I remember my first designer clothing item. It was a Dolce & Gabbana hoodie in a bland charcoal with bombastic D&G lettering appliquéd to the front (circa 2003). No one with a modicum of taste would have been caught dead wearing it, hence its banishment to the Neiman Marcus outlet in New Jersey. I was thirteen, insecure, and desperate for the social validation those letters conferred.
Wearing that sweatshirt gave me a false sense of pride. It was like an armor during my turbulent teenage years. I felt deeply inferior, but wearing something expensive made me feel like I was part of an elite, that I possessed refinement others couldn’t understand. They were primitive and uncouth and I was manifestly better because I shopped at Armani Exchange (oh, the irony).
It should have come as no surprise that I as overestimated the power of clothing, I ended up working in fashion, first as a magazine editor and then later as a celebrity stylist. Now I was not just a sycophant buying into the falsified images, but was helping to create them. I felt I needed a wardrobe befitting my position and presence at fashion shows and brief forays on camera.
I bought things I couldn’t afford because I was so desperate to be part of the lifestyle. I went into debt buying Gucci loafers and Marc Jacobs bags and whatever else I could get my hands on.
My life was superficial and I accumulated things to fill the void. I shopped as an activity. It was my entertainment to walk around SoHo and see what was new in the stores. I felt like I constantly needed new clothes – I couldn’t be seen wearing the same things over and over again. And of course I was seduced by the trends I reported on, buying into seasonal goods that expired a few months later.
As a fashion designer, I made expensive clothes for wealthy women, the kind of women who might spend a thousand dollars on a dress they’ll wear once. Creating clothes tore away the veil of glamor and mystery that once surrounded fashion. I saw that something costing hundreds of dollars in a store was made for tens of dollars in a dirty factory overseas. Once I started designing clothes, I nearly stopped buying them altogether.
By then, I knew too much. I couldn’t justify marked up prices, paying just for the label tag inside a garment. I started to see the frivolity and pointlessness of it. No one needed this stuff, they were just accumulating mindlessly like I had been doing for years. It was consumerism driven from the ego, always desiring to possess new things.
I started to find my own voice and identity with age and meditation. I became less dependent on outside signifiers to define myself and discovered an unshakable foundation within.
Rather than cultivate inner awareness, people become fixed on the exterior, trying to cobble together an identity inspired by Instagram and purchased in the department stores.
Now all the clothes I own can fit into two suitcases. I buy only what I need, and shop for classic items that don’t go out of style. I am no longer trying to portray an image, or being anything other than I am. My clothes do not define me, and they don’t have to define you.