Valerio Mezzanotti/The New York Times

A design incorporating a skirt at the Thom Browne spring 2018 collection in Paris

February 2, 2023

In Praise of Regressing Dressing

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I can’t stop wearing versions of my childhood style–and I love it. Here’s why you should too.

“There’s no way you need three plaid skirts over break.” My roommate has a point. I caress an asymmetrical gray plaid skirt and think of a justification. 

“With my white button-down with the big collar, though? And my Mary Janes?” As I fold it for my suitcase, I realize I just described my middle school uniform to a tee. 

It’s not like I long for the golden days of my Christian school—in fact, the second I graduated, I detoxed from all things vaguely preppy. Button downs, cardigans, plaid, and the color navy were anathema to my self expression. Every time I passed these while shopping, I thought to myself, “Been there, done that.” I regarded the uniform and its drab vocabulary as an affront to feminism and self-exploration. I longed to don bright colors, show skin, wear eyeliner, and for my skirts to never, ever pass The Fingertip Test again.

So why am I, a blissfully secular college student and semi-adult, regressing back to my childhood style with such zeal? 

For one, I hesitate to call such outfits “schoolgirl-chic”. For me, the term brings to mind a male gaze that infantilizes young women and fantasizes about Lolita and “Sailor Moon.” Frankly, I’d rather burn my clothes. However, the silhouettes of designers and labels such as Miuccia Prada, Thom Browne, and Marni are now reviving this uniform shorthand in a way that feels simultaneously utilitarian and tongue-in-cheek. Lately, I’ve been daydreaming about the Miu Miu miniskirts with chopped off hems that are somehow khaki and sexy, and Ganni sailor blouses that veer into clownish, self-deprecating formal wear. Here are clothes with humor, pieces that parody the demure culture of a country club, and make modesty feel punk again in one fell stitch. 

I have coined this style “regressing dressing.” For me, this means taking the vocabulary of fashion which caused you pain and dread, and subverting it into pure joy of expression. Back in the day, my friends and I treated our uniform skirts as a contest: who could deface them the most and get away with it? I would color in swaths of polyester with my highlighters during class, use my skirt as a napkin for excess paint during Art, and write swear words underneath the lining as a little activity to myself during interminable chapel services. 

The phrase “healing your inner child” has been bastardized to no end, but it’s true that picking out clothes with the mindset of the eight-year-old me has helped me become more adventurous and unique and yes, beautiful, in my style.  

I recently splurged on a pair of platform ballet flats and a poofy blue tulle dress. I did ballet and dance as a kid until I was 12 and quit (my friends can attest to this small mercy). I still loved the blushing pink of a ballet slipper, the movement of a mid-length tulle skirt, and the unabashed femininity of rolls of silk ribbon, tiny rosettes on a leotard, and pink everything. Still, I felt like a poser if I were to adopt that vocabulary into my daily style. It wasn’t until I saw a Simone Rocha collection on Pinterest that I understood: there’s no authority on who gets to adhere to a certain aesthetic. Here were clothes that were childish yet sophisticated, bulbous yet flattering, and looked like they had been plucked straight from my fondest memories of dance class. 

As a kid, I aspired to outfits that were “so teenage.” This malapropism signified outfits that were unconventionally, horrendously layered, bright, and clashed in a way that fit my understanding of “edgy”. This is what I mean by regressing dressing: clothes that are bombastic and childish, clothes that exist simply for no other reason than aesthetic and primal pleasure. Clothes a clueless child would gravitate towards in a department store, regardless of taste.  A  jangly purple paillette tank top that reminds me of past Halloween costumes, my faux-fur fuzzy winter coat that feels like the softest blanket on my bed, iridescent blue lip gloss that looks like something Lizzie McGuire would wear, and patent black mary janes that remind me of the Lelli Kellis that I begged my mom for at age six. These impractical purchases have also spurred endless compliments from other stylish women, which never hurts. 

 For the record, I still think my middle school uniform and its dress code were horrendously ugly and unnecessary. Regressing dressing isn’t actual regression, rather, it’s letting go of arbitrary restrictions of what you should or shouldn’t wear, and altering past versions of your style to fit present-you. 

So go forth and dress “teenage”!

Violet Gooding is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].