I came to New York City at 23, set on immersing myself in the world of fashion. I had recently been fired from what I thought would be my forever career path: working in the country music industry. Confronted with my first existential crisis, I started worrying about what else I would do with my life. I thought about how, growing up in a place where nothing was going on but woods and roads, one of my main sources of joy was what clothes I was gonna wear. Shopping for back-to-school outfits or a pair of sneakers was the highlight of my year. I took pride in my graphic tees, I customized my sweatsuits with scissors and sharpies, and when Eastbay catalogs came in the mail, I would devour them on my walk up the gravel road back to the house. As a kid, fashion felt like I was reaching out to a larger world that I didn’t have access to in my hometown. Now, as an adult, I knew it needed to be my next path.
Yet the only fashion work experience I’d ever had was at a men's clothing consignment store, where for $8.50 an hour, I developed a keen eye for spotting pit and grease stains and learned I could smell a smoker’s clothes from a mile away. A friend of a friend helped me nab a TriBeCa internship with an elegant, out-of-touch Israeli woman who I could instantly tell didn’t know the finer points of a Golden Corral. Though her brand was rising out of bankruptcy, she still insisted on having a fresh, florist-designed floral arrangement in the shop every week. I often wondered if I came off as a hick to her; I’m certain she knew I was straight, given how poorly I dressed at the time.
For the first few months of my unpaid internship, I was tasked with being a one man messenger service. “Go to GiGi’s to pick up the pleated skirt panels, then to 37th Street to get all the buttonholes done on the military jackets, after that swing by Sil to pick up our order from Nancy and then make your way back here.” My feet and inner thighs swelled from logging miles and miles on foot each day.
Eventually, I stopped running around Midtown and began working in the office.
I started to pick up on more of the lingo in fashion: silhouettes, crepe de chine, aesthetic, silk georgette. I learned that the fashion world is hungry, requiring constant feeding. Not too long ago there were only two fashion seasons: Spring and Fall. Poplin boyfriend shirts and linen sweaters for warm weather, moleskin pants and herringbone pea coats for the cold. But now, there were four seasons with the addition of Pre-Fall and Resort.
The Resort season, I learned, is all about elegant, flowy species that you could wear to St. Tropez in the dead of February while all of the schmucks back home had to tough it out in the dirty snow. There were strappy brown sandals, linen-cotton blend day-glo maxi dresses, floppy sun hats, black chunky Chloe glasses, all for a low total of a few thousand dollars. Resortwear is intended for the select few who have the means to escape what the rest of us must endure—and to do so with a regularity that most of us reserve for our annual physical.
Yet despite the luxury of it all, nearly half of our customers never paid their bill on time, and required constant followups to only usually yield a portion of their balance due.Their delay would make it hard for us to pay our bills to factories, but it didn’t matter: people needed to escape to enviable destinations, and we provided their clothing.
Several years later, I left the job to start my own clothing line and eventually found my way back home to North Carolina. I felt at peace being back home, no longer surrounded by the city noise and suffocating density of the population. But surprisingly, one thing from my NYC days remained: resortwear.
All over the Carolina coast, there were signs hanging against a hodgepodge of cheery accent colors advertising the term, yet the clothing couldn’t be more different than what I’d sold in New York. Instead of $500 sweaters for St. Barts, it was 2 for $20 tank tops at Carolina Beach, one-pieces with cutesy phrases like “VITAMIN SEA,” and "BEACH, PLEASE," confederate flag tank tops, and dolphin snow globes. It was still a chance to escape from the everyday, but with a different shopping list, and with a much different grand total.