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A Style Journey

Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m Danita, Rachel’s wife and somewhat camera-shy assistant. I’m usually the one taking the photos of Rachel, my favorite fashion stylist, looking fabulous around Pittsburgh and points beyond. In addition to documenting the seemingly endless looks she creates from her closet, I’m also tasked with taking the lay down photos of outfits during Closet Consultations, providing logistical support both before and during Private Pop-Up Shops, and other behind-the-scenes tasks supporting Rachel as Stylist.

People regularly ask if Rachel dresses me and my answer is always no. While it is tremendously useful to have an in-house fashion consultant to act as a sounding board, the mission of Rachel, Stylist is to help people find their own sartorial voice, not to push her personal style onto someone else. It’s not unusual for us to look like we are going to two completely different parties, which always delights me. Over time, my personal style has evolved into what I like to call Nerdy but Stylish Androgynous History Professor. This means tailored pants, lots of blazers and sweater vests, and the occasional neckerchief, often implementing pattern clashing. However, because we contain multitudes, lately I’ve also been dipping a toe into a sportier vibe, with lots of vintage track jackets and colorful sneakers. We’ll see where this goes. Life is a journey.

I wasn’t always a sartorially-confident, color-embracing owner of an extensive collection of vintage sweaters. We all come from somewhere. In my case, I come from a nerd who wore chinos, polos, and navy canvas sneakers BY CHOICE to high school every day. Well, that’s not entirely true; sometimes I wore sweaters and leather oxfords. As a wannabe-prep who spent too much time pouring over the pages of the J.Crew catalog, I was able to tell you more than was reasonable for any 15-year-old to know about cable knit sweaters and deck shoes. The limitations of budget, an underdeveloped confidence in my personal style, and the trends of the 1990s (which, to be fair, appeal to me much more today than they did at the time), caused me to develop a uniform of sorts that at least skirted the edges of where I wanted to be, fashion-wise.

Oh, how times have changed. The core of my style interests are still the same, but I’ve developed an understanding about fit, tailoring, quality, and a sense of overall cohesiveness that, coupled with my embrace of pattern and color, has led to a fashion place my teenage self would have been delighted by. My closet has been built over years of poking around vintage boutiques (especially my favorite, Three Rivers Vintage, which has the hands down best vintage menswear collection in Pittsburgh), thrift stores in various states of cleanliness, the Ann Taylor sale rack, and more recently, Vestis, the exquisite contemporary menswear store in Lawrenceville. My personal fashion stylist has encouraged me to go with some of my more eclectic impulses and push past some of my previous, self-imposed limitations. For example, though I’ve always loved color, in the past I would have been more likely to choose a neutral option by default, instead of believing I could pull off the bright pink vintage Lacoste cardigan that I actually wanted. The result is outfits that I’m consistently complimented on and the delirious joy that comes with your clothes expressing exactly who you are.

That being said, one area where Rachel’s expertise as a fashion stylist has been particularly helpful for me personally is in the often impossible-seeming quest for denim. As a teenager in the late 90s, I never wore jeans (pleated Old Navy chinos for life), ostensibly because of a stubborn refusal to look like everyone else in the age of grunge (non-conformity through dad pants? I guess?). I didn’t know how to find or style jeans that fit with my prep who just got back from watching a polo match desires. This problem never really went away. When I wore my first pair of jeans in over a decade, circa 2002, which was the era of the two inch zipper, they were a pair of light wash, low rise, slim flares with a wider than you’d expect if you’ve met me bell. These were dark times. Needless to say, these didn’t really work for me and I abandoned the project soon after. Years of wearing “whatever” jeans that were “fine” followed. I got by on dress pants for work, Carhartt pants for when I did a completely different type of work, and two pairs of jeans that I inherited from two different girlfriends. Part of the problem I ran into was, though my closet is pretty evenly divided between items from the men’s and women’s sections of stores, the particulars of my body and opinions about fit mean that my jeans are always women’s. Despite a love of all things menswear, men’s jeans give me a silhouette that tips my gender presentation from androgynous to butch, which isn’t my goal. I was consistently overwhelmed by the options and changing styles of women’s jeans. For example, in my pre-Rachel life, after much cajoling from a friend, I was finally convinced to be the last adopter of skinny jeans, which worked well enough for me at the time but were never a perfect fit. However, once I’d found something that was on trend, looked fine, and didn’t actively take away from the rest of my desired vibe, I had no idea how to move into something else. Most women’s jeans were too much for me: too high a rise, not nearly high enough in the rise, too wide in the leg, too femme. Through a lot of trial and error and more than one visit to the Levi’s store and Pittsburgh’s-own vintage gem Mello and Sons, Rachel helped me find several styles that work for me.

Another fashion-life changing lesson I’ve learned from Rachel is the wonder of tailoring. I’m tall enough and my shoulders are sufficiently broad that a men’s extra small shirt usually fits me ok, except for being overlong in the arms, and they have a tendency to billow a bit at the small of my back. Many a cuff has been raised and various tailors have employed a variety of strategies to reduce the volume in the back. These alterations have greatly expanded the shirts available to me, expanding my options to include thrifted and vintage men’s shirts that still allow for the slim, put together look that I prefer.

Though I never thought of myself as a particularly stylish person, I now realize that not only have those creative impulses always been there, but I’ve always cared about my presentation far more than I realized. Watching Rachel shop her closet for new outfits, or hunt for treasures in dusty corners of basement thrift stores, or get excited about the new denim trend of Horseshoe Jeans has allowed me to give myself permission to express my personal style in ever more fabulous ways.


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