Design by Abby Schreck

There I was, five years old and utterly enthralled by the animated story of a girl named Pinky Dinky Doo. Pinky, much like her name, had vibrant neon pink hair. “Pinky Dinky Doo” follows Pinky as she helps her brother Tyler through mundane life roadblocks — problems with a friend or even flipping the perfect pancake. Her wild and free-roaming imagination leads her to tell stories of animals in rock bands or to journey through time. As a 5-year-old, I was fascinated by her hair and assumed that “pink” led to adventure or independence. Choosing my clothing and assembling all-pink outfits (much to my parents’ chagrin) was how I found my first taste of independence. I was able to choose how I expressed myself and my imagination from such an early age. The autonomy that I found within this self-chosen pink wardrobe was unparalleled to any other “coming of age moment” that I had experienced.

My tastes in both television and fashion changed as I grew up. In my childhood, I was surrounded by the literature and plays of Jane Austen and William Shakespeare. My father routinely recited lines from “King Lear” and encouraged me to watch the movie adaptations of “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Twelfth Night” with him. While he brought his deep appreciation for classical art directly to my life, it was not until we watched Simon Langton’s 1995 TV adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” that I shared his interest. My father watched the series for the complexity of language and poetic display of rural England. I was drawn to the fashion. The Bennet sisters’ frilly pastel gowns reminded me of my grandma — beginning my “grandma phase.” This phase was notably less eccentric and vibrant than my “Pinky Dinky Doo” wardrobe. I became interested in skater “fit and flare” dresses and sweaters. The sweaters were clunky, cabled turtlenecks. If I told you each one had floral embroidery, would that surprise you? I thought not. Nothing about this floral, hyper-feminine look was youthful, but it remained my style for many years. One may wonder why this particular phase even occurred. Why would a teenage girl seek to dress like her grandmother? Perhaps since my “Pinky Dinky Doo” phase, I became stuck in a “coming of age” continuum — always seeking to feel (and dress) older than I was. 

This exact theme can be found in the hit 2000s television series: “Gossip Girl.” When I entered high school in 2018, “Gossip Girl” was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. The show centered on teenagers dressing and acting like adults (similar to my philosophy in the “grandma phase”). While watching the show, I tried to wrap my head around the fact that this was my life. Like the show’s principal characters, I attended an all-girls school in New York City, albeit one exempt from crime, deceit, murder mysteries and unremitting disloyalty. Before “Gossip Girl,” I hadn’t truly considered what it meant to live in New York City, a haven of artistic expression and “fashion forward” experimentation. I learned to look around me at the creative and unique people in my world. I took a particular interest in the artistic areas of the city, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Fashion has a similar end goal to that of a painter or singer: It is simply a daring and artistic expression of individuality. With this realization, the most ambitious style phase of my teenage years began: a phase of switching between extremes. I wore neutrals and earth-toned hues or bright and sparkly, sequined ensembles. There was no gray area in my fashion choices. The fluctuations between understatement and overstatement matched the patterns of Serena Van der Woodsen (Blake Lively, “A Simple Favor”), “Gossip Girl”’s lead. Her conflation of loose and youthful Free People clothing and elegant Carolina Herrera gowns exemplified the experimentative and aesthetically-pleasing aspects that I looked for in a style. 

In the fall of my senior year, my sole focus was academics. My fun-spirited and joie de vivre fashion phase seemed to perish as college applications consumed my days. Serena’s experimental, fluctuating style could not be further from how I felt. In times of immense stress, I have always turned to “Gilmore Girls.” The protagonist of the series, Rory, was an ambitious, diligent and driven student who I knew I had to emulate. Throughout the series, Rory borrowed her mother’s eccentric clothing — tie dye, blingy tops and “Y2k style” Wrangler denim skirts — for special occasions but stuck to more traditional sweaters, jeans and Docs for everyday life. Rory’s style merged the youthful aspects of Serena with the understated comfort of the floral sweaters from my “grandma phase.” By mimicking Rory’s style, I could feel a sense of balance despite being in a transitional, uncertain period of my life.

My style has always matched a character. Whether I found pieces of myself within the character themself or derived inspiration from them, each style, like each TV show, can be traced back to a particular era in my life. While basing my personal style on fictional characters may seem representative of a confused self-identity, my choices reflect how my identity has shifted as I have grown and changed. I find inspiration in art and learn about myself from every character I meet. In my third month of college, I have melded all my phases together. Whether it be a full “sweatsuit” or a maxi floral dress, clothing for me looks different every day. However, I have settled into a general fashion philosophy: I am no longer “growing up” but rather “growing into” myself. 

Daily Arts Writer Skylar Wallison can be reached at skylarmw@umich.edu.