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Everything I Learned About How Not to Dress, I Learned From 'The Hills'

The MTV hit taught me many things about friendship, relationships and following my dreams — as well as some vital lessons about style that have stayed with me for over a decade.
The cast of 'The Hills' at the 2006 MTV Movie Awards. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

The cast of 'The Hills' at the 2006 MTV Movie Awards. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

In 2006, I considered myself Ontario's own Lauren Conrad. I wore flared jeans with flip-flops and long tank tops, and embraced headbands with the fervor of someone who believed she could pull off headbands. (I could not.) A single bangle, placed with stylistic intent on my forearm complemented my long, plastic necklaces, and on nights where I wanted — nay, needed — to seem fancy, I capped my look off with pointy-toed kitten heels.

It's important to note that not a single one of these trends looked good on me, particularly as the bottoms of my too-long jeans tended to fray after walking on them over the course of several nights at "the club." (A bar called Loose Change Louis.)

But a decade-and-change ago, none of that mattered. From 2006 to 2010, "The Hills" dictated a good portion of the style status quo, so I (like many of you, I'm sure) figured that even if I couldn't physically show up at Les Deux (RIP), I could certainly still dress up for college clubs with the seriousness of someone ordering Los Angeles bottle service. Then, inevitably, we all grew up — kind of like a few of the show's stars themselves — whether or not they opted to appear on MTV's latest installment. But I digress.

"The Hills" taught us many things about friendship, about relationships and about following your dreams and heart. (Most of which can be whittled down to: "Don't do what any of these people did.") In addition to all of those, it managed to teach us vital lessons about style, too. Specifically, how not to dress.  

RIP Les Deux. Photo: Peter Kramer/Getty Images

RIP Les Deux. Photo: Peter Kramer/Getty Images

There seemed to be a collective belief circa the late-2000s that "going out" necessitated wearing a body-con dress and high heels (or risk bringing shame upon yourself and family). Which, like, fair: If that is or was your vibe, go forth and conquer. But because the series' original stars were nestled snugly within the L.A. nightlife bubble, their dress code was governed by a very specific take on "appropriate clubwear" and their status helped perpetuate the norms that were bred from all things "Hills"-centric.

These include, but are not limited to: bandage dresses, mile-high heels, skinny jeans, bubble hems and billowy tank tops. Or, as I like to call them, items that really don't look the same on every person.

Of course, in 2019 things have changed. A scroll through Whitney Port's Instagram reveals an affinity for casualwear and jeans. A visit to Stephanie Pratt's feed sees a plethora of dress-centric formalwear, but less of an inclination towards whatever we saw in 2008. Heidi and Audrina? Admittedly, they're flying the flag for years gone by, and if they like it, who am I to condemn their choices? But unlike the stars' first foray into TV, this time, they're no longer setting trends. They're following their own pre-existing fashion rules. 

We as viewers have come to realize that, regardless of how cute something may look on a famous person, it might feel terrible once we put it on. This time, instead of coveting their go-to pieces, we're more likely to look down at what we have on, give it the old thumbs-up and breathe a sigh of relief that we no longer have anywhere to go regularly that calls for stilettos or prohibits sneakers and jeans. This is an even bigger relief when you live in Canada and "going out" from November to March doesn't mean throwing on a leather bomber, it means "putting on boots and a very puffy coat because we live in hell."

A headband doesn't make you Lauren Conrad

And a leather jacket doesn't make you Audrina Patridge. You will always be you, albeit with a small braid in your hair, á la Stephanie Pratt this season. Which is a very nice look, provided you know that at no point will you be stopped and asked if you once starred on "The Hills". (Perhaps the more bitter pill to swallow.)

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Audrina Patridge, Whitney Port and Lauren Conrad in 2007. Photo: Scott Gries/Getty Images

Audrina Patridge, Whitney Port and Lauren Conrad in 2007. Photo: Scott Gries/Getty Images

You can dial down your look

I remember believing in my soul that to even go to a friend's house, I had to be decked out. My jeans had to look crisp. My sweatshirts had to look intentionally disheveled. Lo Bosworth, I thought, would never be seen getting pizza at midnight in anything less than the most coveted graphic tee in the land. And then I got older, and a lot more tired.

"The Hills" was and is an important lesson in playing dress-up. In our late teens and early twenties, many of our choices are dictated by a need to be accepted or celebrated, and we dress specifically to court the approval of our peers (and even enemies). In each episode of the first series, the stars work hard to create A Look™. Their accessories, dresses, pants, tops and shoes are integral parts of their adulthood costumes, as if declaring how far they'd come from their former "Laguna Beach"-style wardrobes. 

Now, in the show's latest endeavor, we're seeing the same thing: Outside of Whitney Port and Spencer Pratt (now the spokesperson for tie-dye, crystals and T-shirts), each cast member continues to declare who they are via fashion. Audrina is still edgy in her leather jacket and her hats match ex-flame Justin Bobby's, so they are meant to be. (Note: I do not think under any circumstances that they're meant to be — the producers would just like us to think they are.) Heidi Montag is a Cool Mom™ in long tank tops and skinny jeans, proving she hasn't changed since we last saw her in 2010. Stephanie Pratt has found reality TV success in the UK and, as a result, will not dress down under any circumstances. Mischa Barton? She's an actor playing herself, and that means her wardrobe will tell us nothing about who she actually is, outside of this fact.

The thing is, since the inception of "The Hills" in 2006, most of us have come to understand that while everything we wear is part of a larger message, we usually gravitate to what makes us feel powerful. In some cases, that may be clubwear. In others, it may be a wide-brimmed hat. But most of the time, it's what we put on when we just want to be: when we're grabbing lunch or running errands or eating dinner with our friends. Our clothes eventually stop announcing our arrival because we've grown into the personalities that do it for us. Our wardrobe complements our character instead of dictating it, meaning we could stop cosplaying as Lauren and company as soon as we stepped into our grown-ass selves.

Lauren Conrad and Audrina Patridge in 2007. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Lauren Conrad and Audrina Patridge in 2007. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Speaking of which: wear what you want

In 2019, we've come to accept that the 2000s are back and that the trends we were cursed with a decade ago have been resurrected and there's nothing we can do about any of it.

Except that we can. From the mid-to-late-2000s, many of us had yet to tap into the revelation that we have the freedom dress however we want. Street style seemed impossible to create in our suburban homes (not that it stopped anybody from trying their best on, RIP), but our need to branch away from Abercrombie, Hollister and every other mall chain populating the closets of every young person in suburbia began to eclipse the need to wear what we "should."

"The Hills" never gave us that window into watching its young women take those vital risks. Lauren and Whitney worked in fashion, but we only ever saw them in safe, inoffensive, casualwear (especially at work) without considering that they could branch out into vintage or abandon ballet flats. As a result, we still equate them with the 2000s — despite neither of them wearing heeled flip-flops, visible thongs, super-low rise jeans, or any of the pieces making a triumphant runway return. Even Audrina and Heidi, whose styles call back to the series' heyday, seem like they're performing a tribute as opposed to genuine self-expression.

Which, maybe, was the most important lesson of all. That even in costume, the most exciting role to see played is that of one's self.

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