Why I Didn't Dress Up at Paris Fashion Week (and Won't Ever Again)

How Stephanie found her style in dressing down -- when the rest of the industry was dressing up.
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How Stephanie found her style in dressing down -- when the rest of the industry was dressing up.
Stephanie's workday uniform. Photo: Alyssa Vingan/Fashionista

Stephanie's workday uniform. Photo: Alyssa Vingan/Fashionista

I went #borecore during Paris Fashion Week. Do not mistake this for #normcore -- which plays more on the fashion tropes of suburban middle-aged parents from the '90s or characters from "Seinfeld," as far as I can tell -- but rather the ease and simplicity that Phoebe Philo ushered in when she arrived at Celine.

Think oversized, cozy wool coats, a turtleneck sweater, simple trousers or jeans, and sneakers (preferably white and even more preferably, Stan Smiths). On the surface, it's a pretty underwhelming look, but, the excitement lies in the subtlety -- a dropped shoulder here, a slouchy break in the pants there. For the past few years, this has been the uniform of the fashion editor as we know her today, so tired is she of all the flashy frippery that came with the street style age.

But this is not a rant against the overdone doneness of those in the industry who parade for the lenses or Tommy Ton and Phil Oh. That's been written about ad nauseam and besides, I was never a target anyway, always more comfortable behind the scenes and loathe to step outside my sartorial comfort zone. In fact, the few times I did actually try to dress up for fashion week I felt horribly uncomfortable, parading around in prints that just felt too loud and making attempts at wearing color that left me feeling as exposed as if I had shown up in a floor-length bejeweled gown.

No, this is about my facing the fact -- and , more importantly, accepting it after all these years -- that I simply do not like to dress up. This is a risky road to go down working in a business that's deals almost solely in appearances. Not to mention that, in this multimedia age, career success is increasingly about your "personal brand," with your worth as an employee growing more substantive in direct relationship to your ability to appear chic.

Growing up in Texas, I was obsessed with clothes, or maybe more accurately, style. I didn't know much about Coco Chanel or Yves Saint Laurent, but I started reading fashion magazines from an early age, probably around 11 or 12. By then, I had already developed a healthy relationship to the mall, always begging my mom to take me shopping (and subsequently crying when she wouldn't splurge for the $40 rainbow tank top sewn on top of a white T-shirt -- looking back, so sporty!). Later, during my teenhood and college years, I continued to be consumed by trends and very conscious of the way I dressed, even if I was eschewing mainstream acceptance for (in my mind) a cooler, punk rock identity mined from thrift stores. I might have been a tomboy, but I had a closet bursting at the seams, full of every Doc Marten, plaid shirt and leather biker jacket I could find.

Stephanie's beloved Stan Smiths. Photo: Alyssa Vingan/Fashionista

Stephanie's beloved Stan Smiths. Photo: Alyssa Vingan/Fashionista

Flash-forward to my first internship at W magazine in New York. I remember having no idea what to wear, and spending the entire summer weekend before my first day scouring the city for a pair of somewhat dressy, closed-toe shoes. A devout Converse-wearer at the time, wearing open-toe seemed so feminine, so elegant... so not me. I gave up and went with an oxford or something.

This incident was a harbinger of things to come. This conflict -- the expectation to dress nicely, which, admittedly is not unique to fashion but is specific in terms of the kinds of clothes you're "supposed" to wear -- played out over and again throughout my career. A party invitation would sent me into a panic attack, wondering how the hell I was going to achieve the mandated "cocktail" dress code. When I would have to be photographed for a story, I would try on multiple outfits beforehand only to still feel like nothing cut it. And I shopped -- boy, did I shop. I spent thousands of dollars on things that I hoped would transform me into Stylish Editor Who Works in Publishing, and some of them worked. A caramel leather Prada skirt garnered nods of approval from fellow staffers, a navy embellished 3.1 Phillip Lim dress earned some oohs and aahs, while a pair of lace-up Alaia heels elicited a few gasps. (I later ended up selling almost everything.)

These compliments were double-edged swords, as everyone seemed generally shocked when I would wear such things. And I don't blame them -- my everyday uniform mostly consisted of skinny jeans and T-shirts (again, I know I have been lucky to work places who will let me through the door in such a getup), so of course it was going to be obvious when I got a little fancy. But despite the praise, I felt pretty unattractive and disconnected from who I really was, almost like I was dressed up in a monkey suit. And the attention made me sad as well. Fashion editors are not the bitchy caricatures you see in the movies, but mostly kind and rational people. However, they're still going to treat you a little better -- consciously or not -- if you're wearing something interesting and look a little prettier. But to be fair, that seems to hold true for people in general and is hardly rocket science-- there's always some study in the news "proving" that women who wear more makeup or who generally look more put-together are treated more favorably.

So back to #borecore and Paris Fashion Week. This was my time to say, "screw it," but I was still, thankfully, within the confines of what's fashionable today. I couldn't have been happier and more relaxed about what I brought -- several Vanessa Bruno blazers, cashmere crewnecks from Everlane, jeans and pinstriped trousers from J.Crew, a ridiculously oversized wool/cashmere coat by Neil Barrett. No heels, no skirts and no stress. And things turned out just fine. Sure, there were times when I felt frumpy, such as when I was walking behind an impeccably groomed woman of model stature wearing almost the exact same outfit as I was -- she was street-styled while I was pushed out of the way (an incident that left me suspecting that I was actually doing #snorecore, which I guess would be #borecore's less polished step cousin).

But ultimately, who cares? I'm just grateful that I finally found a way to dress that was somewhat stylish while staying true what I feel comfortable in. And of course, this moment in stripped-down ease shall surely pass, as do all trends, but I'm going to stick with it. My personal brand might might be one of a wallflower, but it's at least authentic.