Fashion and The Candy Apple Books

I have always been into trending fashion. I often compliment other people on their clothing and outfits, and I’m always aware of what clothing is cool in the moment and what isn’t. Where did this come from? Playing with dolls when I was little? Admiring the dresses the Disney princesses wore? Admiring what I saw in store windows? 

It came from one thing, and one thing only: The Candy Apple books.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, they were a slew of books written between the mid 2000s and the early 2010s that were made specifically for white cis heterosexual preteen girls. (They would say “A Candy Apple Book” at the top). Some of the books had their own series, but most of the books were unrelated to each other, as if Candy Apple itself was a genre. The protagonist was always a white cis heterosexual preteen girl with a cute-n-quirky name (Such as Amy, Abby, Sam, Christine, or Noelle), who goes to an American middle school and has an unbelievably loyal best friend (or multiple) and supportive parents. She has to deal with a rich mean girl and the mean girl’s posse, and she develops a crush on a boy who is named either Scott, Alex, Charlie, or Drew. There was always a happy ending, the protagonist more-or-less ended up with her crush (or with some other white guy who emerged on the scene), and the mean girl was thwarted from having her way all the time. 

As an impressionable preteen, I ate that sh*t up. The books were definitely not high quality, but they adhered to the rules of 2000s pop culture pretty closely, and I, wanting to be cool, would read them and absorb the messages. And one of the loudest messages was that your social status--whether you were worthy or not--was determined by what you wore.  

Every protagonist would describe what she was wearing on her first day of school. Every mean girl was wearing the hottest fast fashion. Every school dance featured every character’s dresses, shoes, and jewelry. And every mean girl criticized every protagonist’s outfit at some point to bring her down, or the protagonist criticized the mean girl’s clothes to defend herself, and either way, the receiver of the insult would be unable to defend themselves after their fashion was picked on. If you wanted friends, prestige, a good reputation, or even power, you had to have the right fashion, or you’d be, in a phrase nobody has used since 2013, a “total dork”. 

Rack of clothes

So I followed the Candy Apple rules. I closely observed what the “cool girls” in my grade were wearing and I tried to mirror them. I dragged my mother into Justice so she could buy me camis, leggings, tank tops, and off-the-shoulder shirts. It wasn’t until I reached middle school (junior high, in my town), and I had stopped reading Candy Apple books that I began to explore my own style. I wore a lot of blue, and I started wearing clothing that indicated my own interests--I had a really-well fitting Portal 2 t-shirt that was one of my favorites, because I felt good in it for me, and not because I was trying to impress other people. 

I really figured out what my style was once I got my own debit card, because it allowed me to freely buy clothes online. I bought a lot--most were hits, but some were definitely misses. I took so much comfort in buying clothes that it nearly (nearly, I promise) became an addiction. When things were going wrong in my life, I had control in what I bought and what I wore, and I took a lot of solace in that. I was still hung up on the notion that clothing equalled influence.

Well, does it? I can’t be the only one my age who believed--and still, subconsciously believes--that fashion is power, right? If you dress “right”, you’re in the know, you’re what society wants you to be: an image of everyone else. But if you don’t, you’re an individual. It’s another societal pressure, to dress “right”, but in the end, how much of a difference does that really make? What if someone can’t afford fashion? What if someone’s insecure like I was (and admittedly still am), but differently? What if they don’t want to show their body, let alone the clothes they wear on it? The “what if”s go on. How you dress isn’t who you are...in some cases. In others, it’s exactly who you are. It all depends on both circumstance and opinion. You’re gonna wear what you can afford and/or what you like.

Let me put it another way. I noticed someone on campus was wearing a particular brand of snow boots that I really dislike, both because I think that it’s been “out of fashion” for ages, and because the brand is particularly harmful to the environment. But I pushed aside my thoughts of disgust, because GOD, JULIET, IT’S JUST A PAIR OF BOOTS. Maybe they were a gift. Maybe they were a hand-me-down. Maybe the wearer bought them for themselves because I dunno, he liked them or something. I didn’t know because I don’t know this person at all. In the grand scheme of things, wearing that particular footwear is a far shot from the worst thing in the world. It’s just a pair of boots!!

Only it’s more than that to me. It’s always been more than that to me, because that’s what I’ve been taught to believe. Were the Candy Apple books really government propaganda for conformity and female gender roles!? I’m honestly willing to believe it. I guess my main point is that what we learn as kids can be difficult to let go of later in life, even if it’s the right thing to do. In the end, you can form your own opinions about fashion, but what others like shouldn’t affect what you like. Do what you want! Dress how you want! And don’t judge anybody for their choices! As long as nothing's offensive and nobody gets hurt. Clothing is much less about power than it is about its potential to be art and expression. I now believe that that is more important. F*** off Candy Apple. The end.