By Benjamin Rappaport
Annabelle Brown is on the hunt. She sits on the steps of the Pit on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus and surveys her surroundings.
Too boring, not enough color, no pizzaz.
She stalks for a while until she sees it. Floral patterned pants with a bright orange lace top and combat boots.
“Oh, that’s the one,” she says. “That’s so retro.”
With the target acquired, she begins her approach. Brown leaves her bag in the middle of campus, unattended, and runs after the girl with the floral pants walking in the opposite direction. The girl struts with her head bopping along to the beats pumping through her headphones.
Brown taps her on the shoulder with a cautious smile.
“Hi, I’m Annabelle. I just wanted to say I love your outfit. Do you mind if I take a picture of it?”
The target is hesitant at first but eventually agrees after Brown explains she runs an Instagram account, Tar Heel Threads, where she posts funky outfits she spots on campus.
Brown pulls out her phone to show off the page.
“That’s so sick. I love it. I’m Hannah by the way.”
Hannah Kaufman, a fellow UNC student, poses while Brown kneels to get a low-angle shot of the whole outfit. Brown zooms in on subtle aspects of Kaufman’s clothes that catch her eye — a golden butterfly chain necklace, zigzag stitching on the combat boots and a sunflower ring on her left hand.
The two hug and thank one another. Brown then promises to edit the post and have it up on the Instagram page as soon as possible.
A community of ‘funky friends’
The page has amassed more than 1,700 followers since Brown started it in September.
“They’re all my little funky friends in their funky fits,” Brown said.
She started the page to encourage her peers to break out of the mundane. Dressing to the nines was her way to do just that.
As a sophomore who is attending her first year of in-person classes at UNC-CH, Brown said she wanted to form a community on campus that matched her energy and explosive self-expression.
She said she often uses her own sense of style to give herself energy. She has battled depression and anxiety since middle school, but wearing an outfit that makes a statement gives her a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
“The little compliments I would get on my outfits would get me through the harder days,” Brown said. “No matter how crummy I felt one day, I still had to get up and get dressed.”
It was those passing smiles, the “I see you girl” from strangers and the positive aura she would feel when she put effort into an outfit that she wanted to inspire others to have too.
Because the premise of the page involves approaching strangers on campus, one might imagine that Brown is a social butterfly. She, however, says that aspect of her personality has only come about in the past year.
For Brown, the page is also about fostering a sense of community she didn’t have before. While approaching new people is sometimes difficult because of her anxiety, the possibility of a new friend and the opportunity to make someone’s day pushes Brown out of her comfort zone.
“After a year of isolation, I am just desperate for something bigger than myself,” Brown said. “I wanted community so badly that I was willing to try anything.”
The DISCO mindset
Now with a decent audience on campus, Brown said people will recognize her and ask to have their photo taken for the page. Some students, like Xavier Nix, even started dressing up just for the chance to be featured.
“Annabelle is such a fashion icon,” Nix said. “If she picks me out of the crowd, maybe that makes me a fashion icon too.”
Nix is now a member of what Brown calls her paparazzi — people that help Brown spot outfits when she is out on campus. While there are currently only two paparazzi members, Brown said she likes keeping the team small.
“I feel like we are giving individuals the opportunity to share their looks on a larger platform,” Nix said. “I also just love the diversity of people and styles we’ve been able to find.”
The diversity of styles and people featured has become a pillar of Brown’s vision for the page. She calls it the DISCO mindset, which stands for diversity, inclusivity, sustainability, creativity and opportunity. Those aspects are driving the types of outfits she chooses to post on the account. It also provides a way for Brown to hold herself accountable.
“The goal of Tar Heel Threads was never to center myself as a white woman,” she said. “I want to see people of all sexualities, gender expressions and racial backgrounds exploring the fun of fashion with me.”
The focus on the DISCO mindset is part of why she employed the help of Nix, a queer Black man.
“It takes a lot to recognize that you, as a white person, have an unconscious bias,” Nix said. “That Annabelle could do that and then say, ‘I know I’m going to accidentally choose too many white people for this page.’ It really says a lot about her character.”
As the page’s following grows at UNC-CH, the idea is taking hold on other campuses too. Brown said she has been asked by people at Wake Forest University, the University of South Carolina and more if they can start their own version of Tar Heel Threads.
While Brown said she does not have a plan to expand the account or her paparazzi team on campus, she loves the idea of having college campuses around the country showing off their finest fashion.
Annabelle Brown will continue going on her hunts for the best fashion the UNC-CH community has to offer, and she hopes if you’re a target it’ll give you a little spark to keep being out of the ordinary.
“Everyone deserves a chance to feel special,” Brown said. “You dress for you, and I am so happy to see all the individualism people are confident showing off.”
Edited by Isabella Sherk