Things I’ve Learned in My 30s: My Style Evolution and Being ‘Me’

When I was 18 and had just moved into my very first home away from home at university, I was desperate to make the bland, laminate furniture filled box feel a bit more like my own. It was the early 2000s and there was no real definitive ‘style’ in anything, interior or clothing or otherwise. I remember discovering Cath Kidston and firstly finding it a little too floral and garish for me, but slowly something changed and I became obsessed. There weren’t many shops back then, and she had just done her Rosali bedding range with Ikea. I bought a set of the blue rose bedding with some red and white ticking stripe pillows to contrast. I always remember my mum, concerned about my meagre student budget, saying to me ‘don’t buy too much of that love, it’s expensive and you probably won’t like it in a year or so‘. Fast-forward 13 years and here I am, in my very own house wearing a Cath Kidston jumper, drinking out of a Cath Kidston mug and… well, you get the idea!

 My Cath Kidston bedroom at uni My Cath Kidston bedroom at uni

My mum knows me well, and she knows that previously I had very eclectic taste that changed a lot – she was right, Cath Kidston is expensive and I would have wasted an awful lot of money on it had my tastes changed again! This was the first time that something stuck with me, though, and it kickstarted my love of all things vintage and led me to believe I was meant for a different era (most probably the 60s!). I think most people go through changes in their style to some extent, but it’s something that has been a really big part of my identity since that first foray into floral interiors, and something that has both stayed the same and fluctuated immensely. I have noticed that since entering my late 20s and 30s I’ve become a lot more confident in my own sense of style, and it’s stopped fluctuating quite so much and settled into such a pattern that people can look at things and say ‘ooh, that’s very Lucy!’.

Growing up in the 80s and 90s meant leggings, oversized tees and lots of sportswear. My mum dressed me in beautiful Laura Ashley dresses with ribbons and Mary Jane shoes when I was little, and then as I got older and the need for more practical tree climbing, horse riding and bike riding attire became obvious, I was usually found in jeans or dungarees at the weekend. I remember hitting Year 9 and starting to want to be different. I don’t remember the reason why, I just knew I wanted to explore clothes and colour and music to see if there was a way I could get creative and find something that felt like ‘me’. I distinctly remember swapping my navy blue Reebok shoulder back (90s sportswear, remember) for a one shouldered lime green Umbro backpack. I don’t even think I liked it that much, I just liked that it was different and stood out!

Into my later teen years from about 15 onwards I discovered pop punk, nu-metal (WHAT a genre of music that was!) and, dare I say it, emo! I never turned into a goth or an emo kid, but I was definitely a bit of a skater girl or a ‘mosher’ as we were called back then. I lived in band t shirts, massive wide legged jeans, Vans skate shoes and vintage style track jackets. I put chains and badges on my school bag and was surgically attached to my MiniDisc player, full of carefully curated playlists for the bus ride to school. I went to an all girls Grammar school in a semi rural area, and a lot of the girls I went to school with were from wealthy families, so there was a real cross section of style going on. It did mean that lots of girls had school uniforms from Topshop, highlighted hair and fancy Karen Millen school bags, and so my style was a bit of a contrast to theirs. Real life at school isn’t like American films though, as it never mattered to us; I was one of those kids who wasn’t in the popular group or in the group of ‘geeks’, I had a lovely group of friends and we pretty much got on with everybody.

My developing interest in alternative music was definitely a turning point in the evolution of my style. None of my friends were into it at all, so for many years it was a bit of a solo project. My music taste became eclectic and varied, as I had nobody to talk about it with and the Internet was gaining popularity, so I would spend my Sundays Googling my favourite TV shows and their soundtracks, then searching for bands that were related to them and so on. I got into a really wide spectrum of alternative rock type stuff, and as a result I was forever a little bit ‘alternative’. By the time I left for uni my style was pretty studenty, usually comprising of corduroy jeans, Converse, checked shirts, band t shirts and satchels. I really loved fabrics like corduroy and suede, and I wore a lot of corduroy and denim dungaree dresses and skirts with little pixie boots.

When I got to uni and studied Popular Music, my tiny insular world of music and style completely exploded. Suddenly I was surrounded by like minded, ‘alternative’ people, and I was one of the more ‘mainstream’ people in the group! Mix CDs were furiously passed between us before and after lectures, and days were spent trawling vintage shops for outfits to wear to gigs that night. I got REALLY into vintage in a big way at this point! Liverpool had an amazing abundance of vintage shops, and my vintage dress collection started with a bang. It was around this time that I got into my band, and wearing a vintage dress on stage with red lipstick became my ‘thing’.

I started to get really into Peter Pan collars and cutesy 60s style dresses at this point. I remember not owning a practical hooded coat for the longest time, and only wearing Topshop dolly or sailor coats with berets, dresses and ankle boots. This is where it stuck, as it’s still the base of style today (when I can be bothered!). I also stopped wearing trainers except one pair of Converse, and spend my days in pixie boots, vintage Mary Janes and pretty ballet flats. I barely wore jeans, and I remember if I wore jeans, a t shirt and Converse on a relaxed day I felt really underdressed and not like me at all.

When I left uni and began to work in the arts, I got really into Alexa Chung’s style. She shared my love of all things nautical or sailor style, striped, slightly French or Victorian school uniform style! I began to emulate her style a bit and I think that’s where my Breton top love truly began – with a Saint James sailor Breton that I bought online from a tiny sailing boutique in Brittany, France – I still have and wear it now! I got really into the dishevelled-on-purpose look with a bed head bob, oversized shirts, blazers and and unisex t shirts. It used to be really easy to Google her clothes and find them in Topshop or on eBay, before she got super famous and everything was Chanel!

I wore my hair in a bob for a while, then in 2010 I watched a film that brought me back to my cutesy roots. 500 Days of Summer still remains my favourite film of all time. Before I watched it I didn’t know who Zooey Deschanel was, and I absolutely fell in love with her style. I went on a similar Google mission as I did with Alexa Chung, managing to find either the exact same or similar outfits to her in the film or in New Girl. My teacher wardrobe has sometimes resembled that of Jessica Day (her elementary school teacher character), although nowadays as I’m moving around and sitting cross legged on the floor so much it tends to be more casual! I tried on many occasions to grow my hair long, but it doesn’t do very well being long so it’s usually either long and wispy or in a bob.

A big part of my style is to have a fringe. Everyone knows me with a fringe as I’ve had one, whether it be side swept, middle parted or thick and full, since before I went to uni. I don’t feel like I can do without one because I’ve got such a big forehead – thank God for straighteners and dry shampoo! But, it’s become a distinguishing part of my style. I’m known for my fringe, my round glasses and my vintage cutesy style.

Which brings me to my 30s. Where have I arrived at and what have I learned?

Well, my style has taken many twists and turns throughout my life. It has almost always been influenced by music and popular culture, and I remember actually writing essays at uni about how music influences a person’s sense of identity, with reference to punks, mods and goths. I’ve tried to veer away from my signature style a few times. Towards my late 20s I felt like I was getting too old for Peter Pan collars and smock dresses, so I tried to smarten up a little. I tried more fitted dresses, more ‘grown up’ and ‘glamourous’ looks… but every time I wore something like that I felt totally uncomfortable and not like me at all.

I also used to adapt my style to whoever I was spending time with. If I was with my uni lot or out and about on Liverpool’s indie scene (that’s so cringe to write, but it really was a thing in the mid 2000s!), I’d be as alternative and indie as I possibly could. Black 60s eyeliner, red lips, backcombed hair and vintage clothes. However, I sometimes would get self conscious as I knew my style seemed weird and odd to people who dressed more ‘normally’ or mainstream, so if I was seeing friends from home or family I would tone it right down and dress a little more blandly. I never felt as if I was being true to myself when I did this, but was also scared of what other people would think of me or as being branded as weird.

Nowadays my style is a bit of a mix, but mainly it has relaxed a lot. My job means I’m moving around all day, lugging equipment around and often sat cross legged on the floor, so I mainly tend to live in leggings, stripy dresses and chunky cardigans (or summer dresses when it’s warm) for work. Also with the stomach condition I have, most days I am bloated and in pain so I can’t physically wear my most favourite patterned skirts and shirts like I used to.

At the weekend or when I’m not in work, my style has definitely relaxed and I’ve become an avid wearer of jeans and jumpers. I LOVE a good jumper! In the winter I can be found wearing skinny or mom jeans with chunky jumpers, or patterned shirts under chunky cardigans. Since we have a dog I spend a large portion of my weekends in the park getting muddy, so I now have practical coats! I have a big black furry lined parka which I got when I taught Early Years (you’re outside a lot!) and I tend to wear that a lot with bobble hats, scarves and wellies. Coats is my other obsession, and I have far too many! My red duffle is a nod to my love for dressing like a toddler (we’ll get to that in a minute) whilst the rest of my coats are usually boyfriend style and tweed or checked, or Peter Pan collared vintage style like I used to wear.

Nowadays I wear a lot of brands like Joules and Cath Kidston. My typical weekend uniform (when it’s not freezing and I’m in jeans and jumpers!) is a stripy Breton top with either a dungaree dress, pinafore or dungarees. That’s where my blog name came from; I’m never far from a pinafore! I do look at myself sometimes and think wow, I’ve really dressed like a toddler or a Victorian school girl here… but that’s ok! Toddlers sometimes get the best clothes, how many times have you seen something in Zara or H&M kids and wished they made it in adult sizes? I like pie crust shirts and I like prints and pattern… there’s a lot of spots, hearts, stars and, of course, florals in my wardrobe. I have a huge collection of Cath Kidston dresses, skirts and tops, and I have a few cutesy slogan t shirts from Joanie Clothing. I thought I’d never ever wear trainers again after the 90s, but my husband’s Adidas obsession has rubbed off on me and I have a couple of pairs of Gazelles now. Sometimes I go slightly back to my skater kid roots and wear a baseball tee or a checked shirt over a band tee with Converse. I flit between that and girly, and I used to think I had to choose one or the other.

I don’t tend to follow lots of trends because mainly I don’t feel like they’re ‘me’. Lots of ladies tend to follow the fashions of people like the Kardashians, and the whole ‘glam’ thing of skintight midi skirts, big lips and big hair is very far away from my style. I’d reach for a red lipstick over lip gloss and stick to my pale white English skin over a fake tan. I have to leave my hair to air dry most of the time because if I start to heat style it it begins to snap off at the ends and won’t grow at all, so my hair is rarely groomed and a mix of wavy and fluffy most days… it’s a good job I like undone hair!

The thing about being in my 30s is… I’m OK with that! I know that I’m not particularly fashionable or trendy, and that’s OK with me. There are certain trends I dip into, like the whole midi skirt/t shirt/jumper thing, or a camel coat with trainers, or slogan t shirts or round glasses. Most things I buy tend to be similar to or repeats of what I already have. Some things in my wardrobe I’ve had since I was emulating Alexa Chung, some things are new… it’s a real mixed bag. Since I read Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying and used her method to declutter before we moved house, it’s showed me clearer than ever before what my style is. I’ll never be able to pull off cool baggy sportswear, tight dresses or high heels (well, I look fine in them I just can’t walk in them! Block heels have saved my life at weddings) and I’m totally great with that. I love, love LOVE looking at other people’s styles and appreciating how they’ve put things together, even if it’s not my style. I used to see very elegant or put together women and feel a pang of sadness that I can never achieve that, but I don’t feel that anymore. I admire them and think they look fantastic, but feel happy knowing I’ve got my style too.

Style and self expression are the way we present ourselves to the world. I don’t always make an effort, but on the days I do I feel the most ‘me’ and the most true to myself. It’s something that runs through the way I decorate my house too, and I think I’ll chat about that in a future post. Being in my 30s has been great for feeling at ease with myself; I feel like I’ve finally settled in my own self image after years of experimentation. And it feels really good!

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