I’ve made some choices.
When I was thirteen or fourteen, I went out of town for the weekend to visit a long-distance boyfriend (or as much of a boyfriend you can have at thirteen or fourteen). His name was Nate; he was queer as hell and wore big jingly Goth UFO pants, and we were very much in love. He helped me dye my mousy brown hair pink at the ends. My mother hit the fucking roof when I got home.
A month later, I dyed it semi-permanent orange. Then, I bleached it blonde. Most of high school was a cat-and-mouse game of trying to get my hair all dyed and the bathroom cleaned up before my mom got home and went ballistic. That’s the real answer for why I dye my hair so much — so nobody ever needs to question it again. I do it because it’s fun and because I’ve always done it, that’s why.
Around the same time as The Pinkening, a couple of more momentous life changes happened: I started going to hardcore shows, and I started shopping almost exclusively at the Salvation Army and the Impossible Dream, a local thrift store where everything was, like, a nickel.
By the time most of my peers were getting their learner’s permits, I was all but shaving off my eyebrows, wearing four-inch heels that hobbled me so much that I was habitually late for class, stretching my earlobes with greased-up paintbrushes, borrowing my girlfriends’ Julie Ruin and Huggy Bear cassettes and carrying a Weezer lunchbox instead of a purse. I was a dyed-in-the-wool, Grade A, farm-fresh, American-made freak. I wanted to be some sort of secondhand Jordan Baker — though I now realize I looked like Michael Alig in drag as Enid from Ghost World.
By the time I learned to sew at sixteen, it was all wide-legged sailor pants and chinoiserie blouses. I once restructured my grandmother’s rotting wedding dress into a knockoff of Marc Jacobs that very season. And I wore that shit to shows. There are photos from the summer of my freshman year of college where I’m standing on a pool table at Shooties, the worst venue of all time, in a dress I’d sewn from a Vintage Vogue pattern. My hair is poorly finger-waved and my lipstick is smeared. I barely look eighteen, and I definitely don’t look like anyone else in the photo (please remember that my hometown’s claim to fame is the 10th Mountain Division).
Despite the occasional discomfort of knowing full well that I would never fit in, I never, ever, ever grew out of dressing like a complete fruit cup. Even when my choices were terrible, they certainly weren’t boring. Once I moved away to college, I took to wearing long black hair extensions and pierced everything on my face that stuck out. I bought a red wool coat with a big fur collar that made me look like Snow White — on a campus that was far more beer pong and North Face, my Victorian granny boots were both physically and socially uncomfortable. I got a big-ass Black Flag neck tattoo and a nineteen-dollar Schott leather jacket from the flea market and eventually, maybe junior year or so, started shaving my head.
In my early twenties, I bought Ann Taylor and J Crew pantsuits from thrift stores and pegged the legs so tight that I had to peel them off inside out at night. I thought I looked like Pete Townshend. My first band saw me performing in Chicago Bulls T-shirts, no bra ever, and black Vans that smelled like pastrami by the end of a long tour. I was a boy — there was no doubt about it. On an average day I wore oversized dress shirts, no makeup, and button-fly jeans over Beatle boots. It was the first time I received compliments (other than “you’re so unique!” — which, as we all know, isn’t really a compliment, ever) for the way I looked. People liked me when I was toned down and tailored.
Then I got a boyfriend who, I thought, would like me better if I were more feminine. Over the course of our relationship I grew my hair out a bit and started to collect more dresses. When we finally broke it off in the summer of 2013, I went crazy. I got a chic (at the time) bowl cut and dyed it silver. I lost a lot of weight because I was too sad to eat. And all those dresses came out, one after the other, along with all the makeup and all the ditsy little shoes.
And that’s where I’ve stayed for the last few years (until I kind of lost it on our last tour and practically tossed my bras out the window of the van).
It was so easy to be liked if I dressed like a super-cute girly-girl to go onstage and scream until I popped blood vessels and threw up (which actually only happened to completion once, and to my credit, I’d also been roofied). However, it was not NATURAL, which is why, if you Google image search “Meredith Graves” (which I just did, and let me tell you, I don’t think anyone should ever Google image search their own name because it’s bad for your health), you see a lot of hits and a lot of misses. Here are my favorites:
[Editor’s Note: The Talkhouse does not have the rights to print all the photos that Meredith chose. We have linked out when necessary, making for a fun journey through the darkest corners of this walk-in closet that is the Internet.]
MISS: Holy shit, what the fuck am I wearing. No question. Period. That flight hat belonged to my boyfriend at the time. I think the hoodie did, too. The jacket was the first expensive piece I purchased after our band’s first tour, which I wore all of five times before I lost it in a move (along with almost everything else I owned). Nothing about this is good, least of all the bangs. I’d ask who let me out of the house in this, but I know better than anyone that whoever tries to tell me how to dress gets bitten.
(Photo credit: Captured Tracks)
NEUTRAL: This image, from Pinterest of all places, is a crop of a photo of me standing in the back courtyard of the Calyer Street Captured Tracks location in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, on the day we signed our contract. This coat belonged to the woman who owned the restaurant that employed the aforementioned ex-boyfriend. She’d worn it for years until it got beat up in the wash, and somehow (I can’t remember now) it eventually got to me. It made me feel like Ric Flair. The “miss” aspect of this is the twelve-dollar black Forever 21 tank dress I had on underneath, which was my survival garment for the first year this band was around. It was not flattering. I am not Forever 21, I am Pushing 30 and that shit looks cheap.
(Photo credit: Meredith Graves)
HIT: This sweater is actually an art piece by Lisa Anne Auerbach. It was loaned to me for Pitchfork Paris, and I’ve never been prouder to wear something in a photo shoot. It’s probably worth a hundred million dollars and will never be for sale, but I’ve never been more attached to an article of clothing, and I doubt I ever will be as long as I live. I miss it every day.
HIT: When have I ever looked like this? My face looks like someone waxed all the ugly off it — eventually all the ugly grew back, but for one night, I had shine. I let my incredibly talented friend Tiffany Leigh Patton do my makeup for this Nylon Women in Music dinner, and I’m wearing the blouse her mom wore in her high school senior portrait. The jeans are by Samantha Pleet, and along with Tiffany’s beat of my face, they prove that it truly takes a village to raise an idiot.
MISS: NO. NO NO NO. This was our first show at SXSW, and it took place during tech week. We opened for Steven Malkmus and No Age. A pretty big deal, but what did I wear? A too-small ’70s neon green bell-sleeve polyester disaster that was shredded from my body over the course of our set. I’d bought it earlier that day for fifteen bucks, and by the end of our set — which took place outdoors in a rainstorm — the sleeves were hanging from my shoulders. Flower crowns are wonderful, just not on me. I got so drunk after this show that after running out in the rain, I danced on a table soaking wet, drinking some sort of liquor straight out of the bottle.
HIT: This is from our recent Talkhouse event, where I spoke with Rose McGowan about death and sex and film and stuff. It barely counts as an outfit, because it’s just a dress with tights and shoes. I can’t wear this dress on stage, despite it being my favorite, because of the neckline, which keeps my right arm tightly bound to my side. Of course the dress looks good — it’s Simone fucking Rocha, and it’s probably worth more than most Impressionist paintings. I’m a lucky boy. Same with the hair — it was done by Emily Costello, a true wizard. I look good when I let other people make my decisions for me.
HIT/MISS/NEGATABLE: This was our second day at Pitchfork in 2014. We played a show the night before, and had a show the next day, so this was like — hooray, day off! This dress was four sizes too big for me and I hastily took it in the day before we left (hence why the bust looks lopsided in every photo). So I’m all, hey, since I don’t have to do anything today, let’s go out in the audience and watch some bands. And then Pusha T was on and someone passed me a blunt. And then I was high. Like, really high, because I probably hadn’t smoked weed in a long time. And it’s all good until I decide I need to go back to the artist area, and there’s Style.com and the fashion people from the Chicago newspaper, etc., et al, and I’m high as shit posing for pictures in front of this random wall. Sky Ferreira was walking behind the photographers and I was about ready to scream, “Turn around and photograph her! She looks like she knows what she’s doing!”
And I guess in the end that’s the whole point of this: I’ve never known what I’m doing, but it’s not like that’s going to stop me from doing stuff.
There are other things I’ve worn on stage that I’ve loved very deeply and truly: the red dress from CMJ three years ago, a photo of which was used every time our band did anything for the next year and a half, or the blue-and-white striped dress I wore in Chicago, or the red dress I wore in Paris, the blue dress, the red dress, the blue dress again, and, oh, to quote Jean Rhys, from her novella Good Morning, Midnight:
My life, which seems so simple and monotonous, is really a complicated affair of cafés where they like me and cafés where they don’t, streets that are friendly, streets that aren’t, rooms where I might be happy, rooms where I shall never be, looking-glasses I look nice in, looking-glasses I don’t, dresses that will be lucky, dresses that won’t, and so on.
It’s true, and so on, and so on.
And so it goes — this will be my last re: dress. Our time together has been cut unnaturally short! I promise it’s only for the best of reasons — I am off on another adventure — but I will miss this space. The Talkhouse was the first site to publish something I’d written, and it has allowed me to continue writing overly emotional, sometimes-boring, sometimes-confusing personal essays for almost two straight years now. I admire everyone who works on this site deeply, including my two former editors, The Michaels, and Brenna and Dave, my current co-conspirators for the show I’m throwing this Sunday as my final gesture of loyalty to a publication that has stayed so loyal to me.
That’s all. No tears, stay freaky, and if it doesn’t fit, make it fit.
All my love — no, really, I mean it.