I like to write books about the New Girl because I usually was one. In fact, by ninth grade, I'd been new thirteen times. While some transitions were painless-to-forgettable, others stand out. In the Stand Out category was my fifth-grade, mid-year transfer from Monterey, California, to a tiny school in Wakefield, Rhode Island. From palm trees to frostbite, snorkels to ice-skates—it was a lot of change, all at once.
During this time, my mom's oldest sister was living in London, and she often sent hand-me-downs from my elegant cousin Lisa (who had a British accent and took riding lessons). Lisa's outgrown finery spoke (in a British accent) to the life I yearned for. So maybe that was why I showed up for my first day of my new fifth grade—where Tretorns and Levi's ruled the asphalt—wearing a blazer, tartan kilt, and knee socks.
An odd choice. After all, as a perpetual newbie, I thoroughly grasped the value of conformist clothing. My classmates were wary. I was immediately rejected, a lunchtime leper, aggressively unpicked for kick or dodge ball and battered with insults and spitballs. My frazzled mom dashed to Nordstrom's in an attempt to re-integrate me.
I refused the entire wardrobe. Oh, no—my blazer wasn't coming off that easy. In my opinion, my uniform hinted at a larger life. Who was this mystery girl? I imagined my fellow students whispering, even as they reloaded their slingshots. Did she know other important, kilted people? Could she fox hunt? I'd deal with the sneers. Besides, by next year, I'd likely be somewhere else.
Instead, come fall of sixth grade, I was still at that little school, but now I wore jeans and sneakers and spun a Rhodey accent on words like hawt chowklit. I'd also made lots of friends—who had kindly decided to have collective amnesia about my rocky start. And when I was new again in seventh grade, and again in ninth (twice), the navy blazer stayed firmly in retirement, never again to be resurrected.
But the other day, when my three-year-old matched her beloved purple butterfly rain boots with shorts before we went to sweat through some playground duty, I couldn't refuse the gauntlet laid down by another child who pointed to her and cried: "She's silly, wearing boots!"
"Not really," I responded, "she was just out riding her horse."
After all, mystique is mystique. Even if your audience is merely a skeptical kindergartner. Even if the people whispering about you are only a fury of voices in your own head. At the time when I'd needed it, my self-imposed U.K. uniform had been a life preserver. No matter how mortified I'd been in some moments, in others those hand-me-downs had assured me that I wasn't just New, but that I had context and intrigue. And even if, these days, you won't catch me in anything more colorful than a vintage dress, I'm always ready to celebrate a defiance of tartan kilts, black fingernails, rain boots in August, blue hair—bring it on. Been there, worn that, and would never underestimate the peculiar exuberance of a good Costume Drama.
Causes Adele Griffin Supports
Brooklyn Historical Society
Harlem Village Academies
Boys Latin School of Philadelphia