Now, I’m only in my mid-20s, so I can’t exactly bemoan my “long-gone childhood” or “fleeting youth.” To people with more years on me, that sounds like a total joke.
It’s not that I feel particularly old. Being the youngest in my family and the only girl, I enjoyed a prolonged period of babying under my parents and three brothers—the eldest being 13 years older. To this day, our household helpers address me with endearments usually reserved for children: ding and 'ga (both of which roughly translate to “little one”).
Still, every year, I count down the days to my birthday with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Anticipation, because I get a nice celebratory dinner, some birthday shopping, and a whole day off from photo shoots and deadlines. Dread, because it signifies that an entire year of my life has passed. A chapter is over. Change is on the horizon. And I don’t know about you, but change scares me.
It’s ironic, seeing as how I work in fashion—an industry that thrives on reinvention. In this world, change isn’t just inevitable—it’s indispensable. No designer has gotten anywhere by sticking to the same old schtick or shying away from the unfamiliar. The real legends invented new silhouettes, forging the next step in fashion—and later on, they revisited old ideas and manipulated them into something fresh and modern.
Come to think of it, most things in fashion have been “done”—but (and this is a big but) never the same way twice.
The whole process reminds me of a French expression I came across while doing research for last week’s column: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
It’s a slippery sort of saying, the kind that seems obvious and straightforward at first. But the deeper it sinks in, sifting through your thought filter, the more layers of meaning it leaves in its trail.
To illustrate, let me take you through the cycle of a trend—wide-leg pants, for instance. In the ‘70s, they were de rigueur. In the ‘80s, they were passé. In the ‘90s, they were retro. In the 2000s, they were accepted, but trumped for the most part by skinny jeans. And finally, in the past two years of this brand-new decade, the twenty-tens, wide-leg pants have come back with a vengeance.
Then, take the LBD—the iconic black frock that shot to stardom in Audrey Hepburn’s era. It has morphed over the years, of course, from classic calf-lengths to risqué micro-minis. But the bottom line is this: 50 years later, the little black dress is as relevant as it was when Holly Golightly wore it. And 50 years from now, with a few adjustments in the hem and sleeves and neckline, it will still be relevant.
In other words, nothing ever really changes—much. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Now, if you take that in a negative way, it’s bound to come off a little jaded. It’s like putting up a wall before any progress can be undertaken, and saying, “Why bother?”
But take it the way I take it, and it becomes a reassurance—a promise that no matter how old you are, how many years have passed, or how different everything seems to be, some things, the important things, always stay the same.
Which is a good thing to remember when you’re freaking out over your birthday.
Yes, in the year between one birthday and the next, you will leave certain things behind, perhaps forever. But other things you will carry with you into the next year and all the years after it, like a priceless piece of jewelry handed down from generation to generation.
So try new things, visit places you’ve never been to, experiment again and again with fashion, and don’t be afraid to shed your old skins. I’m always reluctant to go through it at first, but at any age, change is essential. Without it, we don’t advance. It is a rite of passage that helps us let go of things that impede our growth—but that doesn’t mean we have to let go of everything.
After all, if we did away with all the past trends in the cycle of fashion—those trends that, 20 years later, resurrect (see below)—we’d be in our birthday suits right now.
For more Stylewise, click on the links below:
- Speak Chic? 20 French Fashion Terms
- Crazy, Stupid, Style: 10 Fashion Lessons for the Man in Your Life
- How to Survive an Ugly Day