Fashion in the Heartland
Updated: May 22
For some people, it’s an oxymoron.
“Midwest fashion.” If you don’t live here, the
idea of a fashion hub among the cornfields, hiding underneath the shadows of cross- country coastal flights, might elicit a doubtful chuckle. Who would believe that Indiana, a state better known for producing sports stars and U.S. vice presidents, is also home to creative geniuses responsible for what you see on award show red carpets and in chart-topping music videos.
Well, I could. For nearly 10 years, I’ve chronicled it through my fashion blog, IndyDressed, making believers out of locals and out-of-staters alike. And let me tell you, in case you’ve never experienced
it, there are few things sweeter than seeing someone’s expression falter after you’ve exploded their expectations.
Of course, it didn’t start out that way. Nothing worthwhile ever does.
The year was 2013. The first photo I uploaded for IndyDressed was far from the glamor you’d expect, especially during a fashion cycle influenced by the final season of Gossip Girl: just a 25-year-old woman in jeans, casually sitting on the grass of her parents’ front yard. Those first years of blogging were a blur of awkwardly posed outdoor outfit photos – even in rain and snow – taken on a phone by my now-husband and transformed into Instagram’s sepia-toned monochromes beloved by so many of us in the early twenty-teens.
At the time, I saw those filters as a measure of belonging; now, Valencia, Mayfair, and Sierra seem little more than tools we collectively used to smother our individuality.
How quickly our tastes change in hindsight! While glossy selfies of vacation-tanned fashion
insiders draped in luxury goods still evoke envy as they’ve done for over a decade, the movement for “authenticity” – a word so overused it’s almost lost its meaning – has inspired a new wave of grassroots fashionistas who prefer thrifting to exclusivity, creativity to conformity, and transparency to a feed of ads.
The thing is, we’ve seen all of this before. The initial concept of a fashion blogger launched
in the first decade of the 2000s as a response to an industry not known for inclusivity and relatability. In addition to calling out brands for not representing the diversity of our world,
bloggers of all backgrounds documented that world as they saw and lived it. And if they happened to earn more publicity than the brands themselves? Just icing on the proverbial cake.
But now these bloggers and content creators face more immediate accountability. Similar to how Diet Prada takes fashion designers to pop culture court for their offenses, anyone with an account and an opinion can point out hypocrisies. For example: If fashion influencers supposedly exist to share a unique sense of style, why do so many wear the same haircut-to-heel look? Why do some who preach body positivity and self-love Photoshop their posts? And why are they promoting toothpaste, cold medicine, and other random items
that feel so off-brand? (Aside from the money, of course.) Blog readers and social media followers have set the transparency bar high for full-time content creators. Even as someone who blogs freely as a personal passion project, the pressure to perform on a digital stage
without any minor or major missteps can be overwhelming enough.
It’s easy to become disenchanted in this environment, constantly tracking likes and comparing ourselves to others who are more successful.
Instead of asking, “How and where do I fit in?” we should be asking, “What are my values? And what should my legacy be?”
Early on, I knew what mine wasn’t: hawking ten-dollar cropped tees on behalf of fast-fashion
conglomerates with shady business practices. Nor was it feasible to regularly photograph myself wearing more sustainably produced, high-end designer goods.
As it turns out, discovering my blog’s true calling meant first recognizing a strength I never sincerely perceived as one.
It all started with a conversation. I ran into an acquaintance of mine at the opening of a
new fashion-adjacent gallery exhibit. When introducing me to her friends, she casually
mentioned that she loved how, through my connections to local fashion designers, I was a
cheerleader for our community.
That comment stuck with me for days afterward. Why was I trying so hard to fit a
particular role in an already saturated space when I could shake things up? Indianapolis
didn’t need another cookie-cutter fashion and lifestyle blogger. It needed a fashion journalist
to amplify its voices.
So I dusted off my old magazine writing skills from college, grabbed my Nikon camera,
and turned my side hobby into my next great adventure. The interviews started coming:
student designers, leatherworks experts, fashion photographers, milliners, makeup and
hair artists, boutique owners, model coaches, and other often unsung entrepreneurs.
IndyDressed’s new purpose was to tell their stories more so than my own, and I found that the more I supported the talented people I knew, the more connected I felt to a place I’d been calling home for years.
More than 250 blog posts and 20 fashion shows later, I still haven’t exhausted the stories of the people behind Indiana’s fashion industry. Who knows what the next decade will bring? More than anything, I hope it heralds the return of a carefree woman in a pair of jeans, sitting in the grass, no filter needed.
Written by Sarah Mooreland Byrne photographed by Faith Vaughan
Sources: Olivera, Angel.
“Angel Olivera on Instagram.” Instagram, February 6, 2023. https://www.instagram.com/p/
CoTkv6at-ou/?hl=en. Windsor, Pam. “Indiana Designer Finds Success Creating Western Suits
for Lil Nas X, Post Malone & Others.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, March 5, 2020. https://
post-malone--others-credits-instagram-for-his-success/. Lewis, Greg. “Indiana - Mother of
Vice Presidents.” Indiana - Mother of Vice Presidents | Harry S. Truman. Accessed March 29,
Marwick, Alice E. “‘They’re Really Profound Women, They’re Entrepreneurs’ - Tiara.org.”
“They’re really profound women, they’re entrepreneurs”: Conceptions of Authenticity in
Fashion Blogging. Accessed March 29, 2023. https://tiara.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/
amarwick_fashionblogs_ICWSM_2013.pdf. Farley, Amy. “Diet Prada Cofounders Tony Liu and
Lindsey Schuyler Are ... - Fast Company.” How the Diet Prada cofounders became the fashion
industry’s most influential watchdogs, May 22, 2019. https://www.fastcompany.com/90345174/