Each season, the runways are filled with an exasperating array of trends that seem tricky to wear. Spring 2016 — with its cutout shoulders, flimsy slip-dresses, flamenco ruffles and dramatic poet sleeves — is no exception. But of all the contentious styles to grace recent catwalks, Hedi Slimane's '90s-tinged "grunge tiaras" for Saint Laurent might be the hardest to, ahem, wrap your head around. Versions of the accessory also popped up at Miu Miu and Louis Vuitton, and while wearing one may generally seem like a ridiculous idea, it's also hard to deny its princess-y yet slightly ironic appeal. They're kind of cool.
Or, so I thought. When Alyssa asked if I'd be game to test drive the tiara trend, I didn't give it a second thought. I've worn (and written about) plenty of other difficult trends over the course of my career — culottes, scrunchies, harem pants. Once, I even spent an entire weekend traipsing around town in a cropped, bleached wig from the Marc Jacobs show in the name of fashion reportage. How much worse could a tiara be?
As it turns out, a lot worse. Sorry for the spoiler alert, but wow. Even before my rhinestone-encrusted mini crown arrived from Asos, I began having doubts about the whole thing. I mean, I was an actual teenager during the original Kinderwhore thing — and that was over 20 years ago. Memories of the baby doll dresses and clunky Mary Jane shoes of freshman year flooded my mind. I suddenly felt old. Isn't there some kind of rule against revisiting angsty adolescent trends past age 30?
It wasn't just the fear of looking like a washed-up wannabe that had me wary. When my test tiara finally arrived, I realized with a sinking feeling that — despite my sartorial open-mindedness — tiaras do not go with my vibe. The tiaras on the runway are worn with slips and biker vests and sequined mini dresses. I don't own anything like that. I flipped through my closet, inspecting all of the high-waisted jeans and vintage kimonos I'd lovingly collected over the years. The tiara, with its faux-royal, fast-fashion sheen, stood out like a sore thumb.
I stood in front of the mirror in my bedroom and placed the little crown onto my head. I was wearing a Baja jacket I'd acquired on a recent trip to Mexico. The combination was fetching in a "deranged beauty contestant who'd gotten lost on vacation" sort of way. I did a closed-handed pageant wave at my reflection. "What are you doing?" my husband asked from the hallway, startling me. I whipped around, quickly ripping the tiara off my head. "It's for a story!" I said, blushing. This was already embarrassing and I hadn’t even left the house.
I stashed the tiara on a shelf. Maybe it was all about baby steps, I thought. I could wear it to walk my dog around the neighborhood first, and then, when I was feeling comfortable, to a bar with friends. Or maybe to ballet class. Last week, one of my classmates wore a full-on tutu and no one batted an eye. That could work. Still, I couldn't work up the nerve to do any of those things. The weeks went on and the tiara taunted me from the shelf, collecting dust.
I needed guidance. The deadline looming, I racked my brain for someone to ask. Kate Middleton? Not likely to respond. Courtney Love? Ditto. The only person I know who regularly and flawlessly wears a tiara IRL is my former colleague, fashion writer Leah Melby. I sent her a desperate email. Subject line: "Help!"
"I was made for a story like this!" she responded. "I was one of those little girls that would only wear skirts and dresses — I had a twirl test to make sure they spun appropriately." Jackpot. I pressed on for tips.
"The biggest key is hair; you should wear it down and messy — not polished," she explained. "You want an immediate and obvious aesthetic contrast; a chignon would look too 'done.' Clothing can't be too fussy, either. Don't wear heels. Like the chignon, heels look too Elle Woods. And, despite what you might think, it can be fun to wear it to a place where you might get side eye, like a party with new friends or a work dinner. It really breaks the ice and generally people love it — I think they admire your zest for accessorizing."
Okay. This was helpful. Messy hair, flats. I can do that — it's my MO most of the time, anyway. And I was supposed to go to a dinner hosted by a chef friend in a few days where I wouldn't know a soul. It would be the perfect opportunity. Easy!
Except, not really. On the night of the dinner, I still couldn't figure out what to wear with the damned thing. Slouchy black T-shirt and Rachel Comey jeans? Weird with a tiara. Wide-leg paperbag-waist trousers with a turtleneck? Also kind of weird. Finally, 10 minutes before the dinner was supposed to start, I settled on my current fallback outfit: a denim kimono jacket with flared sleeves and a pair of cropped black Alexander Wang pants. Equally weird with a tiara, but at least I'd feel good about 97% of my outfit. And, according to Leah, it was all about making the tiara look like an irreverent afterthought.
But if it was supposed to look like an afterthought, it certainly didn't feel like one. As I walked down the stairs of my building, I felt the metal arms of the tiara pushing into my scalp — it was impossible to forget it was there. I pictured the clear plastic jewels reflecting the light like a beacon, catching the eye of anyone who was within a few blocks. "Hey, look at me," it screamed.
I slid into the back seat of my Uber and ducked my head. "You going to a bachelorette party or something, "the driver asked, as if on cue, one eyebrow raised. "No. It's for fashion," I responded quietly. "Oh," he said, shaking his head. "Too bad." I checked my reflection in my phone. He was right. It was too bad. The tiara twinkled maniacally back at me in the unlit screen. I felt like a fool.
By the time I walked into the restaurant, the tiara was stashed in my pocket and out of sight. I knew I'd probably never attempt to wear it again. It might be a funny conversation starter, but I usually don’t have trouble talking to strangers at dinners anyway — though I might if I were wearing something that felt totally un-me. And regardless, I was too old to wear a tiara. Not because tiaras shouldn't be worn by people over 30, but because I've finally grown up enough to know which styles are "me" in the first place. I like experimenting, but it should never be this hard — or require this much thought.
By the third course I was having such a good time that I'd forgotten about the tiara completely. That is, until one of my table mates asked if I ever have assignments that I end up disliking. "Sometimes," I replied laughing. I showed her the tiara. "What would you have thought if I'd worn this tonight?"
"First I would have thought you were an attention-seeker," she said. "Then, I would have thought you were coming from a bachelorette party. Finally, I would have thought, 'Maybe that's a trend?' I don't really know anything about fashion."
"It is a trend," I told her. "But trends aren't for everybody."