At the little town of Wyomissing, in Pennsylvania, there is a particularly comfortable Christmas tree farm. There are, indeed, many Christmas tree farms, for the growing of trees is the business of the place, which, as many travelers will remember, is seated upon the edge of a remarkably windy river—a river that it behooves every tourist to visit.
It is here on this river that families raise their children. One of these children, however, is famous, distinguished from her fellow locals by both an extraordinary musical talent and an early sign of maturity well beyond her age. It is hardly known whether it was her particular affinity for the guitar or her spirited personality that was already too big for one Wyomissing, Pa., but before long she left that particularly comfortable Christmas tree farm and moved to Nashville to begin her journey to stardom.
It was there that the real Taylor Swift was born, and there that our study begins. Over 10 years ago, the world was introduced to this ringletted ingénue with the release of the eponymous album Taylor Swift. She serenaded one Tim McGraw, she spoke of pickup trucks, she made us all hate Drew more than we knew we ever could.
But in that decade since her big debut, Taylor Swift has grown and evolved and created new sounds and gotten edgier and angrier and cut off her curly hair and stopped wearing hoop earrings and discovered the lost art of the crop top and then eschewed the lost art of the crop top and then discovered the lost art of the hoodie-as-disguise and completely reinvented herself over and over. Every second October, with the release of another album, we ushered in a new era of Taylor. She changes her outfits, she changes her makeup, she changes what she sings about.
Now sometimes the changes are for better, sometimes for worse, but they're always entertaining and worth a study.
Part I: The Taylor Swift Era
1 part heavily-ringletted hair
1 part acoustic guitar (accompanying teardrops optional)
1 part hand hearts
The year was 2006 and the raison d'etre was country music with a side of having a horrible time in high school. Heartache, feeling left out and spending hours locked up in her room scribbling Drew's name in a notebook were the diversionary preferences of a 16-year-old Miss Taylor Swift. She un-ironically rode in pickup trucks, she un-ironically wore cowboy boots, she was just happy to be anywhere but history class.
Part II: The Fearless Era
1 part hair still in ringlets (although professionally-done ringlets by now)
1 part blue eyeshadow—the frostier the better
1 part prom dresses
1 part Disney Channel cast member squad
Shakespearean, both in content and in aesthetics, was this period. Romeo took her somewhere they could be alone: The dressing room of a satin emporium. While on the way there he instilled in Taylor a driving affinity for star-crossed lovers. It must have been a really long drive, because it translated into more than a few lyrical accounts of grand romance. She said this ain't a fairy tale, but what's wrong with pretending for a couple years until your next album, right?
It was a love story, baby.
Part III: The Speak Now Era
1 part thirst for lyrical revenge
1 part hatred for John Mayer
1 part eyeliner
1 part plaid shirts
1 part leather boots
1 part exploration of independent coffee shops
What happens when you take a Nashville girl and drop her right into the heart of Brooklyn? The same that would occur to any of us should we find ourselves surreptitiously exploring the finer things in life, like free trade roasteries and cooperative grocery stores and exposed brick and crisp fall weather: You go a little hipster.
In this region, in the month of October, it is customary to trade one's handkerchief tops for anything that looks like it came out of a J.Crew catalog. One begins curating their outfits, they begin curating their beverages, they begin curating their relationships.
Perhaps it is also these winds of change that usher in a realization that it's time to start—in your songs at least—standing up for oneself in the face of bullies, whether that perpetrator be an overly critical musical blogger or a former teen wolf or a singer whose identity doesn't even deserve to be lyrically shrouded. Your flannel gives you courage, and your eyeliner helps you feel like a badass.
Part IV: The Red Era
1 part straightened hair
1 part bangs
1 part red lipstick
Minus 1 scarf
Minus 1 maple latte
We receive impressions of people from all sources. We take in their appearances, their expressions, the words they so carefully choose. The human mind is designed to read signals and then interpret those signals to tell a story. The utmost way to change the impression is to change the signals—when you are about to release your first mainstream pop album after several heavily-critically-acclaimed and commercially popular country albums that have helped to seal your place in the hearts of fans the world over, you take away everything we know about country singers and replace it with what we know about pop singers.
Enter the red lipstick.
Part V: The 1989 Era
1 part crop top
1 part empty purse
1 part crop top
1 part Karlie Kloss
1 part crop top
1 part New York City pride
New York City. The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps. The Empire State. It's a place of invigorating reinvention, of never-ending excitement, of camaraderie and new experiences. It's a place where you can drop your bags on your apartment floor and forget about Harry Styles. Where you can get your own fancy new condo where you will bring your fancy new model BFF to bake cookies and take selfies and pretend that you're not thinking about your breakup at all.
Where you can find dozens, if not hundreds, if not thousands, of people who agree with you in the belief that it's totally whack to steal someone else's backup dancers. Where you should be getting back into your love of independent coffee shops but also can't but visit your Starbucks lover.
Where you finally reinvent yourself to something that feels just right. Where you're freaking empowered for the first time ever, and you wear short shorts and sparkly tops and show off your awkward dance moves and answer to no one. Where you change your hair with every new moon.
Where you inspire your legions of fans not to give hand hearts, but middle fingers. Where you will gain the strength to take on the world's evils, like Kanye West and Spotify and anyone who doesn't care enough about their fans to visit them in the hospital.
In New York, you keep cruising.
Part VI: The Incognito Era
1 part private jets
1 part burly security team
1 box that you might be hiding inside
1 part very snug hoodies
1 part social media detox
Minus any part of hitting the town whatsoever
It doesn't always happen, but sometimes empowerment leads to a backlash. Sometimes when you put yourself entirely out there you get burned. Sometimes you realize that while you were taking New York City by storm, someone else was plotting to take you down.
So what happens when one of the most powerful couples in Hollywood wages a war against you that you can no longer control? You disappear. You retreat into your beautiful new apartment and you fortify the place with a security buffer that rivals medieval fortresses. You pause public life, trading dinners with the biggest bold names in Hollywood for secret outings and countless nights in.
You travel by private jet, you never leave the house without a hoodie or purse to cover your face, you crab walk from the gym into your chauffeured car if that's what it takes. You live like Carmen Sandiego, leaving the media who refused to take your side the way they probably should have to speculate where in the world are you?
Part VII: The Reputation Era
1 part vengeance
1 part renewed social media strategy
1 part Kardashian nails
1 part autotune
1 part eyeliner
A bunch of snakes
After a person has spent over a year in hiding, after a person has skipped award shows and anticipated album releases and wiped their Instagram page clean it becomes clear that they've really been doing one thing and one thing only: Lying in wait.
Waiting for the right moment. Waiting until your comeback is flawless. Waiting to reclaim the narrative. That narrative is yours and you're not going to let anybody forget it.
Don't forget it, America.