Fashion for Beginners

When I was growing up, I went to a small charter school. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but growing up in such an insulated environment did have a couple of interesting effects on my college experience.

One of the most surprising is how I dress. I wore a school uniform almost every single day of my life between the ages of five and 18, so having to pick my own outfit to go to school every day in college was not quite as easy as it seemed like it would be. In high school, I spent almost all of my time at school (where I wore a uniform) or at swim practice or dance class (where I wore workout clothes) or at home (where I wore sweatpants), so I didn’t need a lot of street clothes. We did get dress-down days at school but there were so many rules about what you could and couldn’t wear (no tank tops, no hoods, don’t even bother trying shorts or skirts because they’re just gonna tell you they’re too short anyway) that it was easier just to buy jeans and a t-shirt and call it a day.

This, of course, made the first part of my college experience interesting. I never learned how to dress like a real human being: someone who’s just walking down the street or going to class or hanging out with friends. I had never really considered myself the kind of person who cared about clothes, but to my surprise, I’ve learned that I kind of am. Now that I have a vague idea of how I like to dress, it’s becoming easier (and a lot more fun) to fill my wardrobe with pieces that I actually want to wear.

Although I am probably the least-qualified person to give fashion advice, I’m going to anyway. Here are some things that I’ve learned in my attempt to figure out how to put clothing on my body:

  • Don’t buy it unless you’re actually going to wear it.

This seems pretty common sense, right? But I’ve gotten caught in this trap a couple of times. I’ll see something at the store and think, “I mean, I don’t really like it, but it looks trendy/it’s appropriate for work/[insert other justification here], so I should probably buy it anyway, right?”

No, you should not. If you don’t like it now, you’re not going to like it in two months. Just hold out and wait until you find something that you actually do like.

This goes for trends, too. If you don’t like a trend, then don’t buy into it. I, for example, will never understand why overalls are suddenly coming back, so I’m not about to waste my money on them when I could just as easily spend it on another nice, reliable pair of jeans.

  • You’re better off investing in one really good piece than buying a bunch of cheap other pieces.

I have gotten screwed over by this several times. I’ll see a nice shirt or sweater, but it’ll be a little more expensive than I want it to be, so I’ll decide that I’m better off investing that money in more items of clothing that are cheaper. Instead, the cheap clothes begin to fray and fall apart much earlier than they probably should and I have to go out and buy clothes to replace them. If I had paid a few dollars extra for something that was a little higher quality, I would have saved more money in the long run, because I wouldn’t have to keep going out and buying new clothes to replace the old one.

This rule is true with a lot of shirts, cardigans, jeans and things such as those. (Of course, you should still try to get them on sale. There’s a difference between things being on sale and things just being cheap and poor quality.)

The exception to this rule is t-shirts. T-shirts will be five for $20 or something like that. That is when you cheap out. Charging more than 10 dollars for a plain t-shirt should be punishable by law.

  • Plan your outfits out ahead of time.

In high school, I only had three or four different options for what I could wear, so there was no standing in front of a mirror, agonizing over what I looked like. Oh, you don’t like the way you look in that polo shirt and navy blue skirt? That’s too bad, kid, because that’s what you’re wearing today. And tomorrow. And until you graduate.

College is a whole other ball game, especially at Emerson, which is not exactly a sweat-pants-and-flip-flops kind of college. Do you know how many times I’ve spent, like, 45 minutes trying to pick out an outfit for the school day because I couldn’t find anything that I liked? Some days I almost wish that I could go back to high school and just wear the stupid uniform, because then it would be one less thing to worry about.

It makes it a lot easier when you have an outfit already picked out ahead of time, or at least if you have a vague idea of what you want to wear the next day when you go to bed the night before.

This also goes for shopping: don’t buy something unless you already have pieces that go with it or unless you’re prepared to buy pieces that do. Otherwise you’re going to have that gorgeous, traffic-cone-orange shirt hanging in your closet all by itself, because it doesn’t match anything else you own.

  •  Use your resources.

For the fashion illiterate like me, it can be hard to find cues on how to dress for different occasions or even just to pull together a cute casual outfit that isn’t just jeans and an old t-shirt. Luckily, I’ve found a couple of resources to draw some fashion inspiration when I need it.

Some of mine are Pinterest, my one true love, Teen Vogue and teenvogue.com (and also regular adult Vogue, but Teen Vogue features 20 and 21-year-olds and less expensive clothing) and Rookie Magazine. I also take cues from some of my favorite TV shows (such as Pretty Little Liars and Awkward.), as well as What Not To Wear, which is one of the great stay-home-sick-from-school-and-watch-a-marathon shows of our time. Of course, there’s also Atlas Magazine, which has great posts on style from some of our other writers!

That’s my round-up of some of the things I’ve learned in my attempt to learn how to dress. Leave your best fashion tips in the comments!

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