This is an account of how my sense of style came to be. When I wonder why I’m so preoccupied with clothing, I only have to look back on my childhood and it’s pretty clear I how I grew up to be obsessed.
When I was very small, my mother dressed me, as I like to joke, “like a character in a Truffaut film.” She scoured yard sales and the like for simple, understated items she considered cool. I didn’t think much about it at the time. I just wore whatever she picked. I do have one early memory where I insisted on picking out my own outfit and I’m pretty sure it was a checked top and stripped pants and she said it did not look good, that I couldn’t wear two patterns at once. We got into a heated debate about it which ended with her saying, “Well it doesn’t matter what you think you look like, it’s what others think because they’re looking at you!” Other than that, my early childhood was a blissful time filled with shopping together, handmade dresses from Marimekko fabric and the seasonal tradition of taking clothes out of the attic and making me try every single thing on to see if it still fit.
When I was seven, my mom left my dad and went to California. My brother and I stayed in DC with my dad. My stepmother arrived soon after and a new chapter in my fashion life began. Now all my clothes came from Sears and the only criteria for them was they were 1) inexpensive and 2) covered my body. This time from age eight to about 14—those very critical years for a girl—were very bleak but ultimately formative.
Every time I asked my dad for clothes he’d say, “Let’s look at what you have.” I’d have to open my dresser, take out all my jeans and explain why they weren’t perfectly good or try them on.” If it was determined I needed new ones, we’d walk four blocks to Sears and I got to pick out a pair of Toughskins or something similar. It was horrible. And that was the good part. A lot of my clothes were hand me downs from my older brother. My sneakers were Sears brand and everyone knew it. My shoes had 4 stripes on them, not 3 and definitely not a swoosh. I did everything I could to talk my dad into cooler shoes. He said, “We’ll see” which obviously meant “Probably not, or no, never.” But when my sneakers finally got holes in them, (I might have dragged my feet while bike riding), he relented and I got my Nikes.
My stepmother made an effort to intervene in the clothing department, insisting to my father that “Girls need pretty things.” She was an accomplished seamstress and would occasionally let me pick out patterns and fabric and then she would sew things for me. One item that I remember distinctly was a full length wrap skirt made out of baby blue satin. One Christmas she bought me a book of Japanese fashion and I fell in love with Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto. I know, right?
It wasn’t until I had my first jobs, at Subway, then Baskin-Robbins, that I had the money and the power to buy what I wanted. I feel like I bought a pair of Jordache jeans with my own money. I distinctly remember trying them on and thinking I looked amazing. I don’t have any photos of me in them so maybe I just imagined it. I didn’t have much to spend in high school so I mostly shopped at thrift stores. Or wore my friend’s clothes. In these days my peers were wearing Polo and Izod shirts, Tretorns and Bass shoes. Some of them were Goth, but mostly just very plain and somewhat anti-fashion. We dubbed our style “the no-style style.”
College and the years after are one long, painful string of bad choices. With clothing, I mean. Okay, with everything, but mostly I bought many odd and unrelated items, from Ross or Marshall’s or maybe the Gap sales rack that I look back on and wonder, “What on earth was I thinking?”
Ever budget conscious, I shopped at H&M, Gap, Banana Republic and J.Crew either at their factory stores or if it was on sale. I found pieces I liked but nothing really went together, at least not the way I wanted. My style looked hodge-podge and cheap.
In 2007, I got to fulfill a lifetime dream of visiting Paris. I always imagined how I’d look like a native and feel like a character in a Camus novel, or again, a Truffaut film. It didn’t really work out that way. Still struggling with what to wear and still on a budget.
After Paris came a long-awaited and very joyful pregnancy and birth of twins. From then on, there weren’t many photos taken of me. Just me taking thousands of pix of the kids. And really I didn’t think a lot about clothes. I just wanted to get back in shape and maybe have a full night’s sleep.
It was 2011 that I took my first mirror selfie. I had started looking at stuff online about putting together outfits. I followed J’s Everyday Style, Kendi Everyday and Unfancy to name a few.
In January of 2012 I started the blog “Women’s Work”, originally as a place to discuss the challenges of balancing work, childcare, etc. but it was really just a place to explore random thoughts and teach myself WordPress and blogging in addition to working as a Graphic Designer and being a mom of twins. Later I renamed it LeighFeather and committed to focusing on my three favorite things: Fitness, Fashion & Food, posting sporadically. And now it’s seven years later! I feel like I’m just starting to know my style and like what I wear. And it’s funny, I’ve probably known it all along. It’s simple and understated, sort of vintage/retro and a little masculine. It’s jeans and t-shirts and a good amount of black. And I feel good.