I Really Do Like Jane Aldridge
Jason Sheeler, who wrote about the Dallas-based fashion blogger for the April issue of TEXAS MONTHLY, responds to the sea of controversy unleashed by his profile.
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 ABC affiliate in Dallas. I knew she was nervous about going on live television. But on the air she called me “sweet” and nicely explained her moment of “mean-girl tone” in the story. However, she became upset on the way home. She thought Corning had focused on “the worst parts” of the story. But the next day, after watching the segment, her attitude had changed. Jane Facebooked me, writing “it was a great piece and the news segment was very nice . . . I am grateful for your hard work, from the bottom of my heart. . . . Clearly I do not have the constitution for the limelight. In the light of day I can see what a great thing this has all been.”
A few days after that, Jane’s mood had changed again. She told me she didn’t plan on blogging the story as “there is stuff in there they can use against me.” She didn’t tell me who “they” are, but after reading the hundreds of blog comments, I think I now know.
I knew the Jane and Judy Show was going to make for an interesting story. I also knew the two were going to come with “handle with care” instructions. When we had lunch to discuss the possibility of a profile, I promised Jane she would not enjoy reading about herself. I also promised her that I would get on her nerves, that I would ask her lots of things she didn’t want to talk about, that the photography would be first-rate glamorous, and that people would find her story interesting. I believe I have made good on all of those promises.
What needs to be stressed here is that TEXAS MONTHLY has made good on its promise too—to its readers. This story was fact-checked, just like every TM story. Judy took the reins on that, and things were verified (yes, those are indeed Philippe Starck Ghost chairs, there are four dogs, Jane receives up to $5,000 not $6,000 for sponsored posts), things were changed (please tell people Jane’s fur coats are vintage, please don’t tell people what kind of car I drive), and things were taken out (Judy’s personal thoughts on why Jane didn’t go to college, details about Jane’s love life).
To her great credit, Jane Aldridge still does what she wants. Over the past five years, she’s amassed hundreds of thousands of fans and a few haters (hey, they build her brand too). Doing what she wants has worked for her. Her self-actualization is accessorized with an “it” quality that the fashion world attaches biannually to handbags, lipsticks, and whatever country is exporting the hottest crop of runway models. But as her fame has grown across the fashion universe, her world has gotten smaller and smaller, resulting in what seems to be a exquisitely fragile snow globe of a life. She is a beautiful young woman who has become successful, famous, and self-supporting by getting dressed in her bedroom and letting everyone take a look. While Jane has no television and abhors the notion of Kardashian-brand fame, she is the editor, director, and star of her own reality show. Today I fear she’s conflicted and further held hostage by her own star power. And, perhaps, wishing that TEXAS MONTHLY hadn’t called—since before all of this, she was more of a silent film star.
Drama, of course, is a part of fashion. And dialogue is a part of media. So while I am happy that many people are reading some of my words in TEXAS MONTHLY—and talking about them—I’d happily settle for fewer folks reading all of my words. And as for Jane, well, I have no business Twitter-sparring with her. I pick fights I can win.