Ahhhh, college. A time of mindless eating with no awareness of a not-so-distant-future burdened by slowing metabolism and high cholesterol. A time of endless sleeping without the notion of insomnia brought on by tuition loan repayment, mortgages, or potty training. A time of bottomless drinking with not a care for the questionable ethics of the decisions we were making. Oh, college. I miss you so. Being a grown up sucks so much.
A weekend trip to visit old college friends brought out all the feels. We poured through old photo albums over bottles of wine, reminiscing about the days and alcohol tolerance of yore. Maybe it’s the wisdom that comes with age, or maybe it’s the clarity that comes with a light wine buzz, but I definitely noticed something as we looked through our past lives. As we flipped through photo after photo, a common theme kept arising. Yes, we look disturbingly young, and yes, we were admittedly inebriated in all of the pictures, but I suddenly realized that we all looked the same. Too much makeup, too much tanning, too much skin. We’re like little sorority doll carbon copies; remove the faces, and you’d never know who was whom. We all wore one cohesive look: college girl.
And this wasn’t really about a lack of style. I mean, bootcut jeans and tube tops did have their moment in the sun in the early 2000’s. It was about a lack of individuality. We were all trying to look like each other—bronzed and desirable—because, I think, we didn’t really know who we were. We were forming our adult personalities in a time when Sex and the City was the style guide of life, and we adapted this fictional lifestyle as a model for the people we thought we were supposed to be. We talked dirty, behaved promiscuously, and dressed provocatively, not because we were some sort of style icon New Wave feminists, but because we were a bunch of naïve, self-conscious girls who were too busy dulling ourselves with booze to question whether our behavior fit our values. Don’t get me wrong, I look back on my college years with fond nostalgia. The friendships were solid and have spanned both time and geography. But the identities? Those were yet to be determined.
Come back with me, won’t you? To a time before we used the word “selfie.” To a time before phones had cameras on them. Actually, to a time before we had cell phones and we still used land lines. Come back with me to a time when we would attend a party with a real live camera dangling via nylon strap from our wrist, gently tousling our red Solo cup filled to the brim with Natty Ice foam. We had to keep one hand free in those days to wave our hands up in the air, as if we just did not care. Come back with me on a journey through the choices of the early 2000’s collegiate female.
And then these cute little collegiates graduated and entered the work world. Working in your early 20’s is an absolute hybrid of childhood and adulthood; we were holding down full-time jobs, but we still partied on week nights like we were back at Blue Cat (Quad City shout-out there). This was probably when our adult identities started to take more solid shape. We all moved together to the big city and went bar-hopping every weekend, but there was this eight hour chunk of every day when we had to face the world alone. We all felt like out-of-place little girls just trying to catch up with the grownups around us, and I think this is what actually gave us our grit. We all had work problems and tales that we could share, but at the end of the day, we were solely responsible for the solutions and ramifications of our actions in the workplace.
Not surprisingly, as we started to shift into pseudo-adult versions of ourselves, our styles began to shift too, taking on a dim silhouette of the full-blown adults we would eventually become. We all started heading in a more modest direction (notice the lack of cleavage and bared shoulders), subtly shaped by the career paths we had embarked on. Kate and Erin both entered the corporate world and started integrating more classic, conservative pieces into their looks. I went into education, known for a more casual and lenient dress code (which is clearly reflected by my apparent obsession with statement necklaces), but was desperately trying to be taken seriously by both students and colleagues, and started working with more structured pieces. We still kind of look alike, but you can tell we’re moving into the styles we’ll eventually settle into.
And, suddenly, a decade later, here we are. These girls still know me in my soul, and when we are together, it’s as if time has stopped. But we are three very different versions of ourselves now, all shaped by the choices we’ve made in life. And our current styles truly reflect that.
Kate ditched the sequins and cleavage, and quickly climbed up the corporate ladder into bosshood and moved all over the country, finally landing in Arizona. She was the first of us to break away from the comfort of a city filled with friends to land her dream job, and it gave her natural strength and ebullience a chance to shine. Her feminine, bright, and breezy style reflects that.
Erin traded her black eyeliner and tanning membership for a much more natural look when she got married and immersed herself in a completely healthy lifestyle of skin care, diet, and exercise. This was around the same time Erin’s youthful lack-of-responsibility gave way to the most intense workload of any of us. During this time, Erin’s work ethic and goals of financial independence truly put us all to shame. I believe this shaped her into the kind of adult who never accepts a temporary problem as a permanent reality, and knows that it takes an insane amount of faith in yourself to forge your dream life, which she did when she left the city for the corn fields to start her family. Her clean and classic looks reflect that life experience.
And then there’s me. If you read the blog, you know that motherhood has changed my wardrobe, lifestyle, and heart. I thought I had my adult self figured out, but I’m still trying to figure out my mom self. Of all of my college friends, I’m the only one who still lives in the city and who still works at the same job she got when she graduated college. But I don’t think that means I’ve stayed still. My job as a teacher and my life in Chicago have shaped the person I am, and had I left either of those places, I’d be somebody totally different. I think it shows that I’m a person with roots, a person who is loyal to both people and places, and who believes I can affect change in my little corner of the world. And that’s a person I like to be. I think my casual, slightly urban look reflects my choice to stay—to stay teaching in the Chicago Public Schools and to stay me.
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