. So you have a choice, either you can wear your cape and be completely unique, or you can wear a jeans and a sweatshirt like everyone else.” I wore the cape. Yes I did get made fun of, kids are mean. As my sewing skills improved and I got older, I developed a very distinct style. I went to a very typical High School, where the athletes wear their uniforms, the nerds wear jeans too short and button down shirts, and the “cool” kids wear Abercrombie or whatever. I, however, dressed like a 50’s housewife. I already didn’t feel like I fit in with my peers, so I just accentuated that difference by wearing hyper feminine dresses, pearls, curling my hair, and walking confidently in 4 inch heels everyday.
When I left for college in San Francisco I packed my bags full of my rose pink and sky blue dresses and had two suitcases just for my shoes. I was ready to establish myself as the girl I had been for the past few years—the girl who makes macaroons, wears bright red lipstick, and actually wears stockings. I held onto that girl for a while, but I soon felt a change come over me. Something happened and I no longer particularly cared about what I wore. I didn’t care what I looked like. I went through a phase of wearing nothing but running pants (glorified leggings) and various types of sweaters, sweatshirts, and jackets. I didn’t wear makeup and wore my hair in a messy bun. Maybe I was going through a stage of depression, I don’t know. I just didn’t care. I also lost a lot of weight, so when, one day, I wanted to wear one of my old dresses again it didn’t fit. My body had changed, but more over my personality had changed. I was no longer the prim, feminine girl I had been before. I was more serious and studious. So I had to adapt to this new person.
My style changed again. I began to wear a lot of jeans and tailored trousers with button up shirts under sweaters. Very J. Crew and British. This was fitting as at that time I was studying at Oxford University. When I returned to San Francisco this previous January I entered a new stage. I changed once more and so did my fashion. No longer the über feminine girl in pink heels nor the plaid clad student of Oxford. I have become someone new and I am still getting used to it. I have an apartment in the Mission, I go to school, work for two tech start ups, and supposedly am a “fashion journalist”. I guess I’m growing up, but I feel like I’m making it all up as I go. Which is how I dress. Every day I think of whom it is I want to portray to the world. Do I want to be more artist or more techie today? I wear a lot of black and a lot of layers. Comfort is of upmost importance, I therefore find myself wearing a lot of loose clothes, a lot of jersey knits and rayon. I don’t know how to describe my new style, just like I don’t know how to describe who I am and what I do. I am just me and this is how I choose to dress at this moment in time.
Even though our style may change and we change, I think it is important to remember our previous selves. Remember how we dressed at 15 and what that meant about who we were. Even if we are ashamed of those neon purple leggings or the scrunchied ponytails, we should hold on to those memories, how we felt at the time, even if we donate the clothes to Goodwill.
“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”
― Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Thank you Justice, for your charming and thoughtful story. It added joy to my already happy day!