When I first got into fashion around 2012, I very quickly discovered that I was a visual learner. I spent months trolling forums, trying desperately to learn vague style “rules” through what amounted to rote memorization. And, like a 16 year old with a learner’s permit, the moment I put wheels to road and tried to dress myself, all of that book learning went out window. I just didn’t know it yet.

About a year into my fashion journey, I discovered StyleForum and /r/MaleFashionAdvice’s recurring community outfit submissions. These posts allowed community members to theoretically receive feedback on their fashion choices – perfect for someone like me who desired to learn, but couldn’t do so in isolation. In reality, these threads were ways for the Internet’s best dressed to show off their personal style. To put it lightly, that teen driver had unwittingly entered a NASCAR race. In retrospect, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know that.

With only my book knowledge behind me, I started photographing my own outfits to post to those weekly threads. I had intentionally put together in an attempt to show off how well I had memorized style rules. After all, these were the communities that had bestowed these rules upon the eager student before them! Surely, I would be embraced.

The results were predictable: I was ripped to shreds.

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It was friendly, sure; but it only meant those racecars hitting me had bumpers. For weeks in a row, I was downvoted to oblivion and received more “helpful hints” than I could count. Looking back, they were all deserved: I didn’t have any idea what a color palette was. I didn’t know how a button-down should fit. Don’t even get me started on shoe choice (my Polo Ralph Lauren-branded Vans knockoffs were a particular punching bag). What had started as an exercise in showmanship had ended in an ego bruising for the ages.  

That’s not to say I walked away – if anything, I posted more. Closing myself to feedback would deny any potential improvement, and after all, I was there to learn. Over the next year, I’d post whenever I could, using a homemade tripod and an iPhone timer to photograph how I applied each successive week’s worth of constructive criticism. My patience paid off: gradually, the comments turned from correction to suggestion, and soon, I was a contributing member of the community.

By then, daily fashion photography had become a habit. Like brushing my teeth and washing my face, it’s just a part of the morning routine: wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed, set up the tripod, shoot, then go. Whenever I’m particularly happy with an outfit, I’ll submit it to one of the featured outfit threads just to share what I’ve been into. That’s not to say I’m done learning – I just don’t approach the routine as necessity anymore. Previously, weeks of outfit photos were a series of rocks I could scale to summit some nebulous “well-executed personal style” mountain. Now, I do it because I’m content with my style and like to share it with others.

While I started the daily photos intending to develop my personal style, they had another distinctly visual result worthy of its own recognition: through my efforts, I had unknowingly charted my own fashion evolution. Across the hundreds of similar photos laid out in front of me, patterns emerged. It was a personal fashion yearbook that, with the slightest inspection, become an anthology. Within years, clothing followed the ebbs and flows of the seasons; between years, my own changing tastes and awareness of nuance set the tone. I didn’t post this completed collection to any weekly forum threads. Looking over these photos all at once felt both nostalgic and immediately present – like I was about to create a future I would capture on film for a moment, then permanently consign to the past.  

Plus, it was cool to watch my sneaker game improve.

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So why did I share all that? Because thanks to a serious tripod/phone upgrade and the help of some talented photographer friends (Kristen Eisenhauer, Stephanie Rakestraw, Tina Yu, and Christina Oh), I finally have a fashion evolution worth sharing. In the gallery below are close to 100 photos from this year, starting in August 2015 and ending in May 2016. I’ve included some photos to gauge the weather, but hopefully the same ebbs and flows described above will inform the progression and provide that same “a-ha” moment described above.

As the years go by, I’d like to produce similar collections for my third and fourth years at Michigan in hopes of recapturing that “anthology” feeling I had so long ago. But that’s a project for another time, and besides, I only just started calling myself a Junior.

That anthology moment may have to wait, but it doesn’t mean we can’t start the process. For now, I’m proud to present:

My Sophomore Fashion Yearbook. 

Thanks for reading, scrolling, and above all else, supporting me as I do dumb things and share them with the world. Here's to a long and happy summer followed by another productive school year! And as for that Junior fashion yearbook: T-365. I'll see you then. 

AS RAKESTRAW | The personal site of Alex Rakestraw.