This summer I traveled home to Oregon for my 20th high school reunion (how does time pass so quickly?!). Reunions bring up so many feelings—nostalgia, embarrassment, joy—and one of the best ways to relive old memories (in my opinion) is taking a moment to appreciate the fashion choices of days gone by. Nothing made us laugh harder than flipping through old yearbooks, remembering the wacky perms, terrible home dye jobs and the clothing we stole from our moms and thrifted from Goodwill to look like 1998 versions of our hippy parents.
Amused, I started texting some of the photos to my friends in Rochester—many of whom are in their 20s and not so much older than me in those old pictures—and their responses shocked me. My tragic 9th-grade bangs I accidentally chopped into a tiny one-inch fringe? “Adorable.” The black plastic jewelry decorating our necks, wrists and fingers? “Completely in.” To say nothing of our polyester shirts, baby Ts and Doc Martens.
Would I make those fashion choices again? Probably not—I’ve always loved to evolve my style, and I’ve definitely worn enough tie-dye to last me a lifetime. But it made me look again at all of those “cringe” outfits and haircuts. If my friends in 2022 could appreciate my teenage style, maybe it was never actually that bad. It’s not what I would wear now, and it was probably never going to be featured in a 1990s issue of “Sassy Magazine,” but it was mine. And isn’t that a lot more fun than if I’d copied a look straight from a style guide?
These days it seems that all of the old rules for fashion have been thrown out, and that’s a good thing! Between working from home, the pandemic, changing gender roles and a changing climate, we are freer than ever to embrace our own look and to change it as often as we want! I spoke with three Rochester women who have done just that to get their perspective on style in 2022.
Your opinion is the only one that matters.
For Brooke Burch, owner of Vintage Rack, good style means “dressing the way that you feel and remembering that there are no rules.” Though Burch herself can usually be found in something comfortable, black and denim, she works hard to help her clients make outfits that inspire and bring joy. “I’ve always believed you should wear clothes that make you happy. An outfit is a composition. Fashion is art, so it is always open to interpretation. Your opinion is the only one that truly matters.”
Burch has found that after two years of COVID-19, “People are ready to dress up again.” She also notes that interest in vintage, reused and homemade clothing has ticked up as more people have become more aware of how harmful fast fashion is to the environment. “So many of us have grown tired of mass-produced garments. The apparel industry is a culprit of global warming and is greatly polluting the Earth. I became frugal with my supplies during the pandemic, trying to get the most out of every piece of fabric.”
She continues, “I’ve always loved vintage clothing and fashion history. I think reusing those garments and accessories is so important to culture and art. Any style from the last century is fair game, and everyone is having fun creating streetwear looks, including myself. During COVID, I learned that there are absolutely no boundaries to fashion.”
When asked what fashion advice she would give to her younger self, she says, “Have fun and dress up! I spent so much time on school and band and work that I didn’t make time to enjoy style as a teen. I’m making up for that big-time now!”
Brook can be found online at brookeburch.com/vintagerack and working at her shop. She loves putting together outfits and exploring fashion with her customers. “Conversations about clothes are always welcome.”
Don’t be afraid to experiment and find what works for YOU.
Fashion blogger, podcaster and influencer Val Kleinhans agrees having fun and experimenting are key to developing a personal style. “This is a big part of why I have a presence online at all. I would have told my younger self to keep experimenting with your style and just have fun with it. Don’t mold yourself into what others ‘think’ you should be or what the media tells you to wear.”
Kleinhans describes her current look as “edgy, neutral, rock n’ roll. I love to wear neutral colors normally and anything related to music—with some edge.” She’s noticed that as she’s gotten older, she’s gotten more confident with knowing what she likes. “I’ve noticed that the younger me was more susceptible to trends, and at 32, this has changed.” She continues, “I’m guessing this is because I’m more intentional with my money now. Trends are great, but don’t put loads of money into them. They change. Staple pieces don’t. Invest in those.”
What advice would she give to teenagers now? “Societal pressures are largely the same as when I was a kid, so I’d tell young women to embrace stars like Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo, who are doing their own thing and showing us it’s okay to dress as we like to. Take anyone who inspires you and turn it into a style that’s uniquely yours!”
Kleinhans can be found on social media and at valkleinhans.com.
Change = opportunity
Tracy McCray has taken advantage of the changes that came with the pandemic, work situation and a mastectomy to explore new styles that make her “happy and comfortable.”
“In my 30s, I started to wear dresses whenever I could. I’m most comfortable in a flowy sundress. After my mastectomy, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I didn’t need to worry about bras or coverage anymore. I LOVE having bare shoulders, so jump at any chance to feel the breeze on my skin.”
McCray has also found inspiration in her teenage children—they love to thrift together! “My teens influenced me to hit up thrift stores, so I took THEIR advice! Quality clothing will last longer and look better when you wear it than the cheaper stuff. When you find it at thrift store prices, YOU WIN!”
Asked if anyone ever reacted negatively to their fashion choices or unique style, all of the women noted that the feedback is almost always positive! McCray says, “Honestly, I’ve probably just forgotten if anyone has said anything negative! People tend to react positively when I wear some of my more ‘happy’ items.”
So there you have it–three Rochester women owning and loving their own unique personal styles more than ever and looking forward to finding even more ways to express themselves as time goes on. As for me? I’ve been sorting through boxes of my mom’s old clothing, wondering which items I can work into my 2022 wardrobe. Nothing makes me happier than knowing I will be wearing a beautiful beaded top that we bought together the next time I go out to dinner in Rochester. And it’s a great feeling to embrace the idea of wearing whatever I feel like wearing, whenever. There’s never been a better time to be ourselves. ::