“You look stunning” said a blase voice from below my knees. I spun on my jelly heel to thank whomever was into outfits that didn’t match. “Oh, thanks,” I replied to a woman pushing a stroller and was in shock when she pointed to what had actually supplied the compliment that changed my life. Peering out from her oversized heart-shaped sunnies sat my newest style icon—a five-year-old named Poppy who didn’t give a shit that my leggings didn't match my bow. Her noisy pineapple bomber and uneven space buns contained a fashion freedom I had forgotten when I threw away my barbies.
In my mind, I looked like a hot mess, minus the hot part; I looked loud, immature, and silly. My outfit that day had resulted from a lack of quarters and a rebellion from trying. Yet in the eyes of someone who was not yet aware of how adults dress, I was stunning. That was the day I realized: not only did I secretly love dressing like a toddler, but I was accepted in a carefree community of expression by Queen Poppy.
I walked away feeling empowered. Yes, I looked loud, immature and silly, but isn’t that kind of… fun? My whimsical leggings screamed whatever and my bow was two sizes too big. When did women decide that dressing your age meant tailored neutrals, polite kitten heels and blunt bobs? I remember in an episode of Glee when Rachel Berry was supposed to chill the fuck out and start dressing less like a toddler-grandma hybrid and more like a hot girl. They took away her Peter-Pan-collared-dreams and stuffed her into American Apparel disco pants. They took away everything that made her Rachel in order to fulfill the beauty standards set in that scenario—going against everything a toddler believes in.
If you think about it, this concept of “makeover” has been applied to every TLC show ever—perpetuating the noise-cancelling idea that the best way to signal adulthood is to only wear suit jackets, pair neutrals, and collect heels on heels. The briefcase into which women have stuffed their fashion sense has stripped away the ideology of childhood fashion in the name of “professionalism,” robbing personal style and ruining my life for a year. (Yes, I owned a blazer for one year and one year only.) A secret philosophy of the boring business lady is be “just right,” always looking put together and never “too much” in order to be noticed but not too bold.
In 2009, Leandra Medine helped open the flood gates to fashion freedom with her counter- cultural fashion blog Man Repeller. She explained that “A Man-Repeller is she who outfits herself in a sartorially offensive mode that may result in repelling members of the opposite sex. Such garments include, but are not limited to, harem pants, boyfriend jeans, overalls, full length jumpsuits, jewelry that resembles violent weaponry and clogs.” Not only is dressing like a blithe lil’ kiddo fun, but it also fucks with the patriarchy. “Why is that kinda-adult person wearing overalls?” he might ask, and the answer is “because she wants to.”
Giving yourself permission to pair pieces that society says are reserved for people under three-feet-tall restores a childlike point of view that we accidentally lost. Nobody actually wants to dress like a sad corporate lady, but somewhere we decided that's what we had to do. Next time you have the choice between a terry-cloth romper and khaki trousers, think of me. Think of Poppy, and think of yourself making the most noise you can. Take up space and stand out because you owe the world nothing, and a pair of keds never hurt anyone.
Text by Jenny Griffin