Style File: introductions, Tracee Ellis Ross and closet ecology

Tracee Ellis Ross posing for a photoshoot. Photo courtesy of  Instyle Magazine.

Tracee Ellis Ross posing for a photoshoot. Photo courtesy of Instyle Magazine.

Caroline Tevnan

Hello, hello! My name is Caroline Tevnan ’21 (she/her/hers) and I am excited to step in as the new style file columnist for The Mac Weekly. I will be taking over the Style File column and writing fashion and style pieces on a bi-weekly basis. I am a sophomore economics major and environmental studies minor from Boston. But most importantly, I am a Scorpio. Do with that what you will.

I’ve been thinking lately about the word “style.” What makes something or someone stylish? Is style consistency? Continuity? Does it follow form or pattern? The truth is that there is no right answer. Style is intensely personal, elusive, intangible and wonderful. You know it when you see it, and when you see it, you can’t unsee it. Most importantly, style is unique. Our style fits us like any other defining characteristic of our personalities. It is recognizable and appreciated. It has the capacity to bring us joy and start conversations. And if the study of style in the most scholarly and academic of senses is of particular interest to you, it’s constituents are currently tucked away in your saved folder on Instagram (see: biker shorts, Western attire and the resurgence of Après-ski apparel).

Above all, style is about how you feel and how you wish to project your energy into the world. This is one of the many reasons why I love actress and style aficionado Tracee Ellis Ross, who you may know from “Black-ish” and “Girlfriends.” When “Vogue’s 73 Questions” asked Ross who she considers her style icon, Ross replied, “Me, in seventeen years — I’m very hopeful.” Me too, Tracee, me too.

In my mind, Ross is the pinnacle of what style mastery has come to encompass; her exuberance, playfulness and overall sense of wonder translate directly into the clothes she wears. She doesn’t shy away from her maximalist desires, sporting a lavish, bubble gum pink Valentino gown at the Emmy Awards this last Sept. And it’s not just her award show looks that convey her contagious spirit and positivity. Her day-to-day ensembles are some of my favorites: two-piece powersuits, usually color-coordinated with bold reds and sharp cuts. (Has this turned into a Tracee Ellis Ross appreciation piece? Definitely.)

Tracee Ellis Ross posing for a photoshoot. Photo courtesy of Instyle Magazine.

With that being said, what can we learn from Ross? That is, how can one expand upon their own definition of style and venture out into the exciting (and a little bit scary) land of wearing something out of one’s comfort zone? It’s no easy endeavor and, like any other discipline, fashion has rules. The most important rule is that the rules are meant to be broken.

Ecologists say that the strength of an ecosystem is measured by its level of diversity. Your wardrobe should be no different. Color, pattern, texture, form, fit, cut, that jacket you find at the bottom of the sale bin with that little bit of je ne sais quoi? Each piece in your closet has its niche, filling a specific void and doing its part to account for the success of the collection as a whole.

I’m confident this is what Charles Darwin was talking about in his seminal work “On the Origin of Species” in 1859. Despite the fact that the phrase “survival of the fittest” continues to be severely misused by investment bankers, tax evaders and Mark Cuban to describe the processes of natural selection and evolution, I will nonetheless give in to using the phrase to further my own point. The most envious closets, and outfits by proxy, are ones that push our own personal boundaries and force us to consider something new. A new perspective on our likes, our dislikes or a rejection of our natural tendency to deviate from something we may actually love. This is the survival of the FITtest (see what I did there): to try something new.

So here’s my proposal: I challenge you to give your most trusted friend VIP access to your closet one evening. Let them pick whatever they like and make suggestions. In essence, let them be the Miranda Priestly to your Andy Sachs à la “The Devils Wears Prada.” You’ll be surprised what a fresh set of eyes can do when it comes to pairing an ensemble. I am a firm believer in this practice. Think of the combinations that you haven’t considered. Play some Shania Twain while you’re at it, or maybe some Chaka Khan. Whatever you choose to do, have fun with it.