Born in 1989, I was the first grandchild to emerge and the first to have to pave the way on both sides of the family. I was born in Montreal, Quebec; a Canadian city which shaped my life, personality, and passions. I am half-Moroccan, which means that half of my upbringing was surrounded by incredible spicy cuisine and aggressive-sounding French at the Friday night dinner table (courtesy of the Moroccan grandparents), and half was surrounded by the English-speaking household that I grew up in that used to be a fairy tale. I was always lucky to have supportive grandparents in my life, as well as a certain sense of rebellion that was only the direct cause of the environment in which I was raised.
Montreal is known for its eclectic culture and style, but when thinking about that you usually think Downtown. Well, I’m from the suburbs. We all had to wear uniforms to school, and therefore, we needed to unleash our own personal styles when the sporadic dress-down (in this case, dress up) day came around. We would wear heels to school, as well as clothes that shaped our bodies in a way that the administration didn’t appreciate. Yeah…so if you were a size C at the time like I was, you would get in shit for wearing a shirt that showed off the goods- even if it was a crew neck.
As a child I had always played around with my mom’s sewing kit and fabrics and beads, and by the age of three I had always wanted to dress myself for school. But it was only in high school that I thought it would become important to know how to dress well on a budget.
I have to admit that I really had no fashion sense coming into high school- so thank whatever lord you believe in that we had to wear our uniforms every day. I remember this outfit I wore on a dress-down day that caught the attention of my fashionista friend at the time. It was an orange Ralph Lauren three-quarter sleeved shirt and…wait for it…red Champion snap pants. She proceeded to tell me that orange and red didn’t go together, which caused some sort of enlightenment for me that maybe I should start caring about fashion. I was also embarrassed about the faux pas that I made a conscious effort to match my style to my attitude and invested in some clothes embellished with rhinestones and leather which set me apart from the Abercrombie crowd.
By the end of high school I was hated by the administration for always having accessorized my uniform in inappropriate ways. But really, when you are stuck wearing a green or black blazer and a skirt that makes you look like a nun if it isn’t rolled at the waist 5 times, you get really bored with the same nonsense every day.
I graduated from this private high school and needed to buy a very stylish dress for prom. I was lucky though that my father was trying to get back involved in my life, so we went to Arizona and bought not one, but two Sue Wong dresses at over $500 bucks a pop. The one I wore to graduation was gorgeous. It was red, long and flowy, with ruched silk fabric at the chest which dipped into an age-appropriate V, and then turned into beading for until the end of the torso. It was beautiful, but I probably would change dresses if I could go back. This dress, however, was the start to my desire to become a part of the actual fashion world and leave childish looking clothing and accessories behind while becoming more avant-garde.
Once Cegep rolled around I really honed my fashion skills and instincts. I shopped at some designer places, and some stores like Urban Outfitters, H&M, and Forever 21 that were my go-to stores for the everyday necessities. I also loved Ed Hardy at that point. Ew, I know. But it was a huge trend for a while and right up my alley so you really can’t blame me.
A subconscious rule of mine, however, was that I never wanted to look plain. No solid colours without any embellishments, and there always had to be some detail. Accessories like purses and shoes needed to be special, and I would usually find myself buying shoes with patent leather and rhinestones, or anything that looked pretty edgy- like Betsey Johnson, for example.
By the start of university I was known as the fashionista of my floor, I had my makeup ritual pretty down pat with red lipstick and the cat-eye, and I channelled my inner punk-chic so ensure that every outfit would at least draw someone’s attention while reflecting my own unique style. Now I am able to pair the designer gear I can afford with less expensive alternatives while always looking fashionable.
Living in Ottawa for the past three years I have learned that although you cannot always afford little luxuries on a student budget, you can always afford to look good by paying attention to the small details that contribute to the big picture. If you can’t afford a top for $60 dollars at the moment, buy an accessory that could make an existing outfit look different. It’s better to re-wear something you have and tweak it a bit rather than putting yourself in a situation where you might not be able to go out for the week (because buying booze trumps clothing in a lot of cases).
Lastly, I have learned that just because something is a huge trend doesn’t mean people have to buy it. People here are so obsessed with one store so much that they neglect the possibility that others might have what they are looking for at a better price. This is where you have to forego labels and shop for quantity when you’re on a budget. Because face it- if you wear that expensive shirt too much people are going to notice and judge. Bitches love to be critics.
We all like receiving compliments from people, including friends and strangers, so why wear something when everybody in the city will know exactly where it’s from and what it cost? I don’t think so, homie.
These are the thoughts and the progression that has taken me into the fashion whirlwind that has not caused the demise of my bank account during some weeks, but that has also shaped my life on a day-t0-day basis. For me, there is no greater compliment than someone coming up to me and saying “that outfit is so you!”