image source: wikimedia
The January round-up was kind of a downer, so I figured I’d space it out with this one before further inundating everyone with the February round-up. I mentioned there that I’d mostly been wearing really practical casual outfits. Casual isn’t intrinsically a bad thing, but for me, one of the fun parts about personal style is approaching getting dressed as optimizing for a particular style or feeling that I want to convey (sounds like I’m real fun at parties, huh 🎉).
Not because it’s essential to my success and well being that I project “competent technical professional but also not ISO tech bro” or “vaguely grunge/punk action-movie-casual” or any of the other extremely specific aesthetics that r/ffacj likes to make fun of, but because it’s a creative process with some structure to it. Getting dressed without a specific style goal is harder and less fun for me. I imagine it’s like if you were working in some design field and the client just says “idk, just make it look nice”. What does that mean?
I find that it’s much easier to be happy with an outfit if I’m picking items according to a more specific goal, since it’s easier for me to tell whether I actually hit the prompt. When I’m just getting dressed, it’s easy enough to tell whether I’m dressed appropriately for the day, but the part that always gives me sartorial ennui is deciding whether I think my outfit is “good”. How can my perfectionist self optimize for this vague idea of “good” when there’s no rubric to compare against? So I decided that to make things a little more fun, I could curate another style board better suited for my current wardrobe, and I could mentally call back to it when getting dressed.
The acquisition of a 70s style graphic tee from a local science museum, a pair of Blundstones (finally), and some baseball caps really got me in the nostalgic mood for a ecology-and-conservation-TA/adult-who-hasn’t-had-their-soul-crushed-into-being-a-wage-slave-for-enterprise-corp sort of vibe, so I ran with that. Since this board was originally made for my own outfit inspo, I purposefully stuck with things on the more wearable side that had overlap with my existing wardrobe.
You may recall that I’d previously made a “retro casual” board, and while I still like it, I feel like it leaned a little too much towards basic casual. That’s fine, but it’s also a little boring for me. As with other simple styles, a lot of the execution comes down to fit details and really well done hair and makeup. I find it’s actually harder. It also doesn’t include much wiggle room for including the more interesting pieces of clothing I’ve accumulated in the past few years.
Without further blathering, here’s the board so far. I do intend to continue curating it, so if you’d like to follow it, here it is on Pinterest.
This is basically a condensed interpretation of the stereotypical west coast liberal college town style. I’ve lived in one of these said towns for almost 10 years now (oh god), and I see all of these elements around on a regular basis, though most people aren’t walking around clad in loud socks and Tevas hiking sandals, thrifted vintage jeans, the sweatshirt of their organic co-op house, a nose piercing, and a yoga mat bag simultaneously.
Of course, this is one of the many common manifestations of casual dress, and anyone who has access to Urban Outfitters et al can dress like this whether they are in driving distance of banana slugs or not. But even just within the Bay Area, I do think it is particularly concentrated within the aforementioned areas.
The following is all meant to be descriptive and communicate a particular image I have in my head and call attention to details in the board, not be prescriptive. Blah blah standard disclaimer that of course not everyone in Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Portland, dresses like this, just like French Girls™ don’t all wear Breton stripes and berets and red lipstick. But you knew that already.
I’d sum the style up as utilitarian and playful with hints of punk and hippie.
In internet-speak: “somewhere between art hoe and gorp-core”.
Think more “could go for a short hike at the drop of a hat” vs “chic office pajamas”, and “kicking it in the community garden” vs “spandex for spin class”
- Practical shoes – work boots like docs or Blundstones, sneakers (more retro style, like New Balance Classics or Converse), and clogs. Literal hiking boots also work. (Not kidding, I see those around pretty regularly. Although
- Comfortable pants – either relaxed fit, or stretchy
- I didn’t include any literal hiking gear aside from fleece in the board because I was trying to keep it from reading too much like generic-PNW-casual-hiker-core, but something like trail/climbing pants wouldn’t be out of place.
- T-shirts – more the unisex cut sturdy cotton type
- FLEECE – I have been really chuffed that fleece made a comeback. I support any fashion trend that is basically just wearing a blanket.
- Practical hats – beanies, baseball caps
- Simple canvas or leather bags – reusable-canvas-tote-as-a-purse
- Colorful/patterned socks, sweaters, and bottom pieces – I specifically wanted to curate the style that was bright and cheerful, since I find I tend to like really casual fits more when they at least are bright.
- Specifically calling out bottom pieces because I feel like having a distribution of colors through each category of clothing really helps to get a cohesion and depth in a collection of themed outfits/items, vs just “here is my collection of tees and ugly 90s sweaters with blue denim”
- Casual + neutral I find is a bit harder to make read like you enjoy clothes and aren’t just trying to wear the most nondescript items possible. If you get more into the alt style aspects of it, it’s also not clear how it’s different from just basic grunge. Though as a style, I think the monochrome version crunchy casual (aka what I hope is called “granola goth”) could be really cool if executed well, but it’s not my jam right now.
- Casual mini skirts, dresses – since it’s not a literal guide for how to dress for hardcore active/outdoorsy activities, dresses and skirts make periodic appearances. But they still tend to be on the unfussy side even if they’ve got a fun pattern or something.
Peace, love, and systemic change. I think these peripherals do a lot to really sell this look, since it’s mostly just pretty normal casual clothes. I may take up sticker collecting again…
- Embroidery – more in the style of decorative patching than all-over flourish
- Patches, pins, and stickers with relevant pop culture/cause/science/art subject matter on bags, water bottles, laptops, etc
- Multiple piercings
- Offbeat makeup and hair colors.
- Hair styling doesn’t have a super polished/professional look to it. e.g. if going for waves, slept-in-wet-braids loose waves over blowout + curling iron waves (not that this is really applicable to me, since I’m not much for hair styling anyway).
- Worn-in items are perfectly fine. If anything, this aesthetic feels off if the whole outfit has a shiny new feel to it.
- Tie dye (which I realized somehow did not make it onto the board), earthy geometric/fair isle patterns. I think monochrome tie-dye would be a great option to integrate this without going too costume-hippie.
As with any of these blog posts, these are my interpretations of the style within the constraints of my wardrobe, which is not quite as cool and counterculture-y. They’re not meant as an illustration of the pinnacle of this aesthetic. Some previously posted fits, and some new.
To start, here’s the thumbnail overview, possibly the most colorful collage ever posted to this blog:
Outfits 1, 3, 5, and 6 are new. The rest, I have posted the photos before, but still wear the outfits or plan to wear them again.
I’m not sure what happened, but at some point “traffic cone orange baseball cap + green cords” counts as a casual weekend errands look. The repeated vertical stripe texture from the heavy ribbing of the sweater and the wide wale cords adds some cohesion to the look, and the snake buckle crossbody pushes it all a bit more towards “but make it fashion”.
- Orange baseball cap with embroidered monarch butterfly (from the local plant nursery, but you can find these on Amazon, Etsy, etc)
- Athleta chunky ribbed mock neck sweaterTopshop green high-waisted wide wale pleated trousers
- Birkenstock Mayari sandals
- Topshop snake buckle crossbody purse
A 70s inspired color palette
- Ancient Old Navy field jacket
- Classic Elements petites striped rib knit tee (via Goodwill)
- Forever 21 brown cropped canvas pants (hemmed)
- New Balance Classics sneakers
This dress is BOLD. Its masses of eyelet ruffles will not be ignored. As such, I think it actually works with the orange baseball cap (with embroidered monarch butterfly), when paired with some more utilitarian shoes. If I wore daintier shoes, I suspect the hat would look out of place.
- Orange butterfly baseball cap
- ASOS forest green tiered eyelet mini dress with balloon sleeves
- Blundstone 1673
- Canvas tote bag (local plant nursery)
I’m not sure why I look so angry in this photo, but I swear this was a fun to wear casual look. I liked all the brown leather accessories which don’t feel too stuffy since they aren’t quite matching colors, and the fact that this is indeed a real early 00s Reading Rainbow shirt from PBS. I won 3rd place in my age group at the state level for their young writers and illustrators contest (which is the first and last writing award of my life. I peaked early.).
- Almost-vintage Reading Rainbow tee
- Gap belt
- Madewell jeans (“Perfect Vintage” jean in petite curvy, Fitzgerald wash)
- Madewell zip top transport crossbody purse
- MIA t-strap clogs
Outdoorsy-buy-make-it-fashion. Seriously though, I think in my neighborhood this is “uh… just clothes?” but I’m not mad about it. I wore this to go watch the local symphony perform, and the guy sitting next to me was also wearing a patterned quarter snap fleece, but he was on another level and had a tie dye shirt under it.
This is more of a top-heavy silhouette than I normally go for, but I’m trying to get comfortable with that because I am too old and don’t have time for fussing with meticulously tucking in thick layering pieces every day. The chunky red socks help balance the visual weight of the fleece.
- Patagonia snap-T fleece (via eBay)
- Anthropologie corduroy mini skirt (hemmed)
- Blundstone 1673 boots
- Coach “Willis” bag (vintage via eBay)
Sometimes, just gotta have a basic option. My phone camera just could not even in this lighting, but this might be the best photo I’ve gotten of those sweet balloon sleeves.
Also wearing Madewell ochre balloon sleeve sweater and Madewell skinny jeans.
These shorts are too fitted and not high-waisted enough for the relaxed and retro feel I wanted, but this outfit from last summer is still really fun. I LOVE the design on this shirt, but it’s a 90s cut XXL and I’ve found it just entirely too much trouble to tuck in. I’m planning to someday size it down to a L but I want to practice on a junk thrifted shirt first.
- Vintage t-shirt (via eBay – my dad actually had a smaller size of this shirt with a black background, but tragically he purged it sometime in the 2000s)
- ASOS shorts
- Dr Martens x Hieronymus Bosch 1460s
- Anthropologie tassel purse
Leaning into the 70s/80s vibes again wiith the baseball tee, mini, and crew socks.
- an ancient Old Navy field jacket
- Exploratorium t-shirt (freebie from volunteering)
- New Balance sneakers
- Madewell purse
You know how some fashion bloggers are always wearing like, their favorite luxury white sweater with skinny jeans and spotless sneakers and a wide brimmed hat and minimalist jewelry? And you’re like “okay, I’ve seen that, I know it exists” but they keep posting it? This is like that, except it’s made of a spectacularly ugly sweatshirt pretending to be a sweater and wrinkly orange lyocell joggers, which I suspect most people do not have and do not wish to relate to. But
- LL Bean patterned pom pom beanie
- Ugly sweatshirt from the university store
- Anthropologie embroidered orange joggers
- Dr Martens 1460s
Having a sort of style north star was super helpful when I was building up my wardrobe. One of the big frustrations I had around getting dressed at the very beginning of it all was that I had a bunch of pieces that didn’t go with anything. I wanted to move away from that, and having one aesthetic in mind when curating my wardrobe gave me a better clothing toolbox/palette to make outfits from.
But now that I generally like every piece I own and have at least some feel for how they work with the rest of the wardrobe, I have more to explore by seeing which ways I can combine things into new aesthetics instead of just doing a couple of same-style outfits on repeat. I suppose looking at it now, that sounds pretty expected.
It’s interesting but also very tiring to actually experience it. But at this point it’s coming on four years since I declared a beginning to a personal ~fashion journey~ and I don’t know how to actually…. quit or take a break from the hobby short of going on vacation with only what I can carry. It’s not like makeup where I can opt to not wear it at all, and now that I recognize when proportions or color combos or styling could be better, it’s impossible to un-notice it. And then it really bothers me the rest of the day.
I also do still like clothes, so selling everything except a few piecs for a personal uniform (or more realistically, a 2-3 rotating uniforms) also sounds like it will lead to a lot of regrets. I’ve tried making myself too busy to care, but then what happens is I just wear schlubby casual outfits and am exhausted, which is pretty lose-lose.
I think my new years resolution to basically just figure out how to wear things I really like more often is still worthwhile, but sometimes I wonder if the best way to reach “good enough, call it done” is to just unilaterally declare victory on this project regardless of how much I still stress while iterating on outfits every day. I don’t want a career as a stylist, my closet and styling skills have relatively improved a ton, and the diminishing returns are real when it comes to totally obsessing over getting dressed when you’ve got the same wardrobe day to day. I just have so much other shit that I don’t have time for right now and I’d just love if I could just dump an entire source of manufactured pressure from my schedule.
Could just call it done and see how that changes things, and just post monthly shopping updates and a few outfits, links, general fashion related recent interests, and the odd Pinterest board instead of writing three thousand words about how me-from-last-year was shit at online shopping and pretending that this is all actually going somewhere. I’ll have to think about it some more.
And wow, this post was supposed to be a lighter one, but that didn’t work out at all. Despite all this morose navel-gazing, I honestly have enjoyed the process of pulling out the crunchy casual aesthetic from my own closet and wearing some happy things 🐞