It was September 1994 and I was a shy, anxious girl about to enter a tough, working-class public high school.
Unlike my last school, my new high school had a reputation. One friend who was headed to a private catholic school himself told me that kids got shot there weekly. Another mentioned that only about half the students there graduated, and most of the girls ended up pregnant. Even the exterior was imposing; the school itself was all concrete and surrounded by high fences manned by security guards. The surrounding neighborhood was full of fast food and pawnshops.
I was nervous. It wasn’t that I was scared of the supposed gangs or the reputation for violence. I was worried about how I would fit into this new world, how my life would change, and who my new friends would be. In short, all the usual things kids fret about when starting a new school, only amplified because of the dramatic change in environment.
But this big life change also seemed like an opportunity. Like so many girls, I’d struggled for years with adjusting to the gradual transition from childhood to adolescence, and especially with how I saw myself physically. I’d always loved clothes, and as I entered early adolescence, I’d become more and more experimental with the way I dressed. Now that I was entering a much larger school with many different kinds of kids, I saw a chance to redefine who I was.
So as I entered high school, I changed my appearance completely. I cut my mousy hair into a short pixie crop, which I would eventually dye burgundy red and then purple. I paired big thermal sweaters with short skirts and stompy boots. I wore vintage dresses with beat-up skater sneakers. I shopped the men’s section of thrift stores as much as the women’s.
All of this added up to a look that I might cringe at today, but in some ways still feel nostalgic for. It wasn’t flattering, but it was the genesis of my adult style; the first moment where I made a conscious decision about how I wanted to look. That style would go through many more transformations as my life changed, each large event impacting my outward appearance in ways I didn’t anticipate. But in that moment, as I moved into the first stage of adulthood and my life was being completely rewritten, I recreated myself for the first time.
Many of us feel the change in the air in September, whether it’s because of the return to school, or just the great shift in the season that seems to come on so suddenly. It’s always been an important time for fashion, because life changes spawn clothing changes.
As we age, we tend to see changes in our appearance as a gradual evolution. But like biological evolution, when we look closely, there are important moments when the change leaps ahead. Sometimes we only see them, and the impact they have on us, in retrospect.
If you’re feeling the change in the air too, this can be a great time to reevaluate what you’re making and wearing. I’ve been doing this through the Wardrobe Architect process we’ve outlined on the Colette blog, but even an hour of cleaning out the fabric stash and doing a little sketching can help clear my mind on how my life and style fit together at this particular moment in time.
One thing I’ve discovered in recent years is how important ease and comfort is to me. I like to look sophisticated and smart, but I won’t feel that way deep inside if I’m uncomfortable. That’s why I’m eager to make up the two new patterns this month: Akita and Moji. The Akita top is a drop sleeve woven tee that is just about the easiest thing you could make: in fact, it’s just one pattern piece! The Moji pants are what some people call "secret pajamas" — tailored-looking pants that feel like the epitome of comfort. Don’t we all love pants that you’re not dying to peel off at the end of a workday, but can just as easily snuggle up on the sofa with as the air turns chilly outside?
Looking back, the clothes I wore as an awkward teenager remind me so clearly of the changes I was living through. Maybe one day, the clothes I make and wear right now will be a souvenir of this moment.