I grew up in a former Soviet country, that just got out of the Soviet Union and was struggling to restore its autonomy. People were busy with all kinds of problems, and fashion was not one of them.
As long as I can remember, I grew up wearing my older sister’s clothes. Whatever my mom would buy for her, in just 2 years I would wear that. Shoes – suck it up, put some additional pad in it, and own them like they’re new. To give you an image of what that was like: my sister is tall, I reach right to her armpit, and she’s at least 1 shoe size bigger than me! Baggy clothes were my style, and the jeans – I had to cut off at least 1/4 of their length! I didn’t understand much at that time, I just thought it was cool to wear my sister’s clothes. Until it was 1999 and I started watching more TV…
I think I was around 10 years old when I started noticing pretty clothes on girls in school and on the street. The lack of color TV and very few TV channels in my childhood never set a tone for fashion. (Yet, they did teach me a good chunk of culture, love for figure skating, and a good bedtime routine with “Good night, little ones” program). I remember the day dad brought home that huge flat screen TV, which was a humongous one compared to our black-and-white one that had a sticking butt behind it. The TV looked so glorious, so fashionable, so chick. You wouldn’t even think a Czech product would get to a post-Soviet country and make some people happy! But, back to my story. My dad also brought an antenna with it, which he upgraded to a satellite one by adding couple of beer cans and Indian coffee cans that enhanced the receiving of channels from abroad. That’s when I first found out about MTV and other channels alike, that I first watched my favorite original 90210 TV series and Moonlighting with Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd. Oh, that beautiful and elegant Cybill Shepherd! My my my, if you only knew what started happening in my heart and in my head! I knew right then that I had a very serious thing about clothes, but I didn’t know that it was that big. All of my clothes suddenly became my object of experimenting (and I wasn’t even a creative person like designers are). I just wanted to have what I saw on TV. My sister became my partner in crime. We would see ripped jeans in a clip and we would trim and tress whatever old jean we had in the wardrobe. And, do you remember those electric-colored leggings and fringed t-shirts? Oh, if you only knew how many t-shirts my sister and I would cut to make fringes and mom would come home to discover the “crime”. Mom was so mad, because she and dad were making few money to afford wardrobe updates. Yet, after a while, she just gave up and started seeing my sister and I as two creative girls who found a hobby.
So, the strategy was the following – bright colored t-shirts become fringed t-shirts, the t-shirts with a print or Disney character on it become tie-a-knot t-shirts so that the print would stick out, old leggings become shorts for another summer, old jeans become distressed jeans or shorts (if the original jean has holes in it at the edges), long dresses become short dress and a skirt (you can make up so many combinations with just these 2 items!!!), scarfs become ponchos/headscarves/sarongs, button-downs become topics or knot-tied shirts. And these are only few examples I can remember without taking a breath.
Let me tell you, mom was too tired to even say something when she saw our creations (again, take into consideration the financial scarcity our family was going through, and that mom hoped those clothes would keep us good for another couple of years). We didn’t do anything with our shoes though, so that spares us a punishment. All we did with our shoes was clean them often (mom’s golden rule) and keep them in a box for the following years. If I knew that shoes were such a statement for a woman in her life, I think I would have developed some kind of skill in “upgrading” those too, as I love shoes so much.
Once I started getting closer to my 13 or 14 years old mark, things started getting much more interesting. I had a better sense of style and my parents started to do better in the financial realm. Dad loved to take us to the market every other Saturday and buy us clothes. That’s when I let my fashion beast out. I watched so many music video clips that I could tell who was wearing what in that or that clip. My all favorite was “Genie in a bottle” by Christina Aguilera, and just 2 of her outfits that changed my life forever – the dark denim set of capris and short jacket with sleeves rolled half-way up and the camel crop top with beads sewn to its rim, and the outfit with the orange (cargo or chinos?) pants with a blue-beads-fringe on white crop top. Life was never the same after that clip! I was hunting these outfits for over a year and in the end, I got hold of similar outfits, except the orange pants and that fringed crop top. Nevertheless, I got it all covered – I made ones myself from what I had! I was so proud to wear those clothes, that I wore them until I left home for university.
Every other clip or movie I saw on TV brought so much joy to my soul. I was so inspired and mom and dad were willing to help. I had frayed-hem jeans, off-the-shoulder shirts, neck scarves, bag scarves and pins, camel mailman bags, black rucksack with shiny pins, platform shoes (oh la la, how much I loved my black platform sneakers and my platform boots and flip-flops!), colorful shirts on zippers that unzipped from both ways, colorful capris and lots of glasses and hats. In few words – my life was awesome! I wasn’t wearing my sister’s clothes anymore and I finally had my own voice.
All of these improved my life in so many ways, that this even made me pursue my vocation – to learn foreign languages. I can’t say my life got easier, because it flipped me so many times, but still, it shaped me and taught me lots.
Right now, I’m pretty much back to my 12-years-old state, where I have the ideas and desires, but no significant money to satisfy my needs, because I’m a new immigrant in another country. Yet, I am happy and accomplished, because I still got to take my fashion staples purchased during my glorious times of a proud worker in a big international company. That sense of style, that elegance and sophistication are forever printed in my heart, and I will forever be grateful to my parents for all their patience and belief that all the mischiefs were done for the better. Fashion is temporary, your style is eternal. Be YOU!