I’ll never forget those shoes: chunky black slip-on wedges, with jagged grooves carved into the rubber soles like bared teeth. Think a Mildred Pierce-era Joan Crawford gone punk. They were my perfect Fashion Week footwear: They made me taller by two inches and, with the Frankenstein platforms, I could sprint from my seat to the press room between shows to file runway reports. They were shoes made for clomping, for comfort, for quick getaways. Plus, they were cool.

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Then, unexpectedly, those wedges and I were the subject of a disparaging blog post. The author snarked that I should be ashamed to call myself a fashion critic and show up in public—at Fashion Week, no less—wearing such shoes. To add further insult, the blogger was also the designer of a small (now defunct) Canadian-made lingerie brand that few of the local media had taken much notice of, let alone written about. I had been one of the few.

I laughed off the post with a shrug, or so I thought. I was surprised how the sting lingered, stabbing at insecurities I didn’t realize I had. Eventually, I did what I do for a living: analyzed what the incident meant within a larger context. I realized that what bothered me wasn’t the shoe snub—it was the expectation that I should dress a certain way because I cover fashion. At the national newspaper where I work, the culture of fashion is one of my beats. I also write about film, books, music and food. I no more expect a theatre critic to move me to tears reciting a monologue from Death of a Salesman than a restaurant critic to cook me a three- Michelin-star meal.

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Fashion, though, is treated differently. Getting dressed means being conscious—and sometimes self-conscious—about how you look. It’s a tricky proposition: If I dress with too much care, I’m considered just a fashion girl; if I’m not careful, I end up wearing a chip on both shoulders.

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no-more-fear-article-image-page-.jpgTen years after that post, I’ve grown into my personal style: I dress to please myself. That long-ago insult made me figure out who I was at a time when the fashion ecosystem was about to get a lot more complicated. Today, emerging designers/writers/bloggers/stylists who haven’t achieved solvency, let alone global success, feel the pressure to convey the same air of jet-set glamour as billionaires like Michael Kors. How they dress is their brand. You can’t fault them—it’s the inevitable human extension of marketing in the street-style-plus-social-media world. But an It bag and statement shoes aren’t what give my words credibility.

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Last fall, during the heat wave that swept the Milan collections, Cathy Horyn, then fashion critic at The New York Times, wore a pair of cut-off denim shorts in her front-row perch. I was heartened when, in response to queries about the deeper meaning behind her wardrobe choice, she pragmatically replied, “They’re comfortable, and I’m working.”

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I’m grateful to have the luxury of focusing more on what’s between my ears than what’s on my feet. In a sea of soignée stylists, it has perhaps become too much of a point of pride lately. I’ve been wearing platform derbys by Junya Watanabe. Lumpy, bumpy and bone white like corrective orthopaedics, they’re so ugly that they’re downright intellectual.

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