6 January 2009 – Insider/Outsider

January 7th, 2010 § 14 comments

6 January 2009 – Insider/Outsider, originally uploaded by academichic.


  • Cardigan: Pretty Please, from Marshalls
  • White nursing cami: Target
  • Wooden beads: Hawaii
  • Navy shorts: Target
  • Cork slippers: Hawaii drug store

End Notes:

After flying overnight — baby e. was a champ! — I am back home in the frigid Midwest, trying to remember how to layer for stylish warmth. It was a wonderful visit with family and friends, and even though baby e. won’t remember this trip it was exciting to introduce him to the people and culture that have been formative of my identity.

For the past several years, my trips back to Hawaii have sparked mini wardrobe-identification crises. Hawaii’s culture is very laid back, and I grew up with a wardrobe (and friends and aunties with wardrobes) comprised primarily of shorts, rubber slippers, and t-shirts. When I went off to college, I took that “look” with me as a signifier of my cultural affiliation. I was the “Hawaii girl” in surf company brand shirts, jeans, slippers (aka “flip flops”), and the occasional fabric flower tucked behind my ear. Now, having lived on the mainland for nine years, my style has evolved to reflect new tastes as well as my personal and professional aspirations.

6 January 2009 – Insider/Outsider, originally uploaded by academichic.

So, when I return to Hawaii, which wardrobe makes an appearance? Do I bring along a little structured jacket that screams “mainland”! Do I dress to announce my status as a cultural insider? Does the fact that I have to ponder this mean that I’ve relinquished that status? I remember a couple of years back when I wore what I considered to be a very casual outfit of a gray tee, brown bermudas, and a turquoise bead necklace. My mom took one look at me and asked why I was so dressed up.

I haven’t completely figured out where I stand on all of this, nor do I think that the relationship of dress to culture is transparent or direct. But I was quite happy with the balance of this outfit that I wore on one of our last days in the islands: crisp pieces with a draped, light cardigan, wooden accessories, and the ubiquitous slippers. Regardless of whether I “passed” as a local girl or everyone presumed that I was a tourist, I can recognize the value of embracing a hybrid style.

Besides, what post-colonial scholar doesn’t love a third space?

6 January 2009 – Insider/Outsider, originally uploaded by academichic.


§ 14 Responses to 6 January 2009 – Insider/Outsider"

  1. Desiree says:

    I have this same problem when I go home to visit family. I live in Dallas, Texas but most of my family lives in a tiiiiiiiny town in North West Pennsylvania. People do no dress up in this tiny town, so I always feel like I need to dress down to “fit in” back home. Its something that I struggle with as well. I just go with what I feel like is casual to me.

  2. Melissa says:

    Like the previous commenter, I’m originally from a little town and going home I sometimes feel that even my blue jeans are too dressy. I’ve gone home every summer so far, so I end up bringing home all of the things I love to wear and putting most of them away in a closet for four months. I’m gradually becoming better at wearing what I want to wear instead of what everyone else is wearing, in part because I like to wear (and therefore own) skirts and dresses rather than cut-off shorts. A couple of my friends from back home say that they love going out to dinner or a movie with me because it gives them an excuse to wear their skirts/dresses and not feel overdressed since I’m wearing something similar. So there are benefits in bring back a hybrid style, even if it’s not always comfortable.

  3. Vanessa says:

    Love your outfit!

  4. catherine_sr says:

    You look as chic as ever and I totally hear you about embracing a hybrid of style. I was born and raised in northern California and got used to wearing jeans, t-shirts, army jackets, peasant skirts and blouses, colorful vintage dresses and oxblood Doc Martens. My dress style was considered a bit unusual but not totally off the cuff in Ca. I moved to NY to attend a college where everyone was encouraged to pursue their individual style. I had a lot of fun there. Then I started interning in NYC, where I also went to grad school and started working for a relatively conservative media outlet, and totally had an identity crisis. People labeled me the “hippie Californian girl” even though that’s totally not how I would describe myself. As a reaction (and thanks to my insecurity), I retreated into a world of all black separates and Ann Taylor Loft basics (not any of their fun stuff, just the v-neck sweaters and boring black trousers). Now I live in Taipei, where womens clothing is a lot more “feminine” than it is in the US — frills, sequins, rhinestones, baby doll silhouettes, headband bows, etc. all abound, all meant for grown women. It was yet another stylistic culture shock, but now I’m trying to figure out how to mix all of my fashion influences together in a way that feels true to me. Part of it is logistical — if I ever want to buy new clothes, I’ll have to embrace some of the things I find here in Taipei, but at the same time, most of my closet consists of things I bought in NYC. And part of me also just wants to enjoy the opportunity to dress up in the sartorial idiom of each place I’ve lived in since becoming an adult!
    Sorry for such a long-winded comment… I love how outfit posts on academichic always make me think!

  5. Emm says:

    Thought provoking post, and great comment, Catherine. I like the phrase “sartorial idiom” to describe how locals dress. I’ve been trying to bridge cultures, too, or create that third space, as an American living in Europe, and going from a very warm climate to a cool climate.

    Shopping locally flummoxed me at first b/c none of the stores carried items I felt were “me.” I like retro and somewhat feminine clothes and I like color, but the style where I live is modern, sleek and neutral-toned. If anyone peeks at the website stockholm street style, that’s pretty much what people in my country also wear–lots of skinny jeans, slim tunics/sweaters, cropped leather jackets, neutral colors. It’s a little edgier to me and cleaner-lined, and I’ve tried it out and like it.

    I won’t give up my old style and wear my embroidered anthropologie tops often, which really stand out here, but I’ve also incorporated more of the sleekness of the local look, and pair the tops with a fitted jacket.

    This whole experience has made me think about what influences my dress. I thought that I had a pretty established style and dressed for myself without thinking too much about what other people thought. However, after sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb in my American wardrobe, I realized I did want to fit in a bit more with the locals, so humbly admit that I’m not as iconoclastic as I thought ;-).

  6. E., I understand exactly what you mean! Having come from ‘Aiea to attend a uni on the East Coast was an interesting experience. The slippahs, board shorts, Aloha print dresses, tank tops, pukka shell or kukui nut necklace, really long Cousin Itt hair(with the foam plumeria tucked behind the ear ;oP), and shakka dude attitude from home was dramatically different from the preppy, popped collar New England. Personality-wise, I was the hug-addicted,smiley-faced chick in a sea of handshake-preferring and somewhat reserved personalities.

    The change was gradual, and like you my style has evolved to reflect da rock and mainland styles. I still prefer to wear bright pops of colour, but find myself gravitating towards a more streamlined aesthetic. Now that I’m gearing up to move to Istanbul (to teach), I wonder how that’s going to influence my sartorial choices.

  7. Sally says:

    What a fascinating discussion. I’ve lived in Chicago, upstate NY, San Francisco, and Minneapolis and never really felt like I had to shift my style to fit in. And I must say I feel a bit lucky!

  8. Poppy says:

    Interesting! Having made the move from Hong Kong to Vancouver I find that a lot of my smart casuals have had to be retired or pushed to back of the closet. Puttering around in my small town just outside Vancouver I see nearly everyone is in sweats and jeans. Even a scarf is too much, and I love scarves! Downtown Vancouver is more dressed up, but I sure miss the HK esthetic. Not that I’m complaining, there’s something to be said for a more laid back, probably less competitive attitude, but I sure miss the fun of dressing up.

  9. sabrina says:

    I found locale and context to be really important doing field research and leaving graduate school (midwest casual). I was a in London and the West Coast for field study, and now live in NYC for my job. Each location was so different from the next. I brought more smart pieces to the West Coast and did not wear them (biking, hiking and walking through rain meant performance fabrics, water proof shoes, and lots of pants). But in London, I wish I’d brought my skinny jeans, and I had to buy cropped jackets, lots of scarfs (windy), short slouchy boots and I wore mostly black. When I moved to NYC, I’ve only changed my wardrobe from “student/poor” to “professor/less poor”, but when I go back home (Chicago area), everyone gives me a bit of grief for looking so “New York” (even if many of my pieces are from H&M or from smaller boutiques in the midwest. I don’t shop that much). I also like the freedom that new places give you in terms of your dress. When you change your styles or experiment just a little, people will comment if you’ve been around for a while, and it can be discouraging. But in a huge anonymous new place, the world is your style oyster.

  10. Diana says:

    You look fantastic! I’ve lived in the same city my whole life, but a lot of elements of my style have changed. I end up seeming to “dressed up” to many of those I am around, but I just don’t like to be super casual.

  11. Athenista says:

    loooove this look. i think you captured a great balance of insider/outsider. but honestly? you just exude “insider.” your pictures always capture a little bit of an easygoing spirit. i think the beads are my favorite! make me want to bust out some similar green ones i have.

  12. Orchid Grey says:

    this is a beautiful outfit, I think you hit the perfect balance!

  13. [...] can be taken to extremes in certain social, geographical, and career circles. E wrote recently about struggling with her style identity during her visit back home to Hawaii, where the local [...]

  14. [...] and haircut as A., for example. Conversely, I sometimes dress “against” my body when I return home to Hawaii. There are many physical attributes that contribute to why I am, in many contexts, perceived as [...]

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