In yesterday’s post I talked a bit (OK, a LOT) about how, before I started blogging, it didn’t really occur to me to take photos of my outfits – a fact I’m sure had many of you crying yourselves to sleep last night, don’t lie. 

That fascinating observation got me thinking about the photos I DO have of my style Before Blogging – or ‘BB’, as I like to call it (Actually, I think I might start referring to ALL events in my life as either ‘BB’ (Before Blogging) or ‘AB’ (After Blogging). Can we make that a thing?), and how fun it might be to dig some of then out, and take a look at how my style has evolved over the years – or how it HASN’T evolved over the years, as the case may be. Well, everyone loves a good embarrassing photo op, don’t they?

I actually attempted to do something a bit like this a few years ago, in response to a reader question, but I couldn’t find many photos, so I ended up mostly focusing – slightly bizarrely, now I come to think of it – on how my parents used to dress me when I was a child. This post, then, picks up just a few years after I started being trusted to dress myself – so, around about 30, then.  Or, OK, seventeen…

me at seventeen

On holiday in Lanzarote at 17

Yeah, so I’m already starting to regret this, to be honest ( I mean, look at the waist on those jeans! And the way I’ve ironed – or got my mum to iron, more likely – a perfect crease down the front! And I thought my jeans game was pretty bad NOW!), but just as a Lannister always pays his debts, an Amber always posts the most embarrassing photos possible, so let the record show that when I was 17 years old, I used to wear Simon Cowell jeans, with a pair of clumpy black clogs. I wish I could say this was as bad as these outfits are going to get, but this is actually one of the better photos, so… yeah.

This was taken on holiday in Lanzarote. I’d expected the usual family holiday, but as it turned out, the family in the apartment next door to us had a daughter around my age, and – much to my surprise – she and I immediately became fast friends. Allison was a year younger than me, but she had blonde hair, a golden tan (which was amazing, really, because she was from Glasgow…), and was one of those girls who’s just way more sophisticated than her years – and way, WAY more sophisticated than I was at that age. Or now, actually. (Yeah, I know she’s holding a lolly in this photo, but she also SMOKED, which kind of blew my sheltered little mind…) For the duration of the holiday, Allison and I went clubbing every night (I say “clubbing” – our parents made us come home long before the clubs got going, but we did our best), and I’d mostly stand around on my own, while men chatted up Allison and completely ignored me. Honestly, if she hadn’t been so nice, I’d probably have hated her, for real.

By the last day of the holiday, I’d decided that I was obviously going to have to raise my style game if I wanted to get a look in, so yeah, that’s a swimsuit I’m wearing with my high-waist jeans. THAT must have made bathroom trips a TON of fun, huh? Everyone still ignored me, obviously, but I felt AWESOME in my swimsuit-based ensemble, so that was the main thing, really…

That photo, actually, is a pretty good illustration of the fact that, for most of my teens/early 20s, I had precisely NO idea how I wanted to dress, or what would suit me, so I just wore whatever my friends were wearing, so I could be JUST LIKE THEM, in the hope that no one would realise I was secretly JUST LIKE ME. When I started university, for instance, I packed even more of those high-waisted jeans, along with baggy sweaters and Doc Marten boots -not because I liked any of those things, but because I thought that was how students would dress, and HEAVEN forbid I wear the “wrong” thing!

Actually, back then students DID wear baggy sweaters and Doc Martens. On my first night away from home, however, I met Stephanie, who was to become my best friend. Stephanie DIDN’T dress like a student. No, Stephanie dressed more like this:

first year of universityFirst year of university

Yes, even to lectures! OK, maybe not to lectures, but Steph was (and is) a glamorous kind of gal, and because I had absolutely no identity of my own, I did my level best to emulate her. This photo was taken in my room at university, sometime during first year: I remember I was going to a ball of some kind, but I’ve long since forgotten what it was in honour of – a fact which worried me immensely until I realised I’ve probably written a breath-by-breath account of it in my diary for that year. Phew! THANK GOD for that, huh? I also remember making a huge fuss over buying a dress for whatever event this was: I searched for weeks, and couldn’t find anything that came up to my exacting standards, so I ended up panic-buying this long, glittery number, which I think came from the Bay Trading Company – now there’s a blast from the past!

Also a blast from the past in this photo:

  • KOOKAI shoulder bag
  • Oasis poster
  • Illuminated makeup mirror
  • 90s-tastic black choker
  • TED
  • Eyebrows tweezed into oblivion. (I seriously wish I could go back in time and slap myself for doing that. YOU WILL PAY THE PRICE, YOUNG LADY! And the price will be at least £40 for a product that claims to make your eyebrows grow back again, but which probably won’t…)
  • TIGHTS. WITH SANDALS. OMG!

Again, though, this outfit was a relative high point. Here’s what I wore to my 21st birthday, for instance:

21st birthday

(Sorry about the crappy quality of these photos, by the way: they were low-quality to start with, and then I had to take photos-of-photos, in low light, so…)

My 21st birthday party

Er, there were more than two of us there, I promise. This was taken during the “getting ready” phase of the evening, and judging by the “Croydon Facelift” bun I’m sporting here, I’m guessing I’d already had some kind of hair-related disaster, and was doing my best to distract people from it by basically just wearing a very long, very tight top. I’m mostly just posting this photo here so that the next time someone pins one of my photos to a “Modest Fashion” board, I can direct them to it. (In my defence, I at least decided to abide by the “legs OR boobs” rule here, and threw a shirt over my dress at the last minute. Because that makes it MUCH better, doesn’t it?)

(Would you believe me if I told you everyone had eyebrows like that back then? They did, I swear it. Mine were the hands-down the worst, though: I was basically the Cara Delevigne of my time, eyebrow-wise…)

During this whole phase of my life, I’d basically adopted a “the shorter, the better” philosophy to my outfits, and I refused to wear anything that was longer than crotch-length, even to my part-time job in a call centre. My “pelmet skirts” were legendary in that place. This is honestly really weird to me now because, as you know, these days I’m all about the midi, and I really hate my legs, so wearing something this short and tight now would make me feel like I was trapped in one of those nightmares where you realise you’re walking around in public, completely naked or something. GOD. One of the things I will say about my younger self, though, is that although I worried obsessively about my clothes, and my face, and my eyebrows, I actually didn’t have many body-related insecurities – to be honest, I didn’t really think about my shape at all, or consider what would flatter it. My legs may not be my best asset, but if I wanted them on show, on show they would be: there’s a little part of me that wishes I was still that confident, even although it apparently meant walking around with no skirt AND no eyebrows…

When I left university, I started work at the local newspaper, but I kept my weekend job at the call centre, too, so I was working a 7-day week, with hardly any days off. During that time, I gradually phased out all of the Simon Cowell jeans and bodycon dresses: I didn’t really have much use for them given that I was stuck in an office all the time, so on my rare days off, I’d suddenly realise that I had literally – LITERALLY – nothing to wear. Witness:

Crete, 2003

Crete, 2003

On the plus side, I have eyebrows again, and I actually really like those shoes: progress! On the minus side, however, that’s a workwear pencil skirt I’m wearing  – i.e. it was designed to be worn as part of a suit. It might look inoffensive enough here, but up-close it was really obviously workwear, and looked a bit out of place on holiday in Greece.

FFS, AmberMeanwhile, here I am on a rare day off, when Terry and I took a day-trip to the seaside, and I wore a pair of my work trousers (again, designed to be worn as office-wear), with a knitted hoodie, denim jacket and, I know you can’t see them in the photo, but I’m pretty sure that on my feet I was wearing a pair of athletic sneakers, which I bought for the gym, and which were literally the only non-office, non-evening shoes in my entire collection. This is why I always laugh when people are all, “Oh, I hate it when fashion bloggers quit their jobs to blog full-time! Their outfits would be so much more interesting if they actually had to dress for work every day!” Needless to say, my office attire wasn’t even remotely interesting (I always worked in offices with fairly strict dress codes, so there wasn’t much room for creativity, and even if there had been, I was so exhausted from working round the clock that I actually welcomed the dress code…), and my out-of-office attire was… well, it was THIS, basically. And THIS was… not good. Which brings me to…

Vegas, 2003

These photos are really tiny, and I can’t find the originals (thank God), but here I am in Vegas, wearing (on the left) tailored trousers which I bought as part of a suit, and regularly wore to work, teamed with a truly hideous denim blazer, and (on the right), my one and only pair of jeans, worn with a pair of hot pink stilettos (shoes were always my weakness), and I do believe that’s a hair clip pinned to the waistband, in a bizarre effort to be “creative”:

the noughties were a bad time for fashion

You can tell it was the noughties when there’s a pair of bootcut jeans and a bare midriff in the photo, can’t you? Thanks, Jennifer Aniston!

This was the trip Terry and I got engaged during, and I’m actually quite glad the only photos we have from it were – incomprehensibly – taken from a very great distance, for some reason, because I was a hot mess, seriously. I knew this to be true, but even although I was working all the time, we’d just bought a house (and, well, a trip to Vegas), and what little money I had left over had to go on work clothes, so this situation would probably have gone on indefinitely, had Terry not gotten ill. After that, I quit my job, sold half of my wardrobe on eBay, and bought this dress for about £5 from the same source:

Athens, 2004

green dress

OK, so this photo is even worse than the others, so sorry about that. It was taken on my brother-in-law’s balcony in Athens, using the self-timer on my camera – so, an early attempt at fashion blogging I guess – and I took it because this was actually the first dress I’d bought in YEARS. Up until then, I’d basically just lived in suits for work, and those awful bootcut jeans on the weekend, and it had reached the stage where even my mum had started to drop hints that I might want to, you know, wear something ELSE, just for a change? So I bought this dress, purely because it was green, and it was cheap, and I only ever wore it this once, because when I looked back at my blurry selfie, I realised it looked a bit like maternity wear. But still: this dress was the start of a renewed interest in fashion – or in clothes, rather – and after this, I slowly started to expand my wardrobe a little. And then I just went KERRAZZEE and bought All The Things.

Here’s me and Terry at his brother’s wedding, also in Athens, in 2005:

green dress

I don’t have a full-length photo of this dress, unfortunately, but it was an F&F copy of a Chloe number, and it was one of those dresses that gets featured in a few fashion columns, and then instantly sells out, before popping up on eBay for 5x its price. I called every branch of Tesco within a 40-mile radius of my house before finally tracking one down. I think it cost me around £40, which seemed like a LOT to me at the time, because I was just SO BROKE (We’d just started our business, and Terry was still on dialysis at the time, so things were pretty rough…), but it was worth it, because it was the first thing I’d owned in years that I actually felt good in, and was excited to wear. It was also (along with the green dress in the photo above it) one of the first things I’d bought purely because I loved it, rather than because I needed it for work, or because I was blatantly copying someone else – so I guess this is the point where my “style evolution” REALLY began.

But that, my friends, is another story, for another time…

17 Comments
  1. I wish I had any photos from the late nineties/early noughties – I bet they were hilarious! It is ‘boon and bane’ we had no camera phones back then! 🙂 You, however, look cute in all of yours and the style – or the lack of it – doesn’t really matter. I mean, who could possibly pull of those jeans? No one. Not even Jennifer Aniston (OK, maybe she could).

  2. Love this and it also brings back the many, many memories of aiming to have the thinnest eyebrows possible teamed with the shortest skirt possible (I have been know to check how far I could lean over (not bend, just lean) in a dress before I flashed my arse at the world and it’s mother.

    Also Bay Trading Company – all the glitter and scratchy fabrics you could ever want!!

  3. Amber these are great, I’ve always figured we were roughly the same age. Goes to show you’ve always been a fan of gingham for a start. I too had that Oasis poster on my wall and occassionally shopped in Kookai when I went up to “town” on the train (London, ha! A 40 minute train ride but we went often to browse Kookai and Morgan – whatever happened to Morgan?!) and loved a bootcut jean with high, pointy, brightly coloured heels! Oh and not forgetting a bit of midriff on show 😉

    1. I actually see Morgan stuff on Spartoo sometimes, so I think they’re still around, just not with stores! I used to LOVE them – I think that’s where the green dress came from, now I come to think of it!

  4. Love seeing photos like these! Your style has changed so drastically. I was thinking about doing a similar post for my blog if I ever find the time to look for photos <3

    Gisforgingers xx

  5. I love this post! It is so many blasts from the past for me: Kookai, boot cut jeans, Bay Trading Co, the posters on the wall in your halls. I like that you can be honest that you had an actual style evolution and worked to figure out what suits you and what you like. Makes me feel better about my own journey to figuring it all out.

  6. I occasionally find a top from Bay in my pile I should have donated by now – ah Bay, how we miss your atrocious quality awful clingy clothes. Not. I basically banned photos of myself for my entire teens and the only one I remember that exists I’m dressed as a character from Final Fantasy (yes, the video game) because my friends and I thought it would be cool to just randomly dress up and go to the park one day. And now we know how cool I was back I think we can agree not having pics of my teens is not a bad thing. You’re brave for sharing yours but honestly I think you did pretty well. This was not a good age for fashion, it could be sooooo much worse 😉

  7. Loved this post so much! I feel still like I haven’t found my style or have figured out what looks good on me, so it’s nice to see your own journey! The way you dress now seems so effortless and intentional.

  8. LOVE this post! I completely forgot Bay Trading existing, yet HOW??? I think my entire university wardrobe came from there! Also loving the hot pink pointy shoes, though hot pink was my sisters colour of choice while mine was turquoise. Cringe moment – we used to wear them out together like twins, with coordinating vest, belt, bag, earrings, bangles, eyeliner etc etc. We were COOL!!

  9. Thank you for this post, I really enjoyed these “real life” pictures (I mean this on the best way possible as opposed to the more polished picture that appear on your blog)… and you look lovely in all of these, even with the styles you no longer like…

  10. Yes, I shopped at Bay Trading too when I was at uni! I loved this post, it made me chuckle – not the photos themselves as you look very adorable in all of them, regardless of what you’re wearing, but your retrospective commentary is hilarious! I have been toying with doing one of these posts for a long time, but I am not sure I could pull it off as well as you. I was an NHS glasses wearer, which instantly makes everything look worse. xx

  11. I really enjoyed this post! Your style has changed so much and its really nice to see, I have spent far too long lurking around in leggings and tshirts and wasn’t to dress a bit nicer

    Charlotte | http://www.shoestringchic.co.uk

  12. So glad I have so few photos of me when I was a teenager/uni student. I looked like such a mess I don’t even want to think about it. Truly embarrassing

  13. Okay, that post had me scurrying to my old photo albums…
    Here are 2 pictures that illustrate my total lack of style (even more so than now) in the early-to-mid 1990s:
    *please excuse the bad quality, I had to scan them from paper pictures…*
    http://i201.photobucket.com/albums/aa184/JainaCSolo/Fotos%20von%20mir/Einsingen_zpsofxzsusr.jpg
    This was at a choir trip in autumn 1991 where we did some physical exercises before the actual choir practice. I was 17.
    This shows my tendency to wear everything (except shoes) at least 2 sizes too big. And although the jeans fit well in the waist, they are way too baggy. Oh yeah, and sandals with socks… thank god they were at least black and not patterned. 😛
    http://i201.photobucket.com/albums/aa184/JainaCSolo/Fotos%20von%20mir/21stBDay_zps8raqymlt.jpg
    This was taken on my 21st birthday 1995. Let’s just assume that I wore jeans very similar to the ones above here. The shirt/blouse isn’t much better, either.
    And I wish I had known what to do with my hair… (Out of desperation I got a perm about 3 months later, which turned my hair to pure straw, so I had to cut it off in the end. It never got back to full strength and beauty after that.)

    So you’re not alone. Those were dark, dark times back then. 🙂

  14. Love this post! It’s so neat to see your style evolution. I’ve gone through some doosies myself. I’m curious to have a look back at the photographic evidence of mine now. And, I probably currently have way more outfits than I should from the very early 2000s.

  15. Amber,
    I LOVED all the pictures of you, you looked absolutely adorable in each one. I went through that too, wanting to wear what was “in style” and what everyone else was wearing. I think I only developed my own style in my late 30’s, which is kind of sad. Now, in my forties, I don’t care what everyone else is wearing, I wear what looks good on me. Oh the wisdom that comes with age:)

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