I have a history with the Fair Isle sweater: it involves a short-lived obsession my freshman year in college and my beautiful and devoted mother – you may remember that I shared it with you in a podcast with my mom on TFIO. At that time, I had at least four Fair Isle sweaters in my possession (thanks to my mom), only to lose them by the end of that freshman year. I have no recollection where they went but the memory of them has lingered, almost as if I was waiting, anticipating owning another one sometime in my life. Here it is, 30 years later – what?! – and I have finally found a Fair Isle sweater again! It is Italian-designer Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini, and more sophisticated than my college sweaters – but a Fair Isle sweater just the same. I went back to school on this snowy day, to recapture that moment so many years ago and to finally give this fashion story a happy ending!
I have been on vacation this week. After spending a few days in a lovely beach town, I was reminded of an essential fashion fact: stay true to your own style. This is a lesson hard-learned, especially growing up a woman. It starts in the middle school years – that feeling that you have to look like everyone else in order to fit in. And so you tell your mom that you have to have a certain kind of clothing in order to be successful (your mom, wanting to help you, will be tempted to succumb to your whims in order to help!). It gets better once you enter high school and begin the process of wanting to stand out – even if just a bit. And so you experiment with new styles and explore different attitudes, but the truth is that the need to fit in rears its head at different points in your life, especially when you find yourself in new environments. It did again for me when I started college – a very preppy college – and found myself in a sea of pink and green with nothing to wear! (I have shared the story of how my darling mother bought me several fair isle sweaters in various colors while on my first break from school freshman year. I returned with my sweaters and wore them a few times before leaving them in the closet for good and embracing my true style). Moving on in life, with each new setting, with each transition, the need to fit in is a tempting pull.
But the beauty of growing up and finding your way is identifying when you know yourself and your style. And even though you may feel unsure entering a new environment, you eventually realize that your individual style is what will help you feel stronger – on your own. When I walked through this beautiful town on the beach I wanted very much to treat myself to a piece of clothing – something that would always remind me of being on holiday. But I couldn’t find it. Everything looked the same to me and though the style of the town was lovely – it wasn’t mine. I didn’t want to look like everyone else; I wanted to look like me. So I left the beach having bought nothing, wearing my tried-and-true jean shorts with a tee, and the last favorite article of clothing I bought on summer holiday a few years ago: my black dress.
If you were to ask me about my favorite article of clothing I would always say – the sweater. I can’t think of anything else that says ‘this is my favorite way to be Melissa‘ than a cozy, chunky, fitted, sleek, colorful, plain, vibrant, sweater. It can be any of these things – the specifics don’t matter – it’s the fact that it’s a sweater that matters to me most. I feel the same way about sweaters now as I did when I was younger. A sweater is my forever go-to piece. Especially now, as the weather is cooling and fall is in season.
When I was a just-arrived freshman in college trying to find my way in a new environment and with a new set of people, it may not be a surprise to you that I turned to clothing for help. That first semester, the sweater became my foundation for self expression. Continue reading
My second podcast recording with my mom, Claire, brings me back to the days as an insecure college freshman. My school was the ultimate in prep; a style that was unfamiliar to me. Here I was, having grown up trusting my sense of fashion, for the first time feeling unsure and looking to those around me to define my look. My first school break, I told my mom that I needed something called a Fair Isle Sweater and my darling mother treated me to not one or two, but several, and in different colors. By the end of my freshman year these lovely sweaters were gone from my wardrobe as I began to feel more comfortable in my own skin and see my style return (but still … how I wish I had at least of these sweaters with me now!!!). Most important, I was left with a feeling of love and gratitude for my mother that I will never forget for as long as I live.
Here is that conversation with Claire as we talk about Fair Isle Sweaters and growing up …