I have a soft spot for Leandra Medine-Cohen, a.k.a. Man Repeller, who, as part of the first generation of fashion bloggers, shot to fame not just because of her hilarious takes on the trends of today (e.g. “Making the Case for Big Pants—I Know It Sounds Ridiculous But That’s Because It Is”), but also for her unconventional sartorial choices: clashing colors and prints, elaborately embellished footwear, and underwear as outerwear, to name a few. Man Repeller, formerly a blog, now a multiawarded multimedia endeavor that features content other than her OOTDs, isn’t, according to Leandra, “about getting dressed and saying, ‘How am I going to repel a man today?’ It’s about dressing for yourself and liking what you’re wearing.” Essentially, the Man Repeller brand is about style as a meaningful form of self-expression, and that’s what makes my heart go pitter-patter.
Growing up in Catholic school, the uniforms we wore were for blending in, not standing out. Any rebellious teenage attempts to stand out—in my case, it was dropping the knee-length skirt to maxi level by pulling the waistline down to the hips and wearing thick, knee-length white socks scrunched down like leg warmers—were quickly snuffed out in favor of the rules. Indeed, those were the days when we learned to downplay our appearance, and, unfortunately, for many it has taken a lifetime to unlearn that we have to look/dress like everyone else.
It’s quite telling how many fashion girls will tell you that while in school, they were smirked at and some even ostracized for trying to be different—for embracing septum rings and black lipstick, for favoring the shapeless and anti-fit instead of body-con, or even for something as simple as loving head-to-toe black. The need to express yourself, that yearning to be different, pushes you to be creative, to hunt for what’s cool, to try on what’s new, and until you find that one fashion friend—the one that reads the same magazines and websites, the one who likes the same designers and influencers, the one you can go shopping with—you can feel so alone. That’s why fashion girls are wont to form tribes.
In its most basic definition, a tribe is a group with similar values and interests, and fashion girls are tribal, to say the least. Not only are they looking for kinship with fellow fashion girls (who else can be fluent about the pros and cons of buying Alessandro Michele’s wildly successful embellished logo bag, the Gucci Dionysus?), they also need an audience who knows and appreciates when you turn up in Off-White, the haute streetwear label of Kanye Creative Director Virgil Abloh, whose painted-on stripes riff on adidas’ cool factor.
As much as fashion girls are able to find affinity in one another, make no mistake, there will always be (an unspoken) sort of competition amongst them: Who adapts a certain look first (translation: who will be able to wear those giant squared-off shoulders propagated by Vetements and make them look cool), who sports this season’s editorial-favorite runway shoe or bag first (translation: Balenciaga’s sequin-encrusted pink pumps with a slanted heel). This is why any new designer purchase finds its most ardent fans within the fashion tribe. One of the biggest tragedies (in the fashion world anyway) is to have a closet full of the latest designer goods and have nowhere to wear them to, no one to validate them. Can you imagine debuting upstart Milanese brand Attico’s louche velvet robe dresses to a room full of people literally wondering why you are dishabille? This is why any self-respecting, man-repelling fashion girl will dress for her tribe—single shoulderduster earring, high-waisted boots-pants (a.k.a. bants) and jewel-encrusted Crocs be damned.