The year is 1998. Olivia Rodrigo is negative five years old. I do not know that I will spend my teen years listening to Paramore and my twenties listening to music written by girls who also listened to Paramore. I don’t know who Hayley Williams is, or Lorde, or Olivia Rodrigo. I am three. I don’t know anyone. If pressed, I would tell you my dad’s name was “mister.”
Age three was the first time I began to develop my own sense of style. By this, I mean I would wake up knowing exactly what I wanted to wear and would scream for five to thirty minutes if no one let me wear it. As I got older, that sense of style began to change. It was shaped less by me, and more by other influences in my life—my classmates, my friends, what I was listening to on the radio, who I was seeing in movies, season three of Gossip Girl, and the #aesthetic tag on Tumblr (the Instagram Explore page of the early aughts).
At the beginning of this summer, when every outfit I put together felt too listless for the stunning joy of sunshine and laughter and hugs again, I decided to roll back the clock to 1998, for inspiration from a time when anything could be a look if I wanted it to be.
So at the beginning of this summer, when every outfit I put together felt too listless for the stunning joy of sunshine and laughter and hugs again, I decided to roll back the clock to 1998, for inspiration from a time when anything could be a look if I wanted it to be.
I haven’t worn a bow in years, but something about that tiny pink barrette reminded me how much I used to love hair clips and big floppy ribbons. This wasn’t really a bow, just a swath of pink silk left over from a sewing project, but it was the perfect length to corral a very large quantity of quarantine hair into a passable ponytail (my hair ties have given up).
Puffed sleeves! This look extended well into elementary school for me. I loved Anne of Green Gables and she loved puffed sleeves so I loved puffed sleeves. I stopped wearing them as often once I started cooking—giant sleeves and open flames don’t mix well—but they’re so satisfying that I think they might be making a return to my wardrobe this fall.
This jumpsuit was a birthday present for myself, and it’s brighter than basically anything else I own but something about it being one piece made all the colors easier to wear. It makes me feel like a character in an animated movie, in the best way!
Anyone who grew up wearing dresses in the Midwest knows the ~high fashion~ technique of layering wool tights and long underwear under summer dresses to “winterize” them. My roommate called this particular outfit “gothic Ren Faire,” but I love it because it makes me feel both punky and powerful. (I’ve also lost thirteen inches of hair since day one, which helps.)
Beyond a few worn, wildly-soft-but-have-seen-better-days sweatshirts from college, I am not really a sweatshirt person. They’re great for throwing over pajamas to take the garbage out or layering over thermals for fall runs, and I love when I get them as apparel for work/school/volunteering/etc.—who doesn’t love free things!—but I don’t usually go out of my way to buy them for myself. Then, this winter, in an internet browse for loungewear, I discovered these embroidered album art sweatshirts and am obsessed. Why did no one tell me sweatshirts were so GOOD??
(Everyone told me. I am stubborn. Everyone also told me to upgrade my seven-year-old phone and as you can probably tell, I finally did! Please excuse all previous picture quality.)
Every therapist I’ve ever had has asked me to do some variant of the same exercise during stressful situations. “Imagine your younger self,” they say. “See her standing in front of you. Now take her in your lap, and tell her everything is going to be okay. You’re going to handle it.”
I love that exercise—and I do it often—because it reminds me to celebrate this version of me: an adult who does her taxes and decorates her house, makes time for the people she loves, fights for the things she believes in, and never forgets to call home. A person who can handle it.
But recently, that exercise has also reminded me to be grateful for all those younger iterations of myself. Age three me was amazing! She felt what she felt, said what she needed, kicked and screamed and demanded until she got what she wanted from the world. While that’s obviously not a model I want to emulate wholesale, I hope I can channel her spontaneity, her sense of play, and her sheer nerve a little bit more in my everyday life. And what a cool thing, that all the people we once were can continue to teach us new ways to be.
Julie was born in Madison, WI, and despite a fleeting love affair with New England, has always found her way back to the Midwest. These days, she lives in St. Paul, where she is growing a large collection of books, a household of chosen family, and a new relationship to homeland. She cultivates plants poorly, recipes well, anxieties often, and social media not at all.