Updated: Aug 29, 2019
fe is a journey of self-discovery, experiments, loves, and hates. Fashion is a small or large part of this journey, depending on your perspective. For me, the fashion world and style did not exist until my late twenties. As a teenager, I did not bother with or know what style and fashion were. Later in my twenties, I discovered an inner voice that would guide me through all-things-fashion. I will share with you my journey and a few embarrassing photos.
Fashionless Russian Town.
My fascination with all things fashion did not start at an early age — quite the opposite, I did not care for it. In my early teens, I lived in a small Russian town, Smolensk (population 325,137 according to the 2002 Census) where fashion magazines were not easily accessible, and clothing selection was limited and boring. The city did not have brand name stores or glamorous shopping malls. My town was small, far from the capital, Moscow, with a focus on agriculture.
Like most places, my little town had an elite population that could afford to travel to Moscow to shop the latest brands and styles. I could easily spot "elite crowds" by noticing what they are wearing. Their clothes would have exciting details and excellent tailoring. Sadly, I did not belong to that group. I represented the majority of citizens that was confined to a few malls and outdoor markets.
"Shop locally" sounds very trendy and hip right now, but that was not the case in late 1990ies in a small Russian town. Shopping locally meant a dull selection of merchandise mostly produced in China from poor quality materials. Occasionally, I could spot Italian made shoes or jackets, but we could not afford any of that.
Besides, the lack of options, I had another problem - lack of fashion around me. Small towns are not fashion Meccas. People have practical interests that revolve around essential life needs like staying warm, being comfortable, able to walk long distances, or stand awhile riding a bus. That means no one is buying high heel shoes to walk miles and miles on end, or getting an expensive coat to have it crushed and rubbed in an overcrowded bus. So, I had no inspiration or aspirations.
To give you even more insights into my world, I will share with you the shopping experience I had in Smolensk.
My shopping trips were not trips to a mall in the same way you would think. The malls that I visited were outdoor malls with sellers putting up their tents just like fruit and veggies guys do at the local farmers’ markets now. No matter the weather, if I wanted to try something on, it had to be outside. Vendors would put up tiny changing rooms out by their tents made of large pieces of material, secured with large pins and other DYI techniques. Even in winter, when it snowed, I had to try clothes outside.
The shopping trips were infrequent; they coincided with a new school year or a weather season. I would get most of my clothes for a school year in August; this was the time when I would get more leeway on what I could buy. Other trips were more focused on things like winter shoes, jacket or hat/gloves. There were no random shopping trips to window shop or check out the latest seasonal trends. None of that! Shopping had to have a purpose.
When we moved to the United States, I was eighteen. Everything here was so different from my previous life, including shopping for clothes (as you might have guessed). I remember being shocked by how cheap clothes were and the abundance of them. At that time, I knew nothing about quality, brands, styles, or moderation. Whatever spending money I had (not much), I spent it all in clothing stores like Sears, Ross, T.J.Maxx, and J.C.Penney.
I was mesmerized by the sheer volume and selection. I wanted it all, and to my surprise, I could buy many things. J.C.Penney was my go-to store for a while. It always had sales, discounts, and other promotional opportunities. I never passed up on an offer to buy more to get a bigger discount. Little did I know that I was not saving money but spending, just like they wanted me to do. Naive much?
My early twenties were not the years of experiments but the years of boring cheap fast fashions. My looks were not visions of art or bold statements. No. They were garbage!
Discoveries and Improvements.
Buying many items very soon turned into a huge problem. I had too many clothes that I did not wear or even liked most of it. The frill of buying something new at a store drove my closet into an overdrive. I had items with tags, things I wore only twice, and many pieces I did not like after one wear. I had to change something - me and my habits.
After cleaning my closet and donating a few bags of clothing to a local Goodwill store, I decided to change my shopping tactics. I figured I would be better off with a few beautiful expensive things and moderately priced basics than lots of cheap fast-fashion items.
Around the same time, I have started to visit New York City twice or three times a year. I saw fashion and style everywhere I went: coffee shops, museums, bars, streets, and parks. I saw endless styling possibilities, brave combinations, timeless looks, bold color blocking, and pattern mixing. There was another universe! The universe I so desperately needed and wanted to join.
I dreamed of being that girl who knows how to style clothes without buying the latest trends, how to reuse items in creative ways, how to give life to an older dress and how to be brave wearing what she likes. That is the girl I wanted to be! I wanted a style and chic to radiate from every look I put together. It was the beginning of the new chapter.
The brands I discovered in my early twenties were Karen Millen (“KM”), Ted Baker (“TB”), Stuart Weitzman (“SW”), Zara, and Banana Republic (“BR”). These would become my go-to stores, depending on what I needed. The pricier stores I visited less often; Zara and BR, on the other hand, became my staples.
I loved Zara for its options of stylish and trendy items at affordable prices. I could easily find an awesome dress with a perfect fit and interesting design (I think the quality and design went downhill in the past five years). I loved its blazers which I wore to work almost every day. To this day, half of my blazers are from Zara.
BR was another brand perfect for workwear; I bought countless pencil skirts, black pants, and professional dresses to go to court or client meetings.
My pricier “friends” were my go-to when I wanted something more: more color, more patterns, and funkier designs. Karen Millen and Ted Baker fit the bill just right. I loved many items that they had to offer. From casual to fancy, I was always able to find something I loved.
After my second child, I transitioned away from KM, BR, and Zara. The former mostly because of the fit. The latter two because of the materials and the way they produced their clothes - fast fashion culprits. I joined the movement of a more conscious consumer who cares about where clothes come from, how they are made, and what materials are being used.
My latest discoveries include Pact, Everlane, Lively, and Tanay Taylor (“TT”). All these brands are environmentally conscious and want to deliver only the best to their customers. A few of these brands are pricy, but I believe they worth it. Check out my reviews of some of these brands:
As I grow and continue to develop my style, I try to buy clothes that make me smile, bring joy, fit perfectly - no compromises. I never get something that is just O.K. - it has to be fabulous! There is no room for mistakes. There is no room (physically) in my closet for errors.
What did I learn by the age of 34?
Style is personal and cannot be taught. Learning what your style is takes time and effort. If you are still looking, keep trying different brands and fits. Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone by trying something new - you might be pleasantly surprised.
Quality matters. Garments’ quality and skillful designs are essential. You will fall in love with things that are beautiful and well designed. Once you find a brand for your budget, you will never settle for less.
Staple wardrobe items are the must-haves. There is a handful of things that any fashionista has including white t-shirt, blazer, sweater, coat, LBD, skirt, jeans, pants, white shirt, white sneaker, black heels, and flats. These need to fit perfectly and be of excellent quality.
Settling is not an option. Please do not settle for low quality or poor fit items to satisfy a shopping urge. Think of your closet as a special place that accepts only the best of the best. (Do not take hand-me-downs unless it is Channel).
Last piece of advice: shop with purpose. Do not buy for the sake of buying, peer pressure, or social media ads. Improve your collection with every purchase by expanding it, innovating it, adding another dimension and joy. Your style is unique, and only you know what it needs to grow and bloom.