Fashion Folklore is a series of interviews where real people unpack how Fashion impacts their life. This is Emily's story.
This is a story about a girl who went from hiding “everything that flops” to a woman that wears whatever the fuck she wants.
Emily in Japan 2021
My first impression on meeting her was that she was (genuinely) happy. After speaking with her at length, I found out that that wasn’t always the case.
We had a deep-and-meaningful, complete with a slideshow of all the Fashion styles she's had over the years.
The last part gave us a whole new avenue of understanding, allowing us to capture a snapshot of her Fashion evolution and analyze it; one thing we quickly realized is how often she used Fashion to undermine her worth.
If pictures tell a thousand words, an outfit could tell a million; her styles perfectly mirrored her self-perception at each point, allowing a unique insight into her psyche throughout the years.
Emily in Japan 2021
While growing up in California, Emily felt that the world was a hostile place and in order to be loved, she needed to look and act like everyone else.
To be clear, this was not a deliberate decision she made but rather more of a knee-jerk reaction to the Barbie-like beauty standards that reigned supreme on the west coast.
Yes, social ostracization on the basis of looks is a worn-out trope at this point, but that doesn’t mean it hurts less or is any less scary when it actually happens to you.
When it happened to Emily, her reaction was that of many teenage-outcasts; she rejected the mainstream and turned goth.
There are entire dissertations written on the subject of why people turn goth, but in her own words, Emily felt protected when she wore her dark armour.
The spooky, ghoulish look was instantly striking and served to both scare and attract; scare the “normies” before they have a chance to strike first and attract like-minded individuals.
Eventually, high school ended and Emily tried to leave it all behind, including her gothic coping mechanism.
In college, she wore risk-free Fashion, diluted and tame, as the fear of being a social pariah dictated her life. Talking about that period now, she says she feels sad for college-age-Emily; “risk-free” meant practically lifeless.
Her early twenties were thus defined by this growing resentment and unease at who she was becoming and she didn’t know how, but she knew that change was necessary.
By this point, Emily was an adult, so she had the means to explore; she packed her bags and made the insanely brave adult decision to uproot her life and start again somewhere else. After all, she thought, what better way to shake off the past than by leaving it on another continent?
Emily's travel photo
Emily landed in South Korea. Seoul seemed like a wonderful place, and it was, as she soon found out, as long as you looked like a K-Pop star...
A land full of strict body standards and well-meaning buffoons to socially enforce them was familiar territory for Emily, and she wasn’t about to force a square peg into a round hole for the second time in her life. After all, Emily’s size didn’t even exist in South Korean stores.
She stuck it out there as long as she could, living life on a well-practised auto-pilot that was made up of strategic outfits selected for their ability to cover her “floppy” parts, as she referred to them.
"I would constantly tuck in my clothing, make sure nothing is floppy.
I wore cardigans to hide my body.
I wore dresses with waistbands and convinced myself they looked good. They didn’t."
Clothing that’s too small for you isn’t just something you feel when putting it on; the squeeze on you is a constant reminder that the world around you wants you to shrink and conform to a size that you are not. Emily had to constrict both her body and soul to fit in in South Korea, and it was obviously not a good match.
Emily’s journey continued, and for a full breakdown about how exactly she came to her next decision, I highly suggest that you buy her a coffee and ask her yourself, but the TLDR of it is that she landed in Japan.
Row, row, row...
Thinking back, Emily realized that she hadn’t really felt herself or dressed like herself since her high school goth stage, so did this mean that that’s who she actually was, deep down inside?
Was she doomed to walk the Earth dressed in increasingly vintage ghoulish designs forever, much like the actual undead?
No, as it turned out, it wasn’t actually the black lipstick or even the cute coffin-themed bag that drew Emily to the Goth culture...
Then why did the Goth stage work for her, but not the others? Because it was the only one that reflected who Emily actually was; at the time, she was an outcast in a culture that demanded things from her she wasn’t comfortable giving, so she joined the counter-culture, the people who were socially disenfranchised like her, and it didn’t hurt that she liked the look.
After highschool, Emily left her old friends behind and had to find a way to join the mainstream, as is tradition in the hallowed process of “growing up”.
The real Emily was anything but bland, but she had lost the confidence she used to get from the support of her past sub-culture, so like an agent in hostile territory, she laid low.
She laid so low for so long in fact that she somewhat forgot she was even leading a double-life; Emily fell for her own cover story.
It wasn’t until years of docile submission to the demands of the world around her caused an eruption of unhappiness that Emily even knew anything was wrong, and when she realised it, it was like a switch had been flipped; she was like a newly-born vampire, thirsting for the rich blood of self-expression.
So why Japan? Is it that much more progressive than California? Are the stores that much better stocked than South Korea?
Well, no, not exactly, and it might not even exactly be “Japan” that “did it”...
You see, the main factor was that Emily was exhausted; she was tired of pretending and constricting and forcing herself, and she needed a place to rest.
Japan just happened to fit the bill; it was new so there were no associations to make things harder, it was filled to the brim with interests and subcultures that she actually enjoyed and most importantly, it was diverse enough for her not to worry about standing out if she was to try something new.
These factors were the core materials necessary to build the metaphorical stage on which Emily could stand and be seen, all while still feeling like Emily...
“I was exposed to people who were proud of their bodies, my friend Lizzie looked so stylish in everything she wore...
Women online were finally expressing pride in their bodies. It was infectious. I kind of started copying their style.
And little by little I started creating my own outfits... that spoke to me. I never looked back.”
Nowadays, Emily is unapologetically herself... no more tucking in or hiding floppy things. Modern Emily takes risks. Where young Emily once lived a fake life, Modern Emily now has a magnetic happiness that you just can’t fake.
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