Lizzie Conklin

It wasn’t until middle school — when I didn’t have to wear a uniform — that I realized I dressed like a grown-up. 

Maybe it was the professionalism of a crisp white polo paired with a navy skirt. Perhaps it was the effortlessness with which I didn’t have to think about what to wear in the morning. Either way, something about that uniform (and the many years of wearing it) may have actually influenced my style. 

From the fairly young age of 11 years old, I would say that I had a precocious fashion taste. I don’t mean in the sense that I had a keen eye for haute couture or the latest trends, but I gravitated towards “mature” clothing. On Friday afternoons at the Kenwood mall, my friends would flock to edgier, more youthful stores, such as Free People, while I would wishfully sneak a peek into the windows of J.Crew and admire their new fall collection. 

My propensity for choosing chino shorts over ripped jean shorts never bothered me. In fact, I embraced my grown-up taste in clothing. I never turned down the opportunity to wear a button-down shirt, whether it be with jeans, leggings or even a skirt. I loved the way it made me feel: professional and put together. 

Until one fateful day.

A group of friends and I were going out to dinner one night, and we met up at one of their houses. When I knocked on the door, eager to see my friends, I was taken aback when my friend’s mom answered the door, wearing the same white blouse I had just bought a week ago. At that moment, it hit me like a truck: do I really dress like a mom in her mid-forties? She looked impeccable, but you can imagine that this was a jarring experience for a middle schooler. When I went home that night, I told my mom I needed a wardrobe makeover. No more trips to J.Crew. I needed to venture into the uncharted seas of Pacsun and navigate my way through the ripped jeans and crop tops that I wasn’t accustomed to. 

As I started to wear the same styles of clothes that all my friends wore, I realized that it never felt right. I may have been “dressing for my age,” but it didn’t feel like me. 

Fast forward to now, and I honestly couldn’t tell you what my style is. I just don’t know anymore. I’ve stopped trying to follow the latest fashion trends and instead started exploring a range of styles. I’m no scientist, but I love experimenting with varied looks. In fact, just the other day, I decided to conduct an experiment. I wore a button-down for the entire day to see what people would say about the shirt, if anything at all. All of the other variables were the same: white jeans shorts, my white Adidas Superstars and my hair pulled back into my everyday low bun. I went through the entire day without receiving a single comment on my shirt. It came to the point where I almost forgot I was wearing it. Then, my suitemate commented on how dressed up I looked. Another friend said I looked like I just came from a summer in the Mediterranean. At dinner, someone even asked where the shirt was from because she was looking to buy one!

All of this is to say, a button-down shirt does not automatically make you grown-up. It has nothing to do with age and everything to do with a vibe, a mood or an aesthetic. 

So, now that I’m older — and arguably a bit wiser — I have come to learn that clothing has no age to it. If “dressing like a grown-up” makes me feel sophisticated, put together and mature, then I will never relinquish my love for a classic button-down shirt, whether I’m 18 or 80.