Q: Gaby Dunn looked perfectly good at 20, but it seems like she’s recently really settled into a style that fits her well and makes her happy. How can someone like my 21-year-old self find their style fit sooner rather than later?
A: This is such an interesting question! I love discussing fashion as an important mode of self-expression, but I’m also aware of how the financial and size inaccessibility of clothing and makeup, the implicit and explicit body shaming that works to keep us conforming, and an understanding of the myriad objectionable facets of capitalism can impede a person on their path toward a “signature” style — assuming signature style is a real thing for everybody, and that style isn’t a naturally evolving journey for at least some of us. Whatever the case is for you, here a few ideas to help you along your way:
Diversify your Instagram/Pinterest/Tumblr/etc.
Social media has its pros and cons, but one thing I really love about it is exactly how accessible it is for people across the economic, size, shape, color, gender, and dis/ability spectrums. Gone are the days in which Vogue got the final say; in the last decade or so, platforms like Instagram and Tumblr have played an enormous part in democratizing fashion. You know, like blogs have always done, except you can find way more resources via a single hashtag (like I did above with #lesbianfashion)! What!
Whether or not you’re “a social media person,” I encourage you to use tags and other search features to find people whose aesthetics resonate with you, and whose bodies actually look like yours — then follow them for free daily fashion inspiration that’s way cooler than anything legacy media has to offer. (Unless of course I get hired to write something for a legacy media outlet, in which case, oh dear god please support my work.)
Try On a New Look Using Virtual Makeover Apps
Selfie-driven apps like Hair Color Booth, Hairstyle Magic Mirror, and Hair Changer Mens Hairstyles (I know, I know, but how else are you supposed to get that perfect pompadour?) will let you virtually try on new ‘dos, while Makeup Genius and YouCam Makeup offer zero-commitment simulations for the cosmetic-curious. There are several makeover apps available via both Apple and Android, so look around and find what works best for you — or if you’d prefer to keep things on desktop, try your hand at ModiFace‘s web makeover tools.
Hold a Clothing Swap
Saying this makes me feel like such a Gwyneth Paltrow. “Hold a clothing swap!” she unblinkingly exclaimed, as if everyone has the similarly sized friends or even space necessary for holding one. But if you can, do! You may even be able to organize a swap at a nearby school or religious institution that will help folks outside your friend group, too.
Thrift, Trade, or Consign
If I love the print of a textile enough, I’m not worried about its condition. I’m pleased as punch to walk around like Park Slope’s own Dickensian orphan, some of which is owed to my flea market-filled upbringing and some to my immense privileges of being white, relatively thin, cis, and able-bodied, and working for myself in a city known for its creative types. Which is all to say, I get it if the idea of thrifting gives you pause. You may find, though, that chains like Goodwill, Unique, and Value Village often stock rarely (if ever) worn items at a fraction of their original price, as well as offering customer rewards programs and discount days. And if you live near a consignment store or Buffalo Exchange-type situation, you may even be able trade in your old clothing for credit to pick up new (to you) stuff. Hooray!
In addition to the incredible value secondhand stores provide, they’ve also facilitated my style evolution by putting things in front of me that I otherwise might never have tried (which clothing swaps could definitely do too, TBH). If you have a free Saturday afternoon, it may be worth it just to stop into your local ValVil and experiment!
Take Advantage of Secondhand Sites and Apps
Of course, you may not live near any of those places or be able to get to them — and, as with firsthand shopping, it’s true that certain sizes are significantly tougher to find at secondhand stores than others. That’s where sites and apps like thredUP, Depop, Mercari, Etsy, Poshmark, The Real Real, Vestiaire Collective, and ResellXL (specifically for plus-sizes), which you can search by size or keyword regardless of your location (at least, within the US) come in. Certain sites and apps will be a better fit for you depending on your budget, measurements, and desires.
As Well as Auction Sites
EBay is still the biggest name in online auctions, but some IRL secondhand stores run their own as well! Goodwill offers items starting at true thrift prices, while Housing Works lists mostly designer or otherwise exceptional pieces. It’s not the absolute cheapest, but it is where after years of searching, I finally found the fancy handbag of my dreams at a price I could actually afford. And, at least for me and my amount of expendable income, parting with three digits’ worth of money hurts less when it’s going to an organization doing such crucial work for my people.
Whatever secondhand or auction platform you choose, scour each seller’s return policy and reviews; don’t hesitate to ask questions on exact measurements, etc., since number sizes vary so widely; and, in the event of an in-person transaction, always make sure you’re keeping yourself as safe as possible.
Try Some Low-Commitment Changes with a Subscription Service
If secondhand shopping isn’t for you, you can still explore your style via subscription services like StitchFix and Trunk Club, Gwynnie Bee and Dia & Co (both plus-specific), and Greyscale Goods and SprezzaBox (dapper/andro fashion FTW!), as well as makeup and grooming services like Ipsy and Birchbox Men. Different services have different pricing options and contracts, but as with my thrift epiphanies, they all have the potential to surprise you with a style or product you’d never try otherwise.
And Use Honey to Save Even More
I know that header feels weird and sponsored, but I promise it isn’t — I’m just Honey‘s biggest fan, and I don’t want to keep my love a secret any longer. Honey is a browser plugin that will automatically find and run coupon codes for you at various stores, so you can buy on sale on top of sale on top of sale. Obviously use responsibly and maybe not with indie makers who could really use every dollar, but $30 saved at Walmart could buy you a yearlong A+ membership instead. Pretty sweet, if you ask me!
So, those are my tips for making style more accessible to all! Leave yours in the comments — and if you have a fashion or beauty question you’d like answered, send it to nora [at] autostraddle [dot] com.