Chronicles of the Overdressed: Part I

Chronicles of the Overdressed: Part I

stunning blonde
Still not casual enough…

I can’t remember where I heard years ago that being a bit underdressed is preferable to being overdressed. I think the rationale was that being overdressed comes across as trying too hard. I’ve been heavily questioning that lately. Honestly, I’ve always kind of questioned it. Plus, I think I remember my mom once saying that if you’re overdressed, you can just pretend you’re on the way to a better event. Sick burn, Mom.

If I can’t nail the perfect outfit, I would rather be slightly too dressy. I’m not sure the ‘trying too hard’ rationale holds up. No one is going to fault you for making an effort and caring about the hosts enough to try. Of course, I’m the type of person who might be fundamentally incapable of underdressing.

I mostly grew up on the East Coast, based in the Pennsylvania countryside, but visiting New England and New York quite often, and the East Coast is where my style developed. (Well, I have my parents and grandparents to thank, too.) I moved to Ohio to go to grad school, and wasn’t really prepared for how differently people dress here versus back east.

In the forthcoming Equal Footing, I wrote the passage: “The first time Sutton had walked down Clifton Avenue dressed like Mumsy, she’d felt everyone staring at her. No one in Ohio and no one in art school anywhere dressed like Helen Saltonstall. Sutton had walked right into the McMillan Street Urban Outfitters and taken a crash course in denim.”

This literally happened to me my first or second week in Cincinnati. (Sutton and I share an alma mater; I got my Master’s at the UC College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning.) A recent post on Salt Water New England made me think of this experience. I was twenty-four at the time and cared a lot about what people thought, the way most twentysomethings do.

My outfit wasn’t an ODR ballgown or anything like that. I had an interview at the Classics library and wore a black silk skirt, a sleeveless ivory turtleneck, and a scarf around my neck. I’m sure a lot of this was projecting, but I still remember the feeling thirteen years later of walking down the street so terribly out of place. After the interview, I actually did hit Urban Outfitters for two pairs of ill-fitting jeans and some weird shirts.

cat skirt
What IS this, though?!

Like Sutton, I ditched the weird outfits after graduation. Unlike her, I stayed in Ohio for various reasons. I’ve gone through some weird fashion phases as a result of feeling chronically overdressed for the Midwest. (Horrible skirts of 2014, I’m trying not to picture you.)

I’m not sure if it’s being in my thirties, but I’m at the point where I would rather just lean into what I like. I’d rather feel like I stand out because I’m ‘dressed up’ than be uncomfortable because my clothes just don’t feel like me. Fashion is such an important part of self-expression that I felt kind of dishonest when I was experimenting with terrible skirts. (Seriously, one had a cat silhouette appliquéd on it. I wore it in public to work. I’m not sure what kind of fashion statement this was supposed to make.)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m at the point where I’m having to replace a lot of wardrobe items. It really feels good to approach this with confidence, only trying to find quality pieces I like, instead of just dressing to fit in. The introvert in me doesn’t always love to stand out, let’s be real, and I haven’t met a single person locally who shares my interest in classic style. (Thank goodness for the Internet!) Honestly, I’m probably never going to fully fit in here, but I’m learning to be okay with that. The cat skirt approves.