‘Who Are You Wearing?’ A Guide to Embracing Fashion’s Trickiest Question

'Fessing up to the good, the bad, and the H&M.
Women-at-bar

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Many years ago, I went to a party to do my editor-mingling duties, which include lots of small talk and tiny hors d’oeuvres. That night, I chose to do my mingling in a mustard-yellow, vaguely cocoon-shaped shift from H&M. Halfway through the evening, a woman stopped me very dramatically, apparently unaware that we were on the Main Line and not on a red carpet in Cannes:

Who are you wearing?”

I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do know that I lied. Back then, I subscribed to the Fake It ‘Til You Make It school of thought: When someone asks you in a pretentious fancy way which fancy designer crafted your fancy dress, it’s social suicide to admit that it was $69.49 and came in ten different colorways. 

I shouldn’t have been surprised at the Seacrest-esque way she framed her question: Label-dropping has become social currency now. We tag designers in our Instagram posts, we snap pics of our shopping bags (but only the good ones), we use hashtags like #hermes (which appears on nearly 15 million Instagram posts), #chanel (over 29 million) and #dior (more than 17.5 million). In comparison, only about 5 million Instagrammers called out H&M purchases; 4 million tagged Forever 21; just under 740,000 used Old Navy, and less than 480,00 hashtagged Macy’s.

I get it: Letting Alaïa trickle off your tongue is much more fun than ‘fessing up to Aldo. And explaining that you discovered your necklace in a Paris flea market is far juicier cocktail party fodder than saying you found it at a mall department store. Yet the most stylish people I know find some of their best pieces in the most unexpected places: the Saks outlet in the Franklin Mills Mall (sorry, Philadelphia Mills), Marshalls, Target, thrift shops, consignment stores. Even better: They’re confident enough to admit it.

My Instagram feed is littered with covetable looks: willowy women in four-figure heels, shot mid-stride crossing ambiguous city streets, Céline Phantoms (or Mansur Gavriel buckets, or Sophie Hulme micros) swinging from skinny arms. It’s dreamy, but it’s not my life. Which is maybe why I find myself more attracted to the mixers, the women who take high-end, low-end, fast-fashion and thrifted treasures and swirl it all together. That takes thought, shopping savvy and, at least in the face of fancy women at fancy parties — women with boxes of Birkins and Mariah Carey shoe closets — well, it takes a bit of courage.

Now, I proudly admit where I found those cute cargo shorts (at Old Navy, in the men’s section), that beautiful Oscar de la Renta robe (T.J.Maxx!), those Alexander Wang booties (The Outnet, on mega-sale), and, if I still owned it, which I don’t (because, er, it sort of fell apart), that yellow shift (H&M). A few weeks ago, a saleswoman at the Barneys CO-OP  in D.C. stopped me to ask where I found the big horn pendant necklace I was wearing: “It’s Givenchy, right?”

I could have said yes. But instead, I told the truth: “I bought it on a street corner in New York.”

And then, just for good measure: “And it’s actually cracked.”