Is Outfit Copying a Criminal Offense?

Two editors go head-to-head.

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On the Fine Art of Faking It 'Til You Make It

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Stefan Marolachakis, senior editor, @stefanmymind

I can say without a doubt that MTV changed my life. I remember the moment it happened. I was lying down on the couch early one Saturday morning, watching music videos (yeah, they used to play a lot of those) when suddenly the TV was overtaken by grainy footage of three dudes hanging out in the woods. And then the beat dropped.

The clip that sent boys across the nation running to the nearest thrift store.

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I immediately sat up. What the hell was this? The Knicks T-shirt gave it away: it was the video for "So What'cha Want," the new single off the Beastie Boys' 1992 album, Check Your Head. Sure, I'd heard the New York City trio's music before, but this video hit me at a particularly pivotal moment: I was about to start high school.

This meant I was going to be leaving the confines of my all-boys school with its strict uniform for the magical co-ed paradise of a new school that had absolutely no dress code. Which, in turn, meant that I was about to embark on a whole new chapter of self-discovery, finding myself—but, let's be real: that mostly meant figuring out how I was going to dress for my new school.

Lucky for me, I'd just discovered my new style icons. They were from New York City, they liked the Knicks, and they hung out with everyone from the guys in A Tribe Called Quest to the Dalai Lama. Now, I could say the Beastie Boys "inspired" my new look, but in reality, I simply started trying to dress like them. Maybe the vintage coat with the huge faux fur collar wasn't the best look, and maybe I wasn't quite ready to pull off the winter hat in the summertime. But the baggy khakis, oversize Polos, and Adidas Sambas quickly became a part of the repertoire. Slowly but surely I was building out my new uniform.

We all know the quote, oft attributed to Picasso but really untraceable to one definite source: "Good artists copy, great artists steal." At first glance, it sounds a little simplistic, but there's something deep at the heart of that old saying. If you live your life as a borrower, it means you're merely a tourist, wearing a costume you may toss out one day. But if you really take something on, explore every nuance of it, add your own flourishes—in other words, steal it—then, well, you've made it your own.

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At least, that's how I always heard it. So sure, go ahead and copy the people who inspire you—just make sure that's the first step of your process, and not the last.

Here, a few non-rare, mass-produced items that might help you take the first steps in finding and developing your own distinct identity.

Softcover Medium Notebook, $18, leuchtturm1917.us.

The notebook is key; this is where you catalog the stuff that moves you. Revisiting these notes later, you'll be able to have a bird's-eye-view of the things that inspire you, and be able to blend them together into something new and cohesive. I love these notebooks because the pages are numbered and they come with a table of contents page, so you can easily locate your various musings.

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Icons of Men's Style, $9, barnesandnoble.com.

If one day, like me, you find yourself in search of style inspiration, this book has no shortage of classic looks for you to borrow—I mean, steal.

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Vintage Regular Fit Chinos, $40, uniqlo.com.

Maybe it's just me, but I've always held that putting on a simple pair of pants was a good way to start the day. Here's a solid pair from Uniqlo.

Being a Copycat Is the Worst, Don't Do It

Caitlin Petreycik, senior fashion editor, @c_petreycik

Here is a brief list of things that were cool at my all-girls high school, located in a zip code much fancier than the one where I lived: Tiffany's jewelry, Coach wristlets (it was the early 2000s), Lilly Pulitzer dresses, and North Face ski jackets with lift passes dangling from the zippers (the early 2000s...in Connecticut). Here is a list of things my parents would not, could not buy me: all of the above. In my mind, I only had two options. I could spend my babysitting money on candy-colored polo shirts in an attempt to fit in, or I could opt out of my high school's trends altogether and pretend not to care (which is different than actually not caring).

So, I looked for outfit inspiration elsewhere and spent the aforementioned babysitting money on eight-dollar foreign fashion magazines and thrift store hauls. During fashion week, I'd commandeer the living room TV and watch fuzzy live broadcasts of runway shows on the one New York City public access channel our set mysteriously picked up. Afternoons were spent chopping '70s caftans into questionable mini dresses, attaching loopy bows to blouses in an attempt to channel YSL, and covering Salvation Army heels in glitter (if anyone needed to find me, they could follow my trail of sparkles). Basically, by refusing to be a copycat I discovered an interest in fashion that I didn't know I had.

That being said, my classmates knew something it took me a long time to figure out: navy blue blazers and penny loafers are actually great. Wear both at once when you feel like telegraphing "yes, I know how to sail, and I had a childhood golden retriever named Chauncey."

All the tools you need to stop dressing like your friends.

The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, $54, amazon.com.

If none of your school's trend's really speak to you, why not resurface one from the past decade (or past century)? I still discover terms in this ultra-comprehensive fashion dictionary that I never knew existed. Like, the "fearnothing jacket." Let's bring that back again, whatever it was.

Cherry Bomb Earrings by Dadybones, $45, topknotgoods.com; Sister Earrings, $226, jeryco-store.com.

Nothing will set your outfit apart faster than some look-at-me earrings.

Drive-Thru Chenille Patch by Annu Kilpelainen, $12, valleycruisepress.com; Bruno Patch, $12, valfre.com.

Put your stamp on basic jean shorts or a denim jacket with some well-placed patches.

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