I don’t want to fight with a twenty-year-old fashion blogger.
A few months ago, I attended a party at a Dallas boutique. I don’t remember which designer the forty or so cool folks who were present that night were celebrating. I was distracted by a young woman outside who was smoking a Marlboro Light. I realized it was the redhead behind the personal-style blog Sea of Shoes, Jane Aldridge.
I hadn’t seen Jane in a few years. A Parsons grad, I was working at the time as the style editor at the Dallas Morning News, a job that involved more than a few cocktail parties with the likes of Michael Kors, Oscar de la Renta, and Diane von Furstenberg. I had first met Jane and her mom, Judy, when they were somehow hanging with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen at another boutique shindig. (“Who’s the tween wearing Comme des Garçons?” I remember asking my colleague.) When we’d last seen each other, Jane had mentioned wanting to apply to art and design schools. So now I asked her about this as she sipped champagne. She told me she had decided against studying fashion. Then, she said it.
“Why should I go to college? I’m already doing what I want.”
These words are printed in large, ombré type on page 121 in the April issue of TEXAS MONTHLY, in a profile I wrote about Jane for the magazine that has become the grounds for an online he-typed-she-typed. Jane now contends, via a post on her blog, that this quote (and other facts in my piece) were “blatantly” made up. Fueled by some snarky posts across the blogosphere, the whole thing has become a tragicomic tempest. The quote has been discussed in some of the more than one hundred comments on New York magazine’s The Cut blog. The twelve words have been tweeted and retweeted and retweeted, and blogs Jezebel, Fashionista, and D Magazine’s Frontburner have reported Jane’s dissatisfaction with the story.
The amount of cyber judgment has, frankly, surprised me. In profiling Jane, I wanted to show a sophisticated young woman with discriminating taste who is unquestionably in charge of her future. I wanted to show how she’s a self-taught creator who has the wide-eyed wonderment of a Disney character. Yes, she can behave like a child star, but—and this is important—that’s a side effect of her very fashionable (and profitable) myopia. When I got this assignment, my mind went back to that moment at the party. I thought her sentiment revealed her sense of determination and the narrow viewfinder through which she sees life. (I also wondered if others of her generation were also already doing what they want.) While most people her age are drinking keg beer out of Solo cups, cramming for Western Civ and splurging on Abercrombie sweaters, Jane was knocking back Moet and pfffting at fashion show invites. I was impressed.
I liked the quote so much that I later asked her about not going to college to make sure I remembered that moment correctly. We were in a hair salon, reading a “ Find the right guy for you now!” charticle in Glamour. Her head was covered in folds of silver foil to achieve her signature hair color. Jane told me that if she was in college she would rack up lots of debt. She continued, saying, “I couldn’t work on my blog. I’m already doing what I want. And I’m so happy. The traditional life is not for me. I want something different. I want to do what people aren’t doing, even it it’s a little bit risky. But I don’t know what the risk is.”
I cringed when I read which passages New York magazine writer Charlotte Cowles chose to highlight. While the saucy excerpts provided plenty of bloody blog-comment chum, I hope readers everywhere take the time to consider all of the words I turned in. The story is about a whimsical world that a then-teenage blogging sensation and her mother created five years ago, out of little more than suburban boredom and back issues of Vogue. (Okay, and a little cash too.) I see them as a Texas version of Grey Gardens’ Big Edie and Little Edie, only significantly more lucid and with fewer in-house raccoons. The Aldridges are kooky, good-natured, forever squabbling—but always in on the joke. Yes, there are diva moments. Yes, they speak in scripted-for-television sentences. Yes, they seem always dressed up to go nowhere. I like them. Greatly. I had fun with them. I was, and continue to be, fascinated. And I respect Jane’s resolve to stay in Texas. As a writer based in Dallas, I am always getting pitched to celebrate Texans who go elsewhere and “make it.” Jane’s counterintuitive move to stay here naturally gives her added cachet. (Dallas gets some run-off as well.)
I spent a lot of time with Jane. I know that I got on her nerves. (“I’ve never had someone watch me do email,” she complained one afternoon. She flat-out refused to let me tag along on a driving lesson.) But, to be fair, she’s tough to get to know. In the story, I wanted to show that Jane is figuring out how to transport the magic she created with her mother as she enters the perimeter of adulthood. Yes, as a teen she conjured 63,000 Twitter followers and 400,000 unique visitors, but can she monetize that? Will they all follow an adult Jane? Does Jane even care?
Until yesterday, neither Jane nor Judy disputed any fact or quote since the story hit newsstands on March 21. I have spoken and texted with both Jane and Judy many times since then, and I received a text from Judy that she sent immediately after reading the feature. “Hey there, I really liked the article,” she wrote. “It was very well done!”
A week later, I picked Jane up at 6 a.m. for an interview with WFAA’s Ron Corning, the morning news anchor on the