Picture the late-nineties nerd and what first comes to mind is a gangly teenage boy in khaki flood pants playing Dungeons & Dragons. Imagine, instead, a small girl in cropped plaid flares and a matching blazer, sobbing at the optometrist’s office. That would be nine-year-old me, a skinny kid teased at school—for wearing a fuzzy mink bomber instead of a North Face, for carrying a plastic binder of Pokémon cards—miserably holding a new pair of wire-rim frames.
I thought of that little four-eyed loser last February when I saw Alessandro Michele’s Gucci debut. The Gucci of my youth, of course, was the height of the Tom Ford era—slinky white jersey and little black dresses, all cool and confident. But here, Michele seemed to say, was the 21st-century Gucci girl, an eccentric, fresh-faced weirdo who wasn’t afraid to wear backless fur-lined loafers, to personify the idea of “ugly pretty.” And oh, were there glasses: Alexandra Elizabeth Ljadov in dripping red chiffon, Laura Hagested in a Margot Tenenbaum fur, and seventeen other models walked the runway in oversize tortoiseshell frames. Finally, the nerd had arrived—at slick, sexy Gucci, of all places—and my younger self was amazed. My current self, however, was not toosurprised.
After all, the return of the nerd in fashion reflects the times we live in. When Lupita Nyong’o stepped onstage at this year’s Golden Globes in frothy Giambattista Valli Haute Couture and black acetate frames, the Internet went wild—red carpet glasses felt fresh, yet utterly of the moment. Nyong’o, by the way, is set to appear in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, easily the year’s most hyped film, and one in a long string of geek cultural touchstones gone mainstream: the rise of Marvel Studios, and now, the DC Universe with Ben Affleck as Batman; the high fantasy mania of Game of Thrones; the upcoming Ghostbusters remake, with sexy secretary Chris Hemsworth in thick black lenses. The nerd has infiltrated our lives, from pop culture to work culture—the second coming of Silicon Valley with Mark Zuckerberg, et al.—and now, fashion, too.
It must be said that fashion’s nerd is not modern (no programmer hoodies here), but rather a more nostalgic creature—the nerd of our childhood, now appreciated through older, wiser eyes. As a kid, I dressed rather oddly (in hindsight, adorably)—my mink bomber and a powder blue duster coat for winter, coordinated plaid suits and velvet vests year-round—but thanks to my peers, I learned to conform. When I was eight, a classmate laughed at my high-waters—soft gray jersey flares, cropped at the ankle—while we stood in line to head out to recess. My face burned, though I didn’t even know what high-waters were, and for years after, I wore only extra-long jeans that pooled around my ankles. To see a line of jewel-toned high-water suits in double-faced jersey at Prada Fall 2015 felt oddly gratifying, as did the sight of the bookish girls at Sonia Rykiel’s librairie show, one of whom was wearing a cropped black suit like my nine-year-old self—there was the blasé look I should have sported back then, one that simply read, “What do you care what I wear?”
Today, children are told to embrace their inner weirdness, to be quirky and stand out, like a Wes Anderson heroine in sixties kneesocks and saddle shoes. Of course, that advice comes from dorky adults like me who wish they could go back and do the same. One of the best things about fashion is that it lets us recapture the past, in some small way, to dress as the bold, confident kids we should have been, to dig out our flood pants and Sailor Moon jackets and play around, flipping the nineties geek stereotype entirely on its head.
When New York Fashion Week kicks off next month, the fashion nerds will be out in full force—I’ll be the one in boxy high-waters with boots à la Prada, in cropped black velvet suits from Sonia Rykiel, and in oversize faux fur and my tortoiseshell glasses, per Alessandro Michele. Whether it looks good for the crowds doesn’t matter—today’s nerd style is about dressing for yourself. Personally, I’ve never been more excited for fall.
This article was first published on Vogue.