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Vera Bradley at Vogue: One Southerner Makes Peace with New York Style

It's okay to love Lilly and leather at the same time.

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Growing up thirty minutes from Palm Beach meant that I spent my misspent youth channeling Lilly Pulitzer in skorts covered in drawings of Worth Avenue and shift dresses with printed lions in blindingly bright shades of pink and blue.

Going to college in New Orleans meant that every event called for a new Lilly dress in a different print and pattern, because it would be so gauche to match your sorority sisters. (It's all perfect preparation for when you're in the Junior League together, of course.)

But living in New York in my twenties means something completely different. In New York, I'm supposed to master the art of layering. In New York, I'm supposed to feel comfortable in black-on-black-on-black. In New York, the only Lilly Pulitzer I regularly wear are my Hanky Pankys.

After six years in New Orleans, I had a closet full of Southern designers I loved: plenty of sweetheart necklines from Judith March, seersucker from Jolie and Elizabeth, and of course, a collection of shift dresses any Palm Beach debutante would be jealous of, courtesy of my girl Lilly.

The dichotomy of dirty streets and sequins is what makes New Orleans like nowhere you've ever been before.

Going out in the South meant hours dedicated to "putting on your face" and painfully high heels, even though in all likelihood you'd end the evening at a dive bar with floors covered in sweat, spilled drinks, and Mardi Gras beads if you were in the French Quarter (and sometimes even if you weren't).

New Orleans is not a land of pageant girls, but it is a place where Mardi Gras Queens reign supreme. A Mardi Gras Queen is someone whose style has been equally influenced by Toddlers and Tiaras and Tory Burch. She's ruled by the archaic notion that a woman is nothing without her face and her grandmother's pearls, which she often clutches. A Mardi Gras Queen makes her triumphant debut in society by wearing a white dress in front of all her closest friends during Mardi Gras, then riding on a parade float and tossing beads and bon mots to her admirers (all while completely intoxicated).

In New Orleans, there's a literal social hierarchy. It's not exactly a caste system, but it has certainly been in place for eons. The Southern girls who were born and bred on grits and grillades make their debut and become Mardi Gras queens and Junior League presidents.

Nothing defines Southern style like a Mardi Gras ball. It's a night where everyone puts on gorgeous gowns and then proceeds to B.Y.O.B. to the nearest convention center, getting dressed up to get messed up. It's like a Bar Mitzvah, but full of Southern ladies in so many sparkles.

The dichotomy of dirty streets and sequins is what makes New Orleans like nowhere you've ever been before. Girls in the South grow up learning that you can't even go to the grocery store without full makeup on, even if you're just grabbing a Publix sub. There is no dressing down, no matter what the occasion is. It would be disrespectful to show up anywhere in ripped jeans. My mother thinks it's unacceptable for me to wear a t-shirt out of the house because it looks like I'm not trying, which is a true fashion faux pas. She would keel over if she saw half the outfits I put together in my twenties.

In New Orleans, most girls are married... early, is a kind way to say it. Husband-hunting means that even a night at a dive bar with Christmas lights and $1 PBR could lead to the love of your life. (I can hear my mother in my head right now suggesting lipstick and saying, "You never know who you'll meet." Unfortunately, I have to admit that she's right—it seems like whenever you look your absolute worst you run into everyone you've ever met immediately.)

As much as I loved the crunchy curls and sundresses of the South, I had grown tired of writing about sorority life, which I was doing for the number one Greek website in the country (it's unclear how much competition there is). I decided to move to New York to write about topics that didn't include recruitment and Nike shorts, although—full disclosure—I still love discussing both ad nauseum. It probably also had something to do with watching a few too many Gossip Girl episodes.

Of course, I moved during the summer of 2014, a season so pleasant it made me wonder why everyone didn't come to New York. My mother called to tell me I was officially a "damn Yankee," and not like the sports team, but I didn't care. I could still wear Lilly in the Hamptons, and sundresses were vaguely acceptable for a night out. Now that the temperature is somewhere between Netflix in bed forever and Seamless from the comfort of your couch, it's unclear if I feel the same way.

Once I spent some time in the city, I realized that everything I thought was once on trend was missing the mark. I had to learn the hard way that Jack Rogers were not the right footwear for the subway (my feet are still recovering). The majority of my closet went unworn, and I started borrowing from anyone who would let me, which mostly meant my friends who had been in New York for much longer than me. Side note: I'm still not giving that Proenza Schouler bag back, and I'm not sorry.

My New York self most closely resembles the perfect mix of Lauren Conrad and Joan Didion.

New York was a culture shock, and not just because the rats on the subway are more enormous than the nutria in New Orleans (I'd suggest Googling nutria, but it's truly scarring).

In New York, no one has the luxury of spending hours getting ready for a night out, because free time is much harder to find, which means that every single clothing item needs to be purposeful. The weather, the need for public transportation, and the fast paced mentality call for convenience and comfort.

When you're at work all day and you have no idea whether your night will end at some overpriced and overhyped club opening or with drinks at a dive bar surrounded by man buns and lumbersexuals, you don't have the luxury of five outfit changes in one day. Outfits always need to be adaptable, ready to go everywhere all at once, because you never know what everywhere entails.

It's a struggle I haven't quite gotten the hang of, even though I'm suddenly writing about fashion.

Over the summer, I started doing social media for a website that ranks the best possible products in fashion and beauty. At the time, I still wasn't sure about making the big move to the big city. I was sleeping on couches and stealthily recycling my best outfits, hoping that no one would notice I was wearing the same Theory dress three times a week while writing about $500 face creams.

On the first true day of winter, my roommate told me I looked like I was going to a funeral because I layered on all the black in my closet. On one particularly chilly morning, a co-worker told me I looked like Proto Zoa of Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century when I wore the silver jacket/futuristic garbage bag that my grandmother bought me when she heard I was moving. While I would love to look like a celebrity, even a Disney one, hard pass on dressing like any of the characters in Disney Channel original movies inadvertently.

After I had been in the city for a couple of months, I had approximately one hundred million informational interviews under my belt, but what I really wanted was Vogue. To write for Vogue would be the culmination of a childhood dream, one where my New York self most closely resembles the perfect mix of Lauren Conrad and Joan Didion. It took months of trying—reaching out to family friends I had never actually met before, friends of friends, even fashionable-looking strangers on the street—but finally it came, and I immediately panicked.

Upon arrival at Vogue, I was offered a cupcake. I wondered if it was a test.

What if it was just like the rest of them: nothing but an out-of-touch adult telling me it was brave of me to move, and that they felt sure I would find something? I would wear the same basic Trina Turk black dress that had accompanied me on so many interviews before, and leave with the belief that I would never find a job, and that I'd have to settle for writing for Boca Magazine, which my mother was convinced was the same exact thing as writing for Vogue because they're both bound and have print on their pages.

On Google, I found my Vogue interviewer in the front row of every fashion show that's ever happened. Trina was just not going to cut it. After much deliberation, I purchased a black leather dress that I never would have even thought about wearing in New Orleans (and not just because it would become one with my body in the all-consuming heat).

I walked into Conde Nast wrapped up in so much leather that I could have easily been mistaken for a v. stylish cow. Upon arrival at Vogue, I was offered a delicious looking cupcake. I wondered if it was a test: One sorority at my school decorated cupcakes during recruitment, and rumor had it that the girls who ate them were axed immediately. It was actually someone's birthday, but I still passed just in case—you can never be too safe.

Amazingly, the woman I met with had actually read and enjoyed my work, and immediately suggested that I had the perfect tone for all of my dream writing jobs. She even brought in someone from digital, who had that perfect violet ombre hair that never actually looks good in person, only on her it was everything. She was casually wearing what may or may not have been extremely elegant pajamas. While I sometimes debate dressing up my llama pajamas for a night out when it's too cold to move from my bed to the subway, I don't think the vibe would be the same coming from me.

They connected me with the same outlets that I moved to New York to write for, making me realize that leaving behind the heat for a city that's more of a struggle might actually be worth it. We talked fashion and food and it felt normal—nothing like The Devil Wears Prada, the way I feared. And I never once questioned what I was wearing.

My evolution from Pinterest princess to New Yorker is still very much a work in progress. It kills a little part of my soul to bundle up in enough layers to be mistaken for the abominable snowman when I'm used to wearing scraps of fabric in poppy prints.

My Miista boots and Doc Martens wouldn't exactly fit in down in Louisiana, and my constant hustle never did, which is one of the reasons I decided to leave.

But with so much going on in my life, there's not enough energy to plan every outfit days in advance, and I don't think I even want to anymore. Southern style will always look good in Garden & Gun and Southern Living, but there's a reason that there's only a select few preppy bloggers rolling around in NYC. In the South, there's a slower pace when it comes to everything, whether it's walking or talking. Life is easy, leaving you far more time to devote to outfit planning. Ironically, the discomfort of life in NYC—freezing hikes to crowded restaurants, cramming into jam-packed subways, working the room at parties—means I've had to leave my uncomfortable shoes behind.

No matter how many years go by, I, and most of the other southern girls who are masquerading as "damn Yankees" despite the wishes of their mothers, will probably always have a style that falls somewhere on the spectrum between preppy and punky. I loved my Lilly dresses and monogrammed bags because in the South they were decidedly a part of me, but here in New York, I'm becoming someone else entirely. My Miista boots and Doc Martens wouldn't exactly fit in down in Louisiana, and my constant hustle never did, which is one of the reasons I decided to leave.

My friends who are "fashion girls" (their words, not mine) still introduce me by saying, "Margaret LOVES Lilly," and it's the truth. But I don't care any more about fitting in perfectly. I've done that in the South already.

Now, I can pair my hot pink Vera Bradley backpack with a torn band tee without worrying that my sorority sisters will mock my less-than-Pinterest-perfect outfit. I can even have a Lilly Pulitzer cosmetics case in my Proenza bag, and no one has to know but me.

And, if all else fails, I know that I can go back to my apartment, where everything's still all Lilly.


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