I Humiliated Myself by Asking Teens to Rate My Style
"This outfit is even less sexy than your last one."
The panel of teens I assembled to judge my style. All photos by David Meulenbeld.
This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.
I've always tried to be fashionable, but I'm not always successful. It's still important to me, though because being confident in your clothes is an important step to shaping your identity. Although I don’t consider myself unfashionable, my Instagram feed is filled with people far cooler than me. And it often seems that the most influential fashion bloggers are teenagers—strutting around in outfits I wouldn’t dare think up.
It's strange to think I look up to people a lot younger than me for my style inspiration, which obviously means, depressingly, that they would look down on my choices. But maybe that's exactly what I need—a few home truths to set me on the right fashion track. So I decided to let a group of critical, fashion-conscious teens judge my outfits.
After spending hours on Instagram, searching my way through the world of teenage fashion, I found five bloggers who were more than happy to come down to the VICE office in Amsterdam and tell me what's wrong with my personal style.
Why I Like This Look:
To start, the backpack is really practical; I think its subtle and dark tones really work in my favor. The jacket—a gift from a friend—is one of my favorite pieces of clothing. It's incredibly comfortable, and I think the color really suits me. The shoes are actually working boots for men. If fashion is also about pushing boundaries, then I think my shoes will be the biggest hit with the panel. At least that’s what I read on i-D.
What the Panel Think:
Boris actually starts off by complimenting my shoes. "They’re pretty dope. But they should be cleaned." Everybody agrees, but Boris isn’t finished. "The bag is a bit of a problem, though," he says with a smile, which does nothing to make me feel better about him trashing my much-loved accessory. "You look like a tourist who's also about to climb a mountain," he adds.
Dora Lin suggests I replace my "old-fashioned" backpack with a leather bag. "Maybe in yellow to make it a bit less boring and a bit sexier," she tells me. Taking in their suggestions, I steer the appraisal toward my jacket—certainly a winner. They all think it’s cute, but Malou is worried that the coat makes my body shape "look a bit triangular."
I take off my jacket to reveal my bright-yellow blouse underneath. The teens are all fairly warmed up to the task now. They don't hold back when it comes to sharing their opinions. Before I can ask them about my top, they start dishing out their thoughts.
Dora Lin: "You could make it a lot trendier by matching it with some jewelry—possibly a nice ring or some necklaces. Also, this is when you really need a pair of colorful shoes."
Merlijn: "If I were you, I'd wear a big red belt to go with your jacket."
Dora Lin: "You should do something about your hair too."
Merlijn: "Yes, maybe put it in a bun or a nice ponytail."
Dora Lin: "It would look nice in a very high ponytail, with a lock of hair around it."
Merlijn: "Still, you definitely need to figure out your jewelry."
Damn—I’m starting to think this was a really bad idea. With each passing comment, I'm getting more and more insecure. I thought that a sober, minimalist style would go down really well. But it seems I couldn't have been more wrong.
As I step out of the room to change into my next outfit, the panel chat with one another. “I’m not sure how to describe her style," I overhear one of them say. "It’s like she's just come straight out of a vintage shop. If she walked pass me in the street, I wouldn’t really notice her.”
Why I Like This Look:
Well, I know the pants are hot. And I bought the black shirt at a very trendy store in Amsterdam. This is the most feminine look I have, and I think I look beautiful in it.
What the Panel Think:
Everything I thought I knew about my appearance seems to be a lie. "I think this look is even less sexy than the last," one of the teens shouts out. "I have no idea why you're wearing those extremely unflattering shoes," is the next slap in my unfashionable face.
"There's no shape to the outfit at all," Caylani adds. "It’s not tight, and so everything is just sort of hanging. It looks like something a grandmother would wear." This experiment is starting to hurt—my heart is sinking all the way down to my unflattering shoes. But the comments keep on coming. "You remind me of a train conductor," Boris says.
However, I'm not a complete lost cause. They also have some advice for me, which I must admit does make a lot of sense. Dora Lin tells me to roll up my pant legs so I come across more relaxed, while Merlijn reminds me—again—that some nice jewelry would go a long way. Malour rounds it up by recommending I replace my black, functional shoes with some heels, and add a white jacket to complete the new look.
Why I Like This Look:
My red sweater cost me about $1, and the jeans and shoes are from one of my favorite vintage stores.
Before I let them judge me for the final time, I ask them where they get their outfits. If I’m not allowed to scour the city's best vintage racks, then where should I go? First, they recommend that I stay clear of big, popular chains like H&M and Zara, which "are only good for the basics." According to them, the best way to find nice clothes is to just wander around Amsterdam.
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I ask them if Instagram, and social media in general, play a big role in knowing what's hot and what's not—it's apparently not.
"There are no rules anymore—anything is possible," says Dora Lin. "But your favorite celebs are always a great source of inspiration. I love Princess Nokia." That's clearly where I went wrong as a teen. Instead of getting my inspiration from internationally renowned hip-hop artists, I just copied the older girls at school.
I also ask them about whether breaking gender norms is an important part of modern fashion. Is it OK to wear male clothes as a woman? "Yes, if it makes you feel comfortable," Caylani says. “To be honest, I wish they would make female sizes a bit bigger because my sister just bought a super dope jacket, and I want it, but they don’t have it in my size," Boris adds. "I almost immediately gravitate toward people who look different from everyone else," Malou says.
What the Panel Thinks:
Surprisingly, they like it. Finally, my first fashionable pick of the day. "The white shoes are cool, and it’s nice how they match your white T-shirt underneath," one of them says. Even hearing about my lack of accessories for the 100th time in a day doesn't dampen my mood.
The catwalk is finally over. The panel was a lot more honest than I had expected, but I've learned a lot. If I want to be more trendy, I should wear less baggy clothes, brighter colors, and learn to accessorize. I should also take a break from my staple vintage shops and just stroll through the city.
Will I take their advice the next time I go shopping? Absolutely. Will I ever let a bunch of teens judge my look again? Never.