Middle school is a hell like none other. If you survive it with minimal scar tissue, you are probably prepared for the worst life has to throw at you.
For sixth grade picture day, I came dressed in a button-down light denim shirt three sizes too big with a rhinestone applique in the shape of a cat. In that picture, with my coke bottle glasses, snaggle-teeth, and uneven bangs, I am smiling. A huge grin. Totally oblivious to the awkwardness, pain and humiliation the next three years will hold.
The previous summer, my family had taken a vacation to a small town in northern Wisconsin. We visited a store that sold Native American novelties and apparel. And I insisted on getting a pair of blue fringed moccasins. They were shoes more that slippers and appeared to possess enough structural integrity to fall into the category of “school shoes.”
I thought these moccasins were the most amazing pair of shoes I had ever seen in my life. Surely, these were the kind of shoes to which Elvis referred when he sang “Don’t step on my blue suede shoes.”
At that age, I had a very simplistic view of fashion. You should have enough comfortable clothing to get you through five school days, one day of going to the movies and playing mini golf with your dad, and one nicer outfit for church. This added up to seven outfits.
Why anyone would want more than seven outfits was beyond me. It wasn’t until much later, when I really got into acting, that I realized having an abundant and versatile wardrobe might be desirable.
Also working into my “fashion math” was the supposition that a person only needed two pairs of shoes: one for everyday wear and one for gym class.
Luckily, these blue moccasins were fancy enough (in my eyes) to be Sunday dress-up shoes, thus negating the need for a third, unnecessary pair.
My classmates were perplexed. Why hadn’t I opted for sneakers that lit up or shoes that sparkled?
I walked around the school with all the swagger my little eleven year old prepubescent body could muster. I wore the blue moccasins every day. Until one day I overheard a conversation between two pink headband-ed girls.
“Why does Katie wear those weird blue shoes every day?”
“Because she’s poor.”
I was crushed. How could the blue moccasins have led me astray?
I came home that afternoon determined to fix the situation. I promptly informed my mother that I would need new shoes. ASAP. We didn’t have a lot of money to spare, but she took me to thrift store. Upon our arrival, I saw them: sea foam green Reebok sneakers.
How I could I have been so foolish?! Forget the blue moccasins. They had been a red herring. Here, this, these sea foam green sneakers were the answer to my prayers. (Although they would necessitate that third pair of dress shoes for church. Eventually.)
I paraded around the halls gallantly in my “new” shoes. I even insisted on painting a chair in my bedroom the exact same color. When the man at Home Depot asked what paint color we wanted, I lifted my leg in the air, waving my sneaker in his face. With Honey Boo Boo-like enthusiasm, I triumphantly proclaimed. “I want the paint to match my shoes!”
Some time later, I was informed that Reeboks were not cool and I should replace the sneakers with Nikes. I can’t recall my reaction. I was probably re-crushed, paralyzed by a fear that I would never procure the correct footwear.
Sixteen years later, I’m not sure if I’ve gotten much better at conventional fashion. Most days, I favor wearing purple Crocs. (Because they’re comfortable, because I have to walk from the train to work and back…) But I’ve come to realize that the most important rule of fashion is:
If it makes you feel fabulous, wear it, and enjoy wearing it.
There will always be people who don’t care for blue moccasins or sea foam green sneakers or purple crocs. You can simply remind these naysayers that they don’t have to wear them.
We are all the designers of our own life and fashion. To paraphrase Tim Gunn: Make it work! (for you!)