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An Interview with Helena Levin

Helena Levin's Instagram page (@cabarbieprincess) is truly a marvel. Her outfits are immaculate, coordinated to the scenery in a way that will assure you she lives up to her Instagram moniker but also, with their unnerving perfection, leave you wondering if she exists in a different realm because you're not quite sure this world could contort itself into such dreamy shots. Although her aesthetics are worthy of note, Helena, like Barbie, isn't just eye candy. She's cunning, deeply insightful, and multi-talented. Her clothing and style are not in contrast to this; in fact, her fashion sense is an extension of her character; although she is observant enough to classify her choices as unconventional, she is not conformist enough to change them because doing so would also alter her sense of self. Although I had always admired her style from afar, I have found a new appreciation for it (and her) after discovering how intrinsic it was to her nature.

What draws you to the whole Barbie aesthetic?

I have always been obsessed with Barbie. When I was a little girl and I had my birthday parties, I would scan my present for the long, rectangular, wrapped shapes, knowing that's what would be inside. My Bat Mitzvah theme was Barbie. It's truly been my aesthetic my whole life. I think as a child what drew me to it was just that it was pretty. I'm not sure there was much more behind it. But as an adult, Barbie really resonates with me. I know a lot of other adults think she's a bad role model for children and gives them unrealistic expectations about how women are supposed to look, but I disagree. Barbie is truly an inspiration. She has had so many highly skilled jobs; she's a doctor, she's a veterinarian, a teacher; Astronaut Barbie was in space 20 years before Sally Ride! And she does all of this without compromising how she looks. She can dress any way she wants, still exude femininity and get the job done! And that's what really draws me to the aesthetic, this idea that as a woman I can look how I want (how I want HAPPENS to look like Barbie ;)) and still be a credit to society; that just because I like dressing up and doing my hair and makeup and the color pink doesn't mean I can't do everything a man can. In fact, I can do it all, and do it in heels!

Do people ever judge you based on your appearance/style?

People judge me all the time based on my appearance/style. It's not always a bad judgement, in fact there's been a lot of good that's come from it! I honestly think my involvement in the drag community has come from my aesthetic, being so feminine and similar drag queens'. I also think it can be quite a conversation starter, especially in a place like San Francisco, where khakis and button downs rule (which I am aware is a judgement that I make). As far as negative judgement, I think quite often people assume I'm "trying too hard" but once they get to know me they realize this is just who I am and that actually throwing on a dress and heels is so much easier than figuring out what to match with pants! I sometimes get mean looks that basically say people are mad at how impractical my outfit is (like wearing heels on the SF hills) but in general I never understand why my choices affect them, so I just smile and move on with my life. There have been times when I thought about where I'm going and if I am really in the mood to have comments and stares and adjusted my outfit accordingly. This is definitely something that bothers me because, again, I don't think I should have to change who I am just to appease others; the fact that people (primarily men) can't keep their mouths shut should not be my responsibility. I think I sometimes get judged by other women although I will say as I've gotten older this has gotten better. I also think that with the state of the world and feminism really on the rise, women are more supportive of other women. We are lifting each other up and I get a lot of "Yes girl"s now as opposed to mean looks or cattiness.

Do you have a favorite Barbie?

I am going to have to say my favorite Barbie is Enchanted Evening. She's one of the original, she has a pink satin gown with a white fur stole. She was my favorite growing up and for my Bat Mitzvah, my parents got me a drawing of me in her dress so she has a very special place in my heart. I am sure there are a lot of modern Barbies that send better messages to young girls about what they can achieve, but for nostalgic reasons, I am going to have to stick with Enchanted Evening.

When was a time your outfit best matched the occasion?

On purpose or on accident? I can tell you about the time I went to the Ritz in London for tea and wore a red dress with a white bib collar and black bow tie, and what do you think the waiters wore? A white collared shirt with a black bow tie and red jacket! So embarrassing, but also SO funny! So obviously I took a picture with one of the waiters and joked about whether or not I got the job. The best time on purpose is a tough call because honestly dressing in theme is what I live for! But maybe when I went to Instagram headquarters (my best friend works there and took me on a tour), and I color blocked my outfit to match the photo ops. My ice cream bathing suit for the Museum of Ice Cream is also a favorite. It might take the cake ;)

What's your favorite movie character to take style inspiration from?

I truly say this all the time: Clueless, Troop Beverly Hills, and Legally Blonde created the person I am today. If you have seen those three movies, you know me. So that's Cher Horowitz, Phyllis Nefler, and Elle Woods. I also was gagging over the outfits in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

How do you decide what you're going to wear?

If I am going somewhere and I know that there is going to be cute backdrops or I want to take a picture, I will look up the place before I go there and try to find something that goes with the theme. Or if I know there's a theme, like it's a picnic, I want to wear gingham, or Pride, I want to wear something with a rainbow, then whatever the theme is lends itself to what I'm going to wear. When it's close to a holiday, I like to dress kind of thematically too, like at the beginning of February I really amp up my pinks and reds, spring I bust out my florals and pastels, July I am decked in Americana, September I play up my autumnal tones. I am not very good and mixing and matching. I am really a full outfit person, so once I know what shoes and hair accessory and lipstick color go with a dress, that's usually it forever. And, to be honest, there are some days where I'm in a rush and just grab the first dress in my closet.

What's the best pun you've ever come up with?

I like puns that actually have dual meaning, not just a play on words. Like, for example, I have a picture where I'm wearing a purple dress on a purple wall and the caption is "Definitely broke a parking law or two to get this picture, kind of a purpletrator," which -- don't get me wrong -- I am proud of, but purpletrator is not a real word, so out of context of the photo, it doesn't have a second meaning. Versus one of my actual favorites, "Come display with us," which was a caption on a split screen photo of me in a window display, where I look like I am holding my own hand. So there is a dual meaning there; it's a riff on the twins from The Shining, while also being a sentence that makes sense outside of the photo context.

What were you like when you were in high school?

I was seriously the exact same person I am today, just brunette (shhh don't tell anyone;)). But truly, I was always known for wearing outrageous outfits, being obsessed with Barbie, and geeking out over musical theater. Outside of that though, I was really obsessed with getting good grades in high school and getting into a good college. I had a pretty tough time. I struggled with depression and wanting to be popular and hoping boys liked me and all the challenges that come with being 14-18. But I will say, I was always very true to who I was and I wouldn't let anyone shake that, not even when a girl told me I was wearing "the f**king ugliest shoes [she] had ever seen." Teens can be mean! But knowing those people's opinions don't matter is the only way to move forward and understand the real you. Now when I think back, it's hard to conjure up those feelings of dread I had every day going to school. I remember how much I struggled and I know those were true and valid feelings, but now those problems seem so easy and trivial. But I think that's a life lesson, that as you get older and gain more perspective, something the felt like the end of the world at 18 feels like a great anecdote to tell your friends at lunch at 32.

What are your favorite clothing brands?

I am not super brand-oriented, but there are a few retailers that carry a lot of different brands I like. I love Dollskill, the aesthetic is SO me, a lot of fun, conversational styles. I like ModCloth for the vintage-inspired aesthetic, and I feel like I have to say Charlotte Russe, since I was a buyer for them for 3 years ad a LOT of my clothes are from there. For shoes, I love Irregular Choice. I am obsessed with the creativity and novelty.

Do you think you'll have the same general style for the rest of your life? Why or why not?

I think about this a lot actually. I do worry that I am going to get to a point in my life where I just look too ridiculous (I use too as a modifier here since I am self aware enough to know that I already look ridiculous sometimes) to continue to dress the way that I do. There is definitely a very youthful look to my style and I have had mornings where I get dressed and look in the mirror and admit to myself this face no longer matches this dress. But then i say f**k it and wear it anyway! I think my style has evolved over the years; there are things that just feel too over-the-top for me to wear. I think that will continue as I get older. I think the base aesthetic  (super feminine, thematic, matching, no pants) will always remain, but I expect that will grow and mature as I continue to.


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