I once dated a guy who explained his interest in football to me by saying that sports is the one topic he could talk about with any dude, whether that was his boss or an Uber driver. I still don’t really understand sports, but I can totally respect that, and I’ve realized that I feel the same way about fashion. For an industry that’s often problematically exclusive, style is surprisingly democratizing.
I also maintain that fashion is, at the end of the day, kind of nerdy. Keeping an exhaustive mental inventory of Balenciaga collections is not, as an activity, inherently any “cooler” than, say, collecting comic books. It’s just that arcane knowledge of fashion is stereotypically associated with social cachet and the Beautiful People rather than pimply basement-dwellers. Going to NYFW is cool and all, but I have a secret for you: I’m just kind of a weirdo who really likes talking about clothes on the Internet, which is a thing I’ve been doing since I was 16 years old and somehow parlayed into a career. (Remember the LiveJournal Hot_Fashion community, anyone?) It’s sheer dumb luck that I got nerdy about something supposedly glamorous instead of, like, Magic: The Gathering.
Like many New Yorkers, I have absolutely no skill or patience for the useless nightmare that is “small talk.” Like many weirdos from the Internet, I have social anxiety, which makes it even more fun. Unfortunately, a side effect of being a human is that sometimes one needs to spend six excruciating minutes in an elevator with Judy from Accounting or meet a friend’s stepsister. And here, my friends, is where all that fashion nerd stuff comes in handy. It took me YEARS to put together that I didn’t exist in a vacuum of Style.com slideshows and that this was a thing I could use to talk to basically anyone who wasn’t a nudist.
Two commandments for starting and surviving a conversation: Ask her a question, and comment politely on her clothes or makeup. (Bonus points if you can combine these.) People like to talk about themselves, so the question takes the onus off you for a hot minute, and she’ll probably be flattered that you noticed her earrings. This isn’t limited to the über-femme world of lipstick and high heels, either. I personally think the notion that fashion is “girly” is nonsense, and maybe that tomboy has a great story about her dapper bow tie.
Sure, this is an easy way to avoid another conversation about the weather, but it’s also the sort of thing that can lead to a larger conversation if you want. I love how intense personal style choices can be, and people often have great stories about the items they own. Judy from Accounting may just tip you off to a new nail salon, but you may cement a new friendship when an acquaintance shares a touching story about inheriting her grandmother’s pearls. Many of my closest friendships began with a fashion or beauty bonding moment, and those friendships aren’t inherently more shallow as a result. It’s just an easy access point for so much more about a person.
I’m realizing that I’ve probably blown it by revealing that I use this as a conversation tactic, but there’s no need to be suspicious. I’m never being disingenuous. I also want to talk about lipstick colors till the cows come home. And I really do want to know where you got those shoes because they’re awesome.