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What I Learned About Style from Lily Allen's "Smile"

The video that justifies wearing running shoes with everything, and buying every necklace you see.
November 1, 2014, 4:45pm

It’s been eight years since Lily Allen came out with her debut single; a revenge track targeted to any person who’d been wronged by a love interest, human being, or combination of the two. At the time, I was 21, I was working in retail, and this song was on our store CD for about three months. That’s why I hated it. It reminded me of folding jeans and opening fitting rooms and working 8 AM to 10 PM that one time. And why the fuck was she wearing running shoes with A-line dresses? Didn’t she know it was ankle-length tights and denim skirts or nothing? Christ.


But in time (thanks to a friend who bought the full album and reminded me that Allen’s music wasn’t limited to her first single), I became a fan. Why? Because the woman didn’t take shit. She was angry, she was sick of being treated badly by guys, and she wore running shoes and A-line dresses while the rest of us wore ankle-length tights like plebes.

Fuck your mix-and-match rules: Lily, like me, made her own.

Just kidding! I did not make my own fashion rules. (I was 21 and I had a dress code to follow at work. And also a staff discount. I lived in flip-flops and Laguna Beach-wear, and it was difficult for everybody, I’m sure.) But I wanted to. And now, as a grown-ass woman, I can look to “Smile” and recognize that eight years back, Ms. Allen had it going on.

And that’s not just because I also wear no less than one thousand necklaces at a time.


I won’t lie to you: my knee-jerk reaction is still, “I wouldn’t maybe pair those two pieces together.” But I am also wearing a used sweater with a clearance t-shirt, so I can go right ahead and check myself. Running shoes are practical. They’re comfy. They worked with all of our outfits as kids, and then, without any warning, we swore off and replaced them with heels. Well, no thank you. Here, Lily Allen is doing the thing we all want to do at bars and at weddings: abandoning all non-gym dress code-sanctioned footwear. Take that, Carrie Bradshaw.



Look at those motherfucking necklaces! Look at them! The whole gang! Chilling out, accompanied by a cardigan, and topped off with oversize earrings I will never own because I don’t have pierced ears. (#REBEL) This—both in 2006 and now—is the grown-up answer to BFF necklaces: the more the merrier. Ideally, you, me, and everyone we know should be weighed down with so much cosmetic jewelry that should we walk through a metal detector, the guard will pull us aside and say, “Those necklaces look fucking awesome on you. Here’s another.”

She just needs more nameplates. That’s why she looks so sad.


Here, Lily Allen bribes a man to beat up her cheating boyfriend, which explains both her “fuck this noise” stance and choice of outerwear. Now, I’ve personally only ever paid people for food, clothes, and movie tickets, so that explains my lack of trench coat now and back in 2006. If I was to have one—and I’m sure you, reading this, does—my life would be different. I’d brag about going to meetings. I’d walk with the determination of a rich person. I’d arrange for a man to beat up… well, no one. That’s really terrible. So could this video have happened without said trench coat? Absolutely not. Which is why I’m still too scared to buy one now, and why I connote trench coats with power.


BOOM. Girlfriend runs a tight aesthetic game, and we know this because she has matched her eye shadow with her pink dress like other powerful teens before her. Do you know what this connotes? I have an excellent makeup artist. But even more obviously, it says war paint. In this scene, Lily puts laxatives in her soon-to-be-ex’s coffee (which is actually horrible—anybody with IBS will tell you that), and she is prepared. I mean, first, she has actual laxatives. And second, she has gone to meet the boy wearing just enough makeup to imply, “I have a steady hand, and I will cut you with it.” Or “I fucking hated everything you just wrote.” Either way, LOOK AT THAT GOLD.



Now, I’m no expert, but years of reading the news has told me that if you walk in the middle of the street, you will likely die. But Lily Allen? No. Here, we can assume that if decked out in the Holy Trinity (running shoes, a trench coat, and more gold than an outdated Goldmember reference will allow), you will avoid certain death while relishing in the fact that your sociopathic tendencies have rendered a man helpless, crying on the toilet, and scarred for life. You can run away from your past via running shoes, and you can set up a secret identity in your trench coat. Then, you can sell your gold (“gold”) and live on the profits.

So yes, it’s true: “Smile” is actually just a step-by-step guide on how to Bourne Identity your life following the revenge you took after a bad relationship. Or it’s a justification for wearing running shoes with everything, and buying every necklace you see. Either way, we’ve at least learned that we didn’t dress that badly in 2006.

Just pretend you didn’t read that thing I said about wearing a lot of ankle tights.

Annie T. Donahue is just as funny on Twitter, follow her.