Location: Hermosa Beach, California
Sweater: Aritzia – Wilfred Free Tilberg Sweater (similar here and here) | Belt: Chanel – Vintage ( similar here and here) | Shorts: Urban Outfitters – Silence + Noise (similar here and here)
Stephen and I finally made it back to California for Christmas this year, we’re lucky to have both families in the same state so we can hit up his family in Southern California and hop a quick flight to San Francisco to see mine. Whenever I’m around my siblings I find myself reverting back to a “California accent.” Californian’s have what most consider non-regional diction, but there are certain auditory clues, inflection, speed, and regional slang, that are unique to the Golden State. One word in particular is specific to NorCal, ‘hella’. If you’re not familiar with the term, its basically a substitute for the word ‘really’; that’s a hella long line, I’m hella hungry, it’s hella cold…you get the point. Why we needed our own word is hella confusing but I digress. There’s even a new book entitled, Talk Like a Californian: A Hella Fresh Guide to Golden State Speak that tackles the California dialect. The word ‘hella’ has been described as one of the Bay Area’s greatest cultural exports, in fact it is such a frequently used regional vernacular that I was unaware it wasn’t the norm. College however, changed that. It’s really the first time you live around people your own age, all from different parts of the country, and even though we all hail from the U.S. the differences in language are quite apparent. Even without an accent, regional slang can oust where you were raised, hella being unique to Northern California, ‘pop’ to the Pacific Northwest, and ‘ya’ll’ will always dub you a southerner. The way we speak is very much a part of our personal identity and although I now think we should be proud of these individual speech quirks, I once thought it was something I should change if I wanted people to take me seriously. Starting with the word that caused the most contention, hella. This word proved to be very divisive, people found it both confusing and annoying, and they would continuously point it out or mimic me with an added “OMG, like” valley girl twang. Since my native lingo seemed to be so polarizing, I made a concerted effort to cut it from my vocabulary, but after a few days back in my home state it subconsciously and effortlessly crept back in.
Personally, I find language to be a fascinating topic, maybe I find it more interesting or notice these nuances more because I come from a biracial family (Chinese father and Italian mother). English is my father’s second language and my paternal grandparents only speak a few words of English. You realize how much language plays a part in interactions when you’re forced to communicate without it, but at the same time you realize how little importance language holds in forging a bond. You’d also be surprised how long you can carry on a conversation built entirely on the words ‘hi’ and ‘thank you’, and of course a lot of laughing from the impromptu game of charades that accompanies. A language barrier can also lead to some entertaining fashion mishaps. I remember my grandpa, an avid gardener, purchased a hat with a leaf on it simply because he liked the embroidery…it was a pot leaf with the word “stoned” stitched underneath. Needless to say, it raised some eyebrows with the neighbors and the HOA. These mistakes, however, aren’t exclusive to non-English speakers. I remember when Chinese characters were popular for both home decor and tattoos, it gave me a glimpse into the other side. My dad would frequently point out nonsensical examples in this vein, like one beach goer sporting a full back tattoo with the Chinese character for “rice,” somehow I doubt that’s what he requested. Language helps us avoid these tattoo and fashion faux pas, and can also tell us so much about a person, where they’re from and how old they are (much like ‘hella’ did for me), but what interests me most is how some things can transcend language. When we were in California, I saw a quote at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library (long story) that read:
even when people can’t speak your language, they can tell if you have love in your heart.
This quote immediately made me think of my grandpa, because in the 31 years that I’ve known him we’ve only ever been able to share a few words, but I would consider us to be quite close. I wondered why I thought that, I don’t really know anything about his personality, what we have in common, or if we even share any beliefs, yet I’ve always felt very certain that he is a genuinely good person, one who radiates kindness. For my wedding my father-in-law made a speech at our rehearsal dinner juxtaposing the similarities between my grandpa and Stephen’s as the binding thread throughout the speech. In preparation he asked my parents to send him some things about my grandpa and his life. From these background notes, the line that sticks in my memory the most was about how everyone he encounters, from bus drivers to people at the farmer’s market, all English speakers (as he lives in California), all know him and all love him, despite probably only having shared a few words. This confirms in my mind that there must be non-auditory cues that transcend language and that he must have a lot of love in his heart for so many people to see it. To me fashion is another way we can communicate without sharing a language, if you think this is a stretch I’m going to use a personal experience with my paternal grandmother to convert you. When I was young my grandma developed Alzheimer’s, it was especially confusing given the language barrier, she would sometimes act aggressively towards me and I couldn’t understand what she was saying or why she was angry. Interestingly enough, as she lost her memory of even knowing who I was, she would react positively to certain outfits or hairstyles, and would give me a smile or a thumbs up accordingly…when she didn’t like it, that’s a different story. Fashion sort of became our lingua franca and I could control how we interacted based upon the way I dressed. Prior to her illness she used to make a lot of my dad’s clothes when he was young, she even forced him to wear a 3 piece suit on his 16 hour flight to the U.S. so he would make a good impression upon arrival. Ultimately, I think fashion was her love language, and it was the one part of her personality that remained, despite having lost so many other parts to the disease. I think fashion is very much like a language that speaks silently, you can tell people a lot about yourself by the way you dress, it can make you feel good…it can make you feel bad, and in my case you can even connect with someone through clothing. Much like the way we speak, fashion is also influenced by where we grew up, by culture, and is often unique to different parts within a single country or even state. This outfit was subconsciously influenced by California, I get such a 70s Lords of Dogtown vibe from Southern California beach towns like Hermosa Beach. Being there immediately makes me want to throw off my heels and longboard down to the sand. I’m also instantaneously drawn to color again and the disgusting habit of wanting to get some color myself. This sweater embodies that same 1970’s vibe, combining a sporty stripe with a punchy color-block and a chunky turtleneck that gives me just the right amount of Winnie Cooper feels. It’s effortless, retro, and comfortable just like the West Coast. I don’t know if everyone has this issue but I swear everything on my body swells when I fly – hands, feet, legs. I always try to pack some oversized knits for this reason and it’s an added bonus that they don’t wrinkle when packed in a suitcase. A hot pant is also quintessentially 70s and this particular navy sequin pair transitions well from casual to dressy with different pairings. Proportions are something that can make or break an outfit and the fact that this sweater is a cropped length avoids the Risky Business no pants look when matched with a short short. If you read Mama Said Knock You Out you know by now that high-waisted shorts are on Stephen’s least favorite clothing items list, draping chain belts like this vintage Chanel piece help to break up the U.P.A. and the “long groin” mom jean situation that often plagues a high-waisted hot pant. This look is comprised of two brands that fit me pretty well, Wilfred Free from Aritzia and Silence + Noise from Urban Outfitters, they are both budget friendly and are a great alteration-free option for petites. The Tilberg sweater is currently sold-out in this color option but it’s available in a grey stripe and a variety of solids, ultimately it’s a classic addition to any wardrobe and it’s “hella” versatile.