Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
I used to watch Sex and the City when I was far too young and identified as a Carrie. (I’ll let that sink in for a second and allow you to judge me.) As a young teen, I saw her as complex, smart, funny, and although fragile at times, a perfect representation of how someone should be in a relationship. When she gave her “I’m looking for real love” spiel in the series finale, I identified. I was a Carrie.
And as I watched it throughout the years, one part in particular always stayed with me.
When she first started dating Mr. Big, Carrie mentioned to her jaded bestie Miranda (who I now identify as, and honestly, who doesn’t?) that she was unlike herself when she was with him, and I knew exactly what she was talking about:
“I don't know. It's something about him. You should see me around him. I'm not like me. I'm, like, ‘together Carrie.’ I wear little outfits — ‘sexy Carrie,’ and ‘casual Carrie.’ Sometimes I catch myself actually posing. It's exhausting.”
Looking back at all of my past relationships, I realized that I’ve never had a “type.” The only consistent thing is that I was always changing myself to fit into the type of woman I thought they’d be interested in. And slowly, I realized I had to fit the part, and it became less about only faking the particular interest and more about actually changing how I dressed.
And it’s not just Carrie Bradshaw and I that have gone through this change-yourself-for-your-romantic-interest thing. It’s so common in pop culture, it’s practically cliche. In She’s All That, Laney went from the “dorky” girl in glasses to the “hot” girl in a red dress. She plucked her eyebrows, damnit! Do I even need to go into Renee Zellweger’s makeover in Bridget Jones’ Diary for her douchey boss Hugh Grant? Or what about in Friends, when Ross accidentally buys a sweater from the women’s department before a date? And one more: In Maid in Manhattan, Jennifer Lopez practically steals one of the hotel’s wealthy guest’s entire wardrobe for the “sophisticated” politician with an accent. The list goes on and on.
There’s a reason it’s such a popular storyline in Hollywood — because it’s so pervasive IRL, too. There’s so many voices out there telling you that you shouldn’t change who you are for someone else, and in so many respects, that’s true. But there actually is a silver lining in changing yourself up a bit for a crush: exploration and discovery. In my case, at least, all the different personas I tried actually led to some positives. Here, a look back at every time I took on a wardrobe change for a love interest. (Warning: you’ll feel major secondhand embarrassment for me).
The Preppy, Abercrombie Fierce-Wearing Boy
An all-American boy that played baseball and a girl from the Philippines got together. I had moved to the US in 2001, and I spent the entirety of my elementary and middle school years trying to fit in. And when I had the American boyfriend, I had to have the American wardrobe. I stocked up on Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, and American Eagle.
The “Emo” Incubus-Listening Boy
When I was a very naive freshman, I had a crush on a junior who wore skinny jeans and a studded belt. He listened to Incubus and Bayside, and I took it upon myself to listen, too. I ditched my Burberry scarf that I wore in rotation with my three sisters for checkered Vans, skinny jeans, and the slouchy beanie that practically overtook 2007. I think I tried smoking a cigarette once, too, you know — to complete the look.
The Surfer Dude
This boy was my camp crush and came all the way from Hawaii. He had long, golden blonde hair and teeth so straight and white they were almost blinding, and he did things like throw his hands up in the shaka sign. He wore board shorts and skate shoes. I had only a week with him at camp, but best believe, I pulled out my Roxy T-shirts, stole someone’s bandana to put on, and after we went back home and he added me on Myspace, I changed all my photos to feature my new look.
The Film Buff
During a work shift in college, a friend who was working with me had a visitor that I happened to click with. I thought it was fate that when I opened to his recently played folder on his iPod; his last played song had been the same song that I last listened to on my iPod. Pure fate, right? He told me he liked flannels once. And guess what I started wearing after that? Yep — you guessed it. He told me he liked it when girls didn’t wear makeup (collective eye-roll here), so I prided myself on not wearing any.
The Graphic Designer
After a particularly devastating breakup with aforementioned film buff (who was also emotionally unavailable, unsurprisingly), I downloaded Tinder. It was only a few months old, and a few friends of mine convinced me to try it out. And when I moved to New York after graduating, I met the graphic designer guy.
Suddenly, I found myself taking interest in museums. I wore shirts and sweaters with large text that didn’t make much sense. I ditched my puffer coat that kept me warm for a leather jacket in 20-degree weather. I wanted to be cool, carefree, and with just the right aesthetic.
At first, I tried to play it chill. Yeah, I watch basketball. Beer? Drink it!
And then, during a very hot summer night, I realized it didn’t matter. I was sweaty and he came from a full day of working on his feet on set of a movie, and he smelled like shit, too. I looked at him and thought, “I can actually be myself.”
Looking back on how much I changed myself — especially how I dressed — I feel extremely embarrassed. And small. Did I really think that how I dressed would change how someone felt about me? Sure, I could fake it, but when it got past first appearances, would they like me for me?
But changing up my interests and my style opened me up to trying new things: watching new films, trying new restaurants, listening to new genres of music, and as a result, finding inspiration for my personal style I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed had I stayed in one lane.
Sure, these looks were caricatures of the type of person I wanted to be, but (almost) all of these personalities and looks made up my interests and personal style as a whole today. Maybe I don’t wear checkered Vans with a black sweatshirt and graphic tee at the same time, topped off with a pound of eyeliner, anymore. But there are elements of all of those different looks bundled up together in how I dress.
I’m no longer the Girl Who Changes Herself For Dates™, but I’m not going to knock people that do. Of course be yourself, but don’t punish yourself for trying different things. Sometimes you find yourself, and sometimes you just buy embarrassing clothes you’ll cringe at later.