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Shortly before I graduated college, Alexa Chung became the object of my sartorial affections, and I promptly purged my entire wardrobe of everything except Breton striped shirts, cutoffs, Chelsea boots, and army jackets (mind you, this was before Chung became the designer darling she is today). And for the last five years — as any one of my friends, family, and coworkers could tell you — Taylor Swift has been my style muse for all seasons.
Now, it’d be misleading for me to call myself an O.G. Swiftie; the singer’s first few albums, being country to the core, weren’t really my thing. It wasn’t until the release of her decidedly more pop-influenced third album Speak Now in 2010 that I started listening to — and loving — her music. But by the time Red rolled around in 2012, I was hooked —not just on Swift’s sound and songwriting skills, but also on her unabashedly feminine style.
Swift in October 2012, wearing the most perfect plaid midi skirt. Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage
Red dropped at a time when street style had reached critical mass; fashion week had devolved into a crazy, colorful print-mixing circus, and stacked-high "arm parties" adorned every tastemaker’s wrists. But as a fashion classicist who’s always preferred fit-and-flare skirts, simple sweaters, and minimal jewelry to the dizzying patterns and statement necklaces my editor peers favored at the time, Swift’s self-proclaimed "‘50s housewife" aesthetic spoke to me, and began to influence how I shopped and dressed, too; subtly at first, then more and more strongly. I scoured the market for versions of her nipped-waist vintage dresses, pinup-style shorts, and glittery pumps. I started following Taylor Swift Style, a frequently updated fan-run site that documents each and every item the singer wears in public, and subscribed to a handful of Swift fan accounts across various social media platforms in order to keep tabs on her outfits. Simply put, I had found my sartorial kindred spirit, and I’d never felt more inspired.
In 2014, Swift moved to New York City in advance of the release of her fifth album (and first pure pop effort), 1989. And along with her new address came subtle but significant changes in her personal style. She chopped her hair into a sophisticated lob, and adopted the matching crop-top-and-skirt set as her new uniform. She never left her apartment without a slick of red lipstick, even if she was headed to (or from) the gym. But while her evolved aesthetic might’ve been sexier and sleeker, it made perfect sense both in the context of 1989’s sound and in Swift’s personal brand as a whole. Her heels might’ve been higher and her hemlines shorter, sure, but her outfits were as pretty and polished as they’d always been. And while her wardrobe budget obviously dwarfed mine, the fact that most of her off-duty outfits were comprised of affordable finds from brands like Topshop and Aritzia meant I could mirror her style without going broke. As such, it wasn’t long before I’d amassed a hefty collection of matching sets and top-handle bags to call my own.
The singer in July 2014, sporting a matching set I may or may not also own. Photo: Fame Flynet
Then, Vogue happened. More specifically, Swift’s third cover, for the magazine’s May 2016 issue. In the weeks leading up her shoot, I’d noticed the singer stepping out in a few edgier-than-usual outfits, most of them involving a particular pair of towering Vetements boots, but I didn’t think too much of it. And when the issue hit newsstands, I kind of liked it! It was undeniably chic, and completely different from any Swift-centric editorial I’d seen before. And considering the star’s role as co-chair of that month’s Met Gala, the avant-garde, high-fashion vibe made sense. But unexpectedly — and to the apparent delight of Anna Wintour — the new look stuck. Asked to explain the styling of Swift’s shoot for the Vogue podcast, the publication’s editor-in-chief said, "We thought we could take Taylor — who is a beautiful girl but has been a little bit more conservative in her fashion choices — and turn her into a Hedi Slimane rock n’ roll girl. She was completely up for it and loved it, and is going to hopefully continue with this look."
And continue she did. First, she bleached her hair to match the platinum blonde wig she wore on Vogue’s cover. Next, she essentially overhauled her entire wardrobe, trading her crop tops, floral tea dresses, and ladylike handbags with Saint Laurent sneakers, ‘90s-inspired chokers, and grungy plaids. She swapped her signature red lipstick for a darker, deeper shade. Strangest of all, she started sporting ripped denim. As someone who never, ever wears jeans (like, ever), I’d always identified with Swift’s similarly anti-pants stance. Now, with my style muse suddenly switching from pretty to punk, I felt, oddly and embarrassingly enough, lost.
Swift showing off her new look at the BMI Pop Awards earlier this month. Photo: Mark Davis/Getty Images
It’s a weird thing, having the person you constantly look to for outfit ideas completely change her look overnight. I’d imagine it’s similar to how longtime J.Crew or Banana Republic shoppers feel when those brands hire new creative directors, the entire look and feel of the merchandise changes, and they suddenly can’t find anything they like at their once-favorite store. It’s disappointing, but more than that, it makes you question your own sense of style.
To be sure, I don’t begrudge anyone — massively famous or otherwise — the right to play around with her look. Life’s too short to stay in one fashion lane, right? Plus, it's not like Swift's lost many fans (myself included) each time she's shifted her image.
The thing is, I’m just not sure I’m ready for a goth-glam Taylor Swift. And while there’s a chance that her rocker-chick makeover might be a single-season experiment strategically designed to align with her Met Gala hosting gig, history suggests this isn’t the case. Any significant change to the singer’s appearance — whether beauty- or fashion-related — has traditionally heralded the beginning of a new "era" for both her style and her sound, and so there's a strong chance this look is here to stay. At least, until the release of her next album (which, judging by her current ensembles, will probably be packed with angsty rock tracks).
Then again, I suppose it’s never too late for me to give jeans another try — and if there's anyone who could convince me to give my dresses a rest and dabble with denim, it's Swift.