In high school, I had fashion balls. The majority of my hair was dyed blue and I smeared my face with the brightest jewel tones Wet ’N Wild made. And my clothes—geez—I spent hours scouring vintage stores for the loudest, most one-of-a-kind (code for: kind of nuts) pieces out there. I didn’t discriminate by decade—I was equally in love with my polka-dot tulle skirt that would have made young Madonna squeal and my silver-and-acid-green ’70s maxi dress that might have single-handedly killed disco. I wore both to school regularly, sometimes paired with a cap of peacock feathers that stood a full foot over my head.
And my favorite item in my closet? An ’80s wedding dress with jumbo shoulder pads and an overlay of Chantilly lace that was procured during a trip to Goodwill. I wore it to parties. Back then, I loved being the center of attention. When I walked down the hall, I wanted everyone to notice. I couldn’t stand to be yet another girl in a sweater set.
Fast-forward 11 years, to me now. While I’ve kept the blue hair, I now have just a small streak, on the underside of my hair so I can easily hide it. While I love makeup, 90 percent of the time I sport “the natural look”—words that made my teenage self cringe. My closet is still full of bright colors and vintage, but the weirder stuff has been retired and relegated to Rubbermaid bins under my bed.
About a month ago, I was on the subway reading a magazine when a woman beside me said, “Nice dress.” I looked up and saw that she was wearing the exact same ensemble. I panicked and looked at my reflection in the window. All I could think was: When did I become so cookie cutter-looking?
I was stopping by my apartment to feed my cat before meeting friends at a bar. And I had to find something more “me” to wear. I ripped open a Rubbermaid bin and rummaged through my old clothes—the wackadoodle dresses seemed like too big a leap, so I settled on a long-sleeve, disco-collared number with a print that looks like a million multicolored giant lollipops swirled together. I paired it with tight jeans and black patent leather wedges. “Yes,” I thought, staring in the mirror at myself in a pattern that would shock Pucci’s retinas. “Balls.” I lined my eyes in bright purple, put on my coat, and ran out the door.
The bar was packed. I saw my friends in a booth and pushed my way towards them, feeling like my old uber-confident self. “Your makeup looks gorgeous,” one of them said. Score, I thought. I started to unbutton my coat—my black, safe coat—and all of a sudden freaked. What if someone laughs? Or asks me if I realize it’s not Halloween? I gulped and took off the coat. I looked around the room. Even though no one said a thing, my pulse quickened. What if everyone here thinks I’m nuts?
An hour later, I couldn’t shake that feeling. I was ready to accept the fact that my adult self actually cared what others thought and just wasn’t the fashion adventuress I’d once been. And then I noticed a pair who’d just entered the bar. The guy had a beard and a wig of flowy hair that reached his butt. He wore aviator shades, platform boots, and an ensemble of shades of pink. The girl had a head of crimped hair. She wore a purple leotard—with no pants.
As they ordered drinks, no heads whipped around to stare. I took note of how no one even seemed to notice their kookiness. Why had I been so worried? After all, this is New York, a city where you sometimes walk by someone on the street with a completely tattooed face.
I left the bar that night not ready to break out the old ’80s wedding dress, but also not ready to condemn myself to a life of dreaded sweater sets. Now, I’m determined to find the happy medium between crazy and boring. Call it fashion ball, singular.