This essay is part of Fashion in Isolation, a special issue on the intimate, contradictory, and ultimately inescapable relationship we have to what we wear.

A close friend once euphemistically described my relationship to fashion thusly: “It just isn’t how you express yourself.” What she meant is that I am not an especially talented dresser. She is correct.

But the peculiar (and in my case, unfortunate) thing about style is, whether you consider it a primary mode of expression or not, clothes cannot be altogether avoided. Fashion is a double bind of a medium: the attempt not to participate is in itself expressive.

Of all my attempts to participate, an A-line cotton skirt with vertical khaki-and-sage stripes is probably one of the best. I bought it in Kolkata, while visiting my partner’s family, and wear it whenever the temperature breaks sixty degrees—and then constantly. A six-inch hem is separated from the body of the skirt by a subtle, perforated seam—a kind of squarish eyelet—a detail that, to my mind, elevates an ensemble at least one step above your average summer shift. There are pockets. And a drawstring. It sits high on my waist and pairs well with low heels. I like that I can hike it over my knees to ride my mom’s old bike—to teach, to meet a friend for dinner, to go to the museum by myself.

I’m not sure this description conjures how stylish I actually feel when wearing this skirt. But if I’ve learned anything from fashion magazines or the way women’s clothes are described in books, it’s that a first impression depends as much on the how as on the what. When you read, “And there she was, in her cotton skirt with the sage green stripes,” it seems she couldn’t possibly have worn anything else.

Jessi Jezewska Stevens

Jessi Jezewska Stevens is the author of the novel The Exhibition of Persephone Q, which was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in March. She lives in New York.

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