The Universal Shopping Dilemma: Is This Cute or Fugly?

Turns out, it's more about the question itself than the answer.

Lauren McGrath, Philadelphia Magazine, Shoppist, Cute or Fugly?

A few cute or fugly wardrobe items in question. | Photo by Lauren McGrath.

I’m not usually one to go all philosophical on matters of life (let alone shopping), but this dilemma has been plaguing me since I started buying clothes at the mall in middle school and persists on every retail venture to this day. I’m talking about that moment when you see that moody, floor-length Morticia dress or those platform oxford creepers that remind you of a sassy old British professor and your mind goes, “Oooh that’s cute! Wait, is it cute? Hang on, this might be kinda hideous. But something in me still likes it…I actually can’t decide – is this cute or fugly?”

At this point, I generally phone a friend, whether it’s flagging down my mom three aisles away or literally calling my sister on FaceTime for a second opinion. Ten times out of ten, I walk away from (or with) the item in question based on her opinion.

So what’s with this sartorial indecisiveness? I usually save the willy-nilly flip-flopping for select moments to my boyfriend’s irritation, like deciding where to order food from or which Pandora station to listen to in the car. Otherwise, in general, I tend to go after what I want in life until I get it (or die trying).

I used to think the cute-or-fugly dilemma stemmed from some unsure footing about my personal style. Sure, it still sways somewhere between urban chick in leather and Converse and the lovechild of Esmerelda and Stevie Nicks – whatever, I like it. But I’m finding as I get older and gravitate more towards the weirder things on store shelves that, thankfully, there are no rules when it comes to fashion because the very nature of the beast is cyclical.

Here’s the real deal: The true measure of whether your look works or not is not actually about whether it’s cute or fugly. It’s the confidence that lies beneath all the layers of hair products and lipstick and leather and cotton and skin and bones. It’s an intangible, undeniable “Fuck yeah!” that cannot be taught – but can most definitely be faked until it’s part of your DNA.

In this world of Fashion Police and Who Wore It Better, it’s important to hear that voice inside asking, “Wait, is this cute or fugly?” Acknowledge it, thank it for calling that sequin-eyeball-covered purse or those vintage beaded pants to your attention, and then buy the damn thing. Because at the end of the day, there are no hard style rules besides this one: Wear what makes you stand out from the crowd, what makes you feel like you can conquer the world, and wear it with everything you’ve got.