Imagine, if you will, a woman caught mid-step whilst glancing over her shoulder. She wears a white tunic over a pair of white flowing culottes, and a blazer hangs casually over her shoulder as she steps forward in her new Adidas Champions. She is effortless, she is fashion-forward, she is minimalistic.
Have an inkling that you’ve seen this woman somewhere before? That’s because you probably have—on Instagram.
I know I’ve seen endless iterations of this nonchalant, monochrome street styler on my own social media feed. Scrolling through during my morning and evening commute, I devoured images of these perfectly coiffed modern dressers. They look so unattached, so edgy, so sleek. Suddenly, my closet full of 1980s blazers, plaid midi skirts, and poofy vintage dresses wasn’t so cool anymore. I was drowning in a sea of fashion bloggers for whom “less is more” was a personal mantra.
Simple and clean has been a staple look in fashion for a long time. Trends come and go, but someone somewhere is always trying to reinvent white on white, and often they succeed. But the current generation of fashionistas has taken it to a new level. Thanks to hipsters, “normcore,” and the millennial need to be luxe and logo-free, stripped down is the new dressed up. So I jumped ship and made the decision to convert to minimalistic style.
In my fiery pursuit of a style overhaul, I packed away my quirky vintage dresses and blazers and ferociously took to Zara and Mango in search of clean lines and black-and-white color schemes. My closet was slowly but surely leeched of color, and by the end of the summer, I was her. The minimalist Instagram muse was me.
Until one day, I walked past a giant window on Second Avenue and didn’t recognize my reflection. I felt completely disconnected—is this who I had become? Is it who I really am? What would the girl who wore a 1960s taffeta dress to her high school graduation say?
Cue my quarter-life crisis.
I had spent my whole life trying to be innovative with my fashion choices, and now I was just mimicking what I saw. Not that there’s anything wrong with the minimalist trend—there are many women whose personal style is minimalistic. Verily’s own Haruka Sakaguchi is a minimalist to the core because it comes naturally to her. She exudes a cool-girl vibe that is straightforward and no-nonsense. Her clothes reflect a personality that is professional, honest, and undramatic, much like she is. Style bloggers such as Sara Donaldson from Harper & Harley have also mastered the minimalist style, all while staying true to her personality.
What we wear communicates so much—to the outside world and to ourselves. It influences our personalities and feelings. Clothes have always been part of my core. Even when I felt I couldn’t wear what I wanted, stifled by my own fear of others’ judgment, I still longed to express myself through my style. Finally, I was in New York City, a place where style reigns supreme and where you truly are free to express yourself to the fullest extent, yet I was creating an image of myself based on what I thought was cool rather than what was true for me. I began to fear that my quirky, vintage-loving, up-for-anything style identity was lost—crumpled up somewhere on the floor of the Soho Zara dressing rooms.
For me, dressing minimally was like method acting. I was trying to immerse myself in the role, but the character wasn’t really me. There was nothing personal about the way I dressed; I wasn’t expressing the kooky, experimental girl I was through my clothing anymore. I was expressing who I thought I should be.
The phenomenon of minimalism in 2015 goes beyond fashion—and just like anything that becomes massively popular, the inevitable trendiness of it seeps into the culture. Minimalism is ubiquitous today—it’s how we’re decorating our homes and how we’re eating our food. But are we adopting minimalism in our lives because we truly believe in its virtues or because minimalism looks really good on our Insta feeds? I’ll be honest and say that when I would get a bunch of likes on a trendy minimal-esque photo on Instagram, I felt like I was a “cool kid.”
The obvious perks of having a minimalist wardrobe include easier shopping and dressing experiences. It’s easier to get dressed in the morning (less options), easier to put together an outfit (everything matches), and easier to shop (all the stores have bought into the trend). For many, this is freeing. I’ll admit that I could throw together an outfit in a couple minutes with my monochrome pieces. I also went shopping more because fast-fashion companies such as Forever 21 and Zara replicate designer minimalist items at a fraction of the price. To the naked eye, it’s harder to tell the quality and price of a black asymmetrical blouse because it’s so simple. Is it twenty or two hundred dollars?
But what is less obvious about minimalism is how it misses one of the, if not the most important, aspects of fashion—creativity. One afternoon I wandered into a vintage shop near the Verily office. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with the owner. He told me that twenty years ago, everyone shopped vintage and that finding unique, quality items was seen as the only way to dress in Manhattan. As I sheepishly adjusted my Zara “waterfall” jacket, he said, “Now when I walk down the street, everyone looks the same to me. Stores like Zara and H&M have completely changed fashion, and now nobody dresses uniquely.” It was at this point that I realized I had banished my innate flair for creativity when I started dressing as a minimalist. Fashion was always a quest for one-of-a-kind items, and dressing was like putting together a puzzle of seemingly incompatible pieces. I was saving time (and maybe even a little money) with my new style, but I wasn’t learning anything, and I certainly wasn’t exercising my creativity.
After much soul-searching during my daily commute home on the R train, I realized that all summer I had really just wanted to fit in. I’ll save you the “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” spiel because none of us want this to turn into an article about being #authentic. But I will ask you what I asked myself (and what I ask of every girl who has ever Instagrammed her Adidas Champions): Are your fashion choices for yourself or because you want affirmation from others?
I never thought that I would have a style crisis at 24 years old. But who are we kidding, it wasn’t a style crisis—it was an identity crisis. I learned that style has a huge impact on how we present who we are to the rest of the world—and most importantly, to ourselves. If you have ever felt suddenly sophisticated in a sleek red dress or more assertive in a structured blazer, you know what I mean. What we wear externally affects us internally and vice versa. But when I allowed my internal insecurities about fitting in change how I looked externally, I was more confused than ever about who I was. Thankfully, I realized that dressing like everyone is just not who I am. It’ll take some time to regain the old me, but I’m starting by investing in items that would make the girl who used to wear bright floral vintage dresses proud.
This article originally appeared in Verily Magazine.