I’ve spent my career as a fashion editor celebrating the idea that all of us should get dressed according to what makes us feel good. Fashion is intertwined with my sense of confidence and with the way I define myself as a person. I’m a tomboy with a penchant for dressing up. Getting dressed can offer an extra dose of confidence or it can frustrate me endlessly. But up until recently, I framed fashion as an entirely personal pastime. But this year I’ve done a lot of thinking about the whys behind my dressing habits and it’s led me to a conclusion that feels both obvious and unexpected at the same time. As it turns out, I don’t just dress for other people sometimes, as I enjoy it.
To provide a bit of context, let me explain that I’m an inherently lazy dresser. I feel a little bit like a phony admitting this as a fashion editor. It’s my job to care about complicated ways to layer (three shirts at once!) and the latest pair of heels, bag, or color to wear this season—and I do care. But when I’m left to my own devices, I so easily revert to basics. Sundays are spent almost exclusively in athleisure. If I don’t have any meetings on a Friday, I’m wearing jeans and a T-shirt. If my personal aesthetic is so low-key, does that diminish my expertise in some way? It’s something I’ve feared before, but the realization I’ve squared with is that an external motivator makes all the difference.
Having a sense of purpose, a reason to try a little harder in the morning (or when I’m packing my gym bag the night before), is what has become the fuel to my sputtering engine. I want to establish an important differential at this point: Dressing up for others doesn’t equate to brown-nosing or people-pleasing.
To me, it’s the idea that I want to embody a version of myself that fits the occasion. My schedule demands that I spend much of the week meeting with fashion counterparts, and more than wanting to wear the right designer or pull off a trend, I find excitement in the challenge of raising my personal style above my cruise control. It’s similarly not always about buying something new, but it’s about finding ways to express my sense of style as I haven’t previously.
On some occasion, that means going all out—I love the feeling of zipping up a form-fitting black-tie dress, sliding into heels, and swiping on a red lip. It’s so far away from the Aemilia who pulls on leggings and sneakers. But I believe that just because it’s a dichotomy, meaning that there are different versions of who I am and what I wear, that doesn’t mean that both aren’t buried deep down inside of me somewhere
In the same way that most people I know (myself included) aren’t the same person meeting their S.O.’s parents as they are out with their friends on a Friday night, so too I see a multifaceted way of dressing as par for the course.
While gathering my own thoughts for this piece, a friend of mine and Man Repeller’s Deputy Editor Haley Nahman penned a piece on a similar idea titled I Dress Differently on the Weekends, So Which Is the “Real Me?” in which she too grapples with the idea of why we dress the way we do.
Here I am wearing a Johanna Ortiz dress I borrowed for last year’s CFDA awards. I’m not usually one to wear pink, sequins, or super-fancy dresses, so this was a big swap for me.
Wearing: Johanna Ortiz dress; Dear Frances mules
“I’m still parsing whether that makes fashion a powerful tool, an inevitable reality, or a bit of a trap, for me personally. Maybe it’s all three,” she writes.
I too can feel the impending weight of owning a personal style. Inevitably, what we wear, casual or fancy, is a window that opens us up to the judgment of others (and yeah, ourselves too). But the beauty of personal style is that it’s an evolution of expression. I find respite in the days when I don’t have to actually think much about what I’m putting on because it affords me a certain excitement when the time comes to be a little bit more creative. I always dress for myself, but I can finally admit that yeah, I dress for other people too.
Read on to shop pieces that inspire me.
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