So, I said I’d be coming to you with quick posts during my crazy week, but today I carved out some time to share a story that’s long overdue: My Midwestern Fashion Journey.
Last night I attended a fashion panel Q&A/discussion in Madison, Wisconsin. I know that fashion exists everywhere. “Fashion is instant language.” It’s something we don’t need words to understand – it speaks for itself, it tells its own story. Fashion is something that is part of every community and culture, whether people are cognizant of it or not. So, I won’t go on to make the broad statement that I didn’t know a fashion community existed in Madison. It’s the home of online retail giant Shopbop for goodness sake. But after living in Madison for the past few years, the fashion community didn’t exist to me until last night.
I like to think of myself as one who thinks outside of the box when it comes to city searching. I grew up with a mom who was a tried and true foodie before foodies existed. Every weekend we’d get in the car, leave the confines of suburbia, and scour every corner, hidden gem, and local hole in the wall in Atlanta for the best butter, cheese, produce, and chicken. But, somehow, when I moved to Madison I fell into the classic pitfall of a GEN Y city girl.
Madison is a small town with a Midwestern culture, both of which are pretty unfamiliar to me. When I first moved to Madison, I looked for those familiar fashion faces to anchor me. I located the local Anthropologie and Sephora… and… that was about it. No major department stores at the malls? No Nordstrom Rack? No Lululemon? (Please note a Lululemon has since been built in Madison.) I immediately strapped on my skeptic hat about the existence of a fashion community here. Perhaps, I thought, Madison is a town concentrated with local boutiques. This is the case in my former college town, Athens, Georgia, but Athens is about half the size of Madison and just about an hour and a half from the heart of downtown Atlanta. Still skeptical. As a GEN Y city girl, I wanted to be inundated with options. I wanted my safe department stores for the basics, the national chains for the seasonal must-have, and the amazing local boutiques too. I felt I’d already struck out on the first two, so I had a pretty bad attitude when it came to the third.
I found Hot Mama, a Midwestern chain with closet staples like Michael Stars and Splendid and a pretty great selection of premium denim. Things are looking up. I found an awesome casual/active wear store, Neena, with brands like Beyond Yoga and Rese. Another step in a positive direction. And, of course, there’s Bop. The little brick and mortar caterpillar that later emerged into the major retail butterfly Shopbop. When my mom came to visit for the first time, we strolled in and out of several shops in the State Street section of downtown, and I ventured into the Monroe Street area one Saturday after a trip to Trader Joes, but still, the fashion community in Madison wasn’t really speaking to me. I’d hit a wall, and through inaction, put my exploration on hold.
Friends know that I’ve had a real journey acclimating to Midwestern culture and Midwestern fashion. And, yes, I do attribute some of this to my GEN Y city girl mentality. The fashion community in the South is intense. It piggybacks off the pulse of its coastal counterpart, fashion mecca New York City, while adding its own southern charm. It’s very vocal and competitive. In the Midwest, everything is more quiet and laid back, including the fashion. I remember feeling very loud the first time I went out in Madison. Not literally audibly loud, but my outfit was screaming “I’m not from here! I’m a southern, GEN Y, city girl!” Although I still wouldn’t say I feel particularly comfortable in Madison when it comes to my style and meshing with the Midwest, time has truly been my greatest ally, and over the past couple years, I’ve accepted my uniqueness in a Midwestern fashion world.
So, I come back to last night: the fashion panel Q&A/discussion. As a fashion blogger for the past eight months, I’ve revisited my desire to explore the fashion community in Madison. A new friend recently turned me onto the Wisconsin Fashion Network, which led me to the event last night. While I’m still fairly certain I was one of the only non-Midwesterners there, I was able to meet some fellow bloggers, local business owners, and other ladies with an active interest in the fashion community. It was truly a breath of fresh air. After a fairly formal Q&A/discussion, we got down to the real conversations over drinks.
My two major connections of the night were with GaBrielle Pedriani of Look Sharp, Sconnie and Pamela Wilson of Iona. GaBrielle has completely changed my perception of personal style bloggers with her very honest and unique approach to personal styling blogging that defies the typical I’m always casually standing outside this chic cafe with my perfectly on trend handbag slung over my shoulder aesthetic that many personal style bloggers take. Better yet? Her images are backed with words: rich descriptions, a clear voice, and actual writing ability – things that are sadly lacking in many fashion blogs. Then there’s Pamela. I’m pretty excited to make time for a trip to my newest retail discovery: Iona. After chatting with Pamela last night and heading to Iona’s site this morning, I’m eagerly anticipating a carefully and creatively curated boutique with some one of a kind wares. I definitely foresee a more in depth post once I actually explore the boutique, so stay tuned, and in the mean time, shop the site!