My Lifelong Love/Hate Relationship With Fashion

POPSUGAR Photography | Hannah Weil McKinley
POPSUGAR Photography | Hannah Weil McKinley

I remember loving fashion early on. If you want to fact check that, you could ask my parents about their daughter who coined the term "fashionating" as a 4-year-old watching them get dressed up for dinner. I studied my mom as she slipped into her heels and fastened a necklace, and the word spontaneously formed itself in my mouth.

I lived for these moments — the times my mom got ready for a fancy dinner or party, when I could help choose her outfits. After school, I'd get dressed up as a fashionable teacher (usually a maxi skirt and vest from our costume box) just to do my homework. I invented occasions daily to change my outfit when it was time for dinner, a chance to run to the grocery store with Mom. Sometimes, I just changed for the hell of it, maybe just to watch TV.

See, I loved fashion then. I loved it wholly and blindly. I never thought about "what looked good on me," what size my clothes were, or what was designer and what wasn't. Like any little kid playing dress up, I was just in love with the fantasy.

I loved fashion then. I loved it wholly and blindly. I never thought about what looked good on me, what size my clothes were, or what was designer and what wasn't.

All grown up and I'm a fashion editor, someone who presumably gets to play in that world as an adult. It should be a dream — and so often it is, but there are days when it's not all it's cracked up to be. There are a lot of days when loving fashion without any pretenses or self-consciousness really is a fantasy.

Somewhere along the way, the real world hit me — seemed to run me over, actually — I think they call it puberty. I have an older, beautiful sister (and a tall, handsome brother too), who couldn't gain weight if she tried (my mother did, with ice cream after school and plenty of carbs at dinner). I, on the other hand, rounded out quickly. My curves seemed to fill out overnight in the sixth grade, while my older sister stayed straight and narrow through high school and pretty much to this day. I noticed the differences in our bodies immediately and constantly. Clothes we had shared didn't fit me the same way, and I rapidly outgrew the costumes and hand-me-downs we played with together. I think that's the first time fashion wasn't fun for me. Actually, I can pinpoint it.

POPSUGAR Photography | Hannah Weil McKinley

For my dad's 50th birthday party, my mom took us each to find a special outfit. My sister went to a kids-only boutique and walked away with a champagne-colored silk shell top and floor-length skirt set. It was 1997 and she looked exactly like a young Gwyneth Paltrow, with the same long blond hair. I loved that look, only I had outgrown the children's sizing at the same store. At 12, my mom took me to the "Miss" section of the department store. I tried on lots of outfits that puckered or hung in all the wrong places, made me look too adult, and felt truly awkward. I settled on a black and white checkered shift dress with a subtle daisy print (settle being the operative word). I didn't hate it, but I didn't really like it either. I was indifferent, and that was worse for a kid who had grown up enamored with clothes.

When I was younger, I got caught up only in the details of the garment: how fabrics felt, and how prints and colors looked, or how to channel the look of a certain celebrity or time period. I got carried away with the characters I could be just by changing my clothes. The "fashionating" child in me would have lived for this moment, but my adolescent body got in the way. That feeling would come again and again, even into adulthood, often at college wishing I hadn't squeezed into the jeans I was wearing, or later at work events, watching the room full of stylish editors and quietly wishing I'd chosen something more exciting to wear.

The truth is that fashion spotlights gorgeous things and newness, and that superficial world can be a scary place to make your livelihood in.

On the night of the party, I lived vicariously through my sister, soaking up the compliments as if they were my own and watching her long skirt float around the room as she moved. That look, I loved.

That's the trouble with fashion, and maybe caring about it too much. On our best days, it makes us feel just like my sister Alle at the big birthday party or the way I did pulling vintage pieces out of our dress-up box after school; or else it's your worst enemy, putting your insecurities on blast: your boots look old next to this season's style; that dress doesn't fit, must mean you got chubby. On those days, I see only the exclusive parts of the industry — beautiful, perfect people with glamorous closets that remind me of what I don't have or what I don't look like. The truth is that fashion spotlights gorgeous things and newness, and that superficial world can be a scary place to make your livelihood in.

POPSUGAR Photography | Benjamin Stone

If you're wondering, "where's the romance in that?", it's a fair question. It doesn't seem like there's much to love, but there's always something that pulls me back in. As an adult, who's mostly overcome my adolescent insecurities, style is the way I express myself. I obsess over new shoes and handbags (too much, for my husband's taste), and I probably get too excited about new collaborations, runway shows, and the fancy occasions I get to get all dolled up for, but the truth is, I can't love fashion wholeheartedly anymore. I've learned to dress the body I have and appreciate the trends I can't wear from the sidelines. It's still a place to play in and be inspired by, whether through a beautiful magazine spread or a little retail therapy, but I tune in and out as I please.

I spend my time turning my closet into my own adult dress-up box with clothes that truly bring me joy; I look to the designers and fashionable women that speak to me, and accept the rest of the industry as a mostly beautiful, fascinating world that's not my whole world. Today, I love fashion with my eyes open, knowingly and for exactly what it is.