My genius team did it. Last night, they unintentionally did a “style diagnostic” on ME. In an attempt to understand my fashion style better, I pitched the idea of doing a “fashion evolution” post of the last 10 years of me wearing clothes on the internet—without a clear thesis. Once the post was prepped with all the photos, I had no real clarity. I went to bed last night (Friday) without writing the post which is a bummer to everyone. (Listen, I had a big week with a lot of shoots, so after we wrapped yesterday we had friends come up to the mountain house and well, I got distracted by 4 kids and a tequila-grapefruit in my hand/throat). So when I opened up my laptop at 6 am and saw the “opener image” (above) with “UPTOWN PRAIRIE” on it, I was like—WAIT, wtf …that’s it!!! That is my style and frankly maybe it always has been. I always knew I had some Footloose in me, being raised in rural Oregon in the ’80s, but it’s less “country” than it is, yes, prairie—which has more of Victorian, 18th-19th century bent, keep reading and you’ll see. But first, since we did all the work to find all these pics of me wearing clothes the last 10 years—let’s watch the “progression” and see how I got here, or more importantly, analyze if maybe “Uptown Prairie Emily” has been here the entire time.
Exhibit A. This is one of the first photos of me ever, on the internet (hence the spectacular quality) wearing a vintage ’80s dress that I still have and love and a Ban.do flower from their first collection. It’s very “me” but certainly a younger version of me—brighter blue, pink, gold and camel leather, with princess sleeves and menswear-inspired shoes. CHECK. Check check. None of this has changed. YOU GUYS. I THINK THIS IS STILL MY STYLE AND PROVES THE “UPTOWN PRAIRIE” STYLE POINT! But let’s keep going.
Same. Blue/gold/brown leather. There is always something feminine and delicate about it, ruffles, mostly, and I like having sleeves, and a neckline that dips with a hemline that rises. I still have that dress and honestly would STILL wear it, sans belt. OOH maybe I should do a post about that.
I love this look, while knowing it’s full “clown flight attendant.” My colors don’t really change (blue, gold, pink), something feminine—bow—and still menswear-inspired shoes. Sure, I added some pattern and a HEAVY dose of whimsy around my neck (it’s literally just ribbon for wrapping presents) and yes, that vest is actually a reversible vintage ’60s flight attendant vest. It’s so thick and polyester that it’s really, really slimming. I JUST realized that I actually have the vest and skirt still, too!
This is what I like to call my ’70s wide-leg/wooden heel phase. I’m still in it but it’s a big one for me.
More of the vest. And why not with green wide legs?
Not sure what this says about my fashion but if you ever wondered if I intentionally try to match a set, the answer is YES. ALWAYS. Sometimes, it’s subconscious but I always dress in the style and color palette of the project that we are photographing.
I used to joke that I either dressed like a flight attendant or an equestrian, with a blazer and boots (still “Uptown Prairie,” for sure).
Here, I tried to match Bri’s house that I had designed with lots of bright colors. This actually wasn’t “me” and I didn’t feel like it either. Those big pink beads made me uncomfortable even then.
Here, above, was a bit of a “basic” phase. I think I had just had Charlie and discovered the “mom blouse.” This wasn’t or isn’t me at all. I think I was literally just trying to put clothes on my body so I didn’t leave the house naked.
But I kept on with the vest, which you can see below…
The photo on the write is continuing the elements that I love—a form of blue/pink, conservative shoes and a pattern. But no ruffle or princess sleeve.
2015 is when I started doing more fashion posts with actual photography and yes, I tried harder to have more of a curated look. I also discovered that you can put a hat on your head and distract from what might have been a more mediocre outfit. I still have that red crop top by the way and love it.
The above photos are from Darling magazine where a fashion stylist put me in all these neutrals, which I loved, but no, they did not feel like “me.”
2017 is where I A. discovered Ulla Johnson and B. realized that I’m most comfortable in a boxy top and slim pant/short.
Remember that crazy top? It’s DEFINITELY Uptown Prairie. Also, this might have been “the year of the mule” and maybe where my love for chambray really came to a head.
If a chambray culotte jumpsuit (or denim modernized overalls) isn’t Uptown Prairie, I’m sorry but I can’t help you. HOW DID I NOT KNOW THIS WAS MY STYLE UNTIL NOW? (Also, remember platinum blonde Emily? I’m still recovering.)
The above two shots were from our Target Opalhouse shoot, and I’m fully in “matching set” action. My wide-leg pant obsession was back, except with a higher waist (which I kept buying and then never wanting to wear because they are suffocating).
This year, I did A LOT of fashion. You guys were really engaging with the stories on both social and the blog, so we did more professionally photographed posts where it was less “this is what I’m wearing” and more “here are some outfit ideas that have been fully thought out.” That Ulla Johnson dress above is something I pull out of my closet over and over again. Flutter sleeve, high-neck…it’s like…prairie goes to prom.
I’m not sure if the dropcrotch pant is “prairie” but I mean, it’s KIND OF cowgirl?
Here we are. 2019. I’m still mostly wearing ruffly tops and ripped jeans and now I know why: UPTOWN PRAIRIE.
Okay. That was a lot.
But I truly think I do have some clarity. Maybe it’s being up in the mountains (and Mountain Emily is certainly a thing, and a thing that we love). When looking back, I realize that where I still look like “me” is with less whimsy (but with some pattern), less “glam” (but still ruffly) but mostly it’s laid back, casual country, vintage-inspired, Victorian vibe, wearing blues/pink/black/white/plaids and leather in some form. It’s super fun to change up the look and I’m certainly not one to stick to anything, but I actually think that I’ve always been “Uptown Prairie” in some form, I just didn’t know it…
What this means is that I can purchase with a little more confidence if it falls in this vibe. I can know that I will wear the pieces and can mix and match them together. I suppose it’s the same rules as a home: find your style/styles, create a color palette and then you can shop with confidence.
So what brands do I look to for inspiration (or to purchase) in this style? Well, I have a few. Some of these I follow for inspiration and some yes, get my repeat business. Most of them are yes, high end but these designers are, in my opinion, setting the trends, designing the clothes that every other brand is knocking off. They are artists and creating special pieces (hopefully sustainably) should be expensive. While I love Madewell, I know that they are literally just copying every season of The Great, and while I buy from Free People all the time, I know that they are heavily “inspired” by Ulla Johnson. I think it’s important to buy within our means, but it’s important to appreciate the designers creating the beautiful, forward pieces. I feel like I just gave a “Devil Wears Prada” cerulean blue lecture. I also know that this conversation is a lose/lose as I’m criticized when I buy boutique clothing and also when I buy mass market. My general thesis is always this: buy smaller, local, American-made brands that will last and you’ll wear over and over if it’s in your budget. I’ve drastically reduced my fashion consumption this year and only buy/keep anything that is a “hell yes.”
Alright, lecture/apology over.
Here are the brands I’m currently LOVING and watching for inspiration.
I just realized that Ulla Johnsons is my brand. I think I discovered her in 2017 and every single piece that I’ve bought from her, I still have and wear consistently, 2-3 years later. Why? Because it’s beautifully made, with incredible patterns and colors, and I feel like a million bucks while being super comfortable. She plays a lot with volume and proportions, which can be really slimming on certain body types by enhancing areas that I personally like showing off. I also really look to her for inspiration with pattern, color and style in general—for instance I bought that red dress (and have been wearing it non-stop) but would have NEVER put it with snakeskin boots, but I love it. So if it’s in your budget or not, check her out for inspiration (and yes, Free People has more affordable versions of her vibe).
Zimmerman is a brand that I’ve never bought but I always admire and follow on social media. It’s total fantasy, and over the top in a really fun way. Sure, it’s a bit more “pirate” than “prairie” but still from the same era and the same Victorian vibe. If I had a really special occasion, I would consider shopping here. It’s impeccably designed and in person, I was so impressed with the details.
The rest of these brands are still in the vibe, but more everyday, wearable than Zimmerman.
I love everything they design, and boy does it sell out fast. I have to try things on because not everything fits or flatters me (and size down, for sure). I’m very excited that they are opening a store so that I can actually try things on before ordering. But the vibe is a HUGE thumbs up and every piece that I have, I wear consistently and even the pieces I bought three years ago I wear all the time.
Christy Dawn is in the same vein and I’ve never actually ordered her clothes because I don’t know what size I am here (they have a store in Venice, but that’s over an hour away). I’ve promoted this brand a few times because they use deadstock fabric so it’s much more sustainable. Plus, their pieces come in the most beautiful packaging. I just love their ethos, and vintage vibe, so I follow, but now I’m going to start trying some on.
I discovered Nili Lotan when I bought my first dropcrotch pant 2 years ago (which I wear 2-3 times a week), and while I don’t actually love a lot of the other pieces, I’m a HUGE fan of those pants above. Yes, they make you look bow-legged, but UPTOWN PRAIRIE EMILY actually rides bulls so it’s very appropriate. Brian hates them, I love them. Kristen Bell DM’d me that she loves them, so there’s that.
The Great is a brand I discovered 3 years ago and love very, very much. Again, everything I’ve bought from them I still have and wear consistently so I can trust that it’s timeless. If $180 sweatpants aren’t in your budget (!!) skip those and go for what I love, like the pieces above that feel more special (but yes, the casual basics are strangely good). They are made in America and designed by Emily and Merritt who are two women/best friends whose ethos I love and appreciate. They are also a brand that I look to for trends and inspiration, even if I’m not purchasing.
I just discovered Trovata’s newer brand “Birds of Paradis” and I have loved a few of the pieces (they are oversized, so go smaller). I have been wearing both of those shirts, above, over and over and over.
I haven’t purchased anything from Rachel Paley yet, but it’s certainly fitting my vibe, so I’m going to start checking it out and seeing if anything is an actual fit.
So there we are.
I’m very excited now to embrace this Uptown Prairie, Modern Mountain Emily and I feel more confident shopping knowing that I know my style. I’m going to start combing the flea market for vintage ’70s dresses and ripped Levi’s asap and I think some modern cowboy boots are in my future.
A huge thanks to my team for helping me come to this conclusion. It will likely shift and change as styles do, but I feel a strange sense of relief and pride seeing that I’m not THAT different than I was 10 years ago.
Would love any other brand recommendations that fall in this vibe, or if any of you have a style that you’ve always been (just different/updated versions) I’d love to hear it.