STORY AND PHOTOS BY DANA HUCH
Cameras flashed as Los Altos High School junior Chloe Burcell turned away from the paparazzi. Sporting a black tank top, black sweatpants and wearing dark sunglasses, Burcell was trying to maintain a low profile.
Thankfully, the paparazzi was only her joking boyfriend, Justin Emgushov, wearing a hoodie, sweatpants and a flannel. The Wilcox High School junior was playing into their outfit theme for that day: celebrities caught on camera in public.
The couple plans fashion themes as their creative way of building complementary outfits. Burcell said that dressing in pastels, classic preppy and matching sneakers has not only been a source of entertainment during quarantine, but also serves the practical purpose of looking cohesive as a pair.
Together they decide on a source of inspiration to draw on or a color pallet for their looks. Burcell said she likes the way she and Emgushov look together; themes encourage a collective confidence, even on rougher days.
“I was having a really bad breakout,” Burcell said, referring to the reason behind their incognito theme. “We wanted to go out together but I think my biggest insecurity going out is probably having a breakout in the hot summer. … It’s just the worst situation.”
With their paparazzi theme, Burcell and Emgushov made light of the fact that neither of them were feeling their best.
Their appreciation for fashion, in fact, was part of what forged their strong initial connection. As the topic provides much to talk about, they have enjoyed critiquing the styling in music videos, creating a Pinterest account for sharing ideas, perusing thrift stores and even making a dress together with spare fabrics.
Burcell and Emgushov occasionally have conflicting opinions on fashion due to their contrasting tastes. Emgushov describes his style as somewhat “grunge” but also “put together.” His wardrobe contains an abundance of Dickie’s slacks and graphic tees but also colorful sweaters and collared shirts.
Burcell, on the other hand, takes inspiration from the ’70s and old Hollywood glamour. She gets many of her ideas from the fashion she sees in movies and television and has a “deep love for pastel colors,” she said.
Despite differences in style, or perhaps because of these very differences, Burcell and Emgushov said they were immediately intrigued by the creativity of each other’s stylistic expression.
Burcell’s journey with fashion began at the age of six when her grandmother taught her to sew. This way, Burcell had clothes that were completely her own, which thrilled the young fashionista with a distinct vision. Her early interest in unique clothing still shines through in the idiosyncratic statement pieces of her wardrobe such as the red corduroy flares she wears in the photo above.
“I don’t have to have confidence to dress up because dressing up gives me confidence,” Burcell said.
For Emgushov, dipping his toe into the world of fashion came later, at what he called “a time of chaos”: eighth grade. He cringed when recalling the style choices he made in that era, namely, his jeans-and-dress-shoes outfits. Emgushov put together these early ensembles when his concept of “fashion” was limited to an L.A. subculture he saw in YouTube videos. Now, he is inspired by looks of the ’80s, — though Burcell would claim his style is more mid- to late-’90s — as well as by musicians such as Frank Ocean and Harry Styles.
Emgushov said he and Burcell have some overlap on the preppy side of their styles and a passion for similar colors. The distinct color pallet of the movie “Moonrise Kingdom” was something the couple noticed they both often emulate in their outfits. For Burcell and Emgushov, inspiration also comes from each other.
“We have a very good way of bouncing off each others’ ideas and coming up with things that are exciting for both of us,” Burcell said. “A lot of the time we do consult each other.”
This consultation often involves exchanging pictures of their daily outfits. They encourage each other, but Burcell also said neither of them are shy about providing opinions on what’s not working in the outfit.
“[Our advice] is never to feed another person’s ego or insecurities; it’s always to help benefit the other person,” Burcell said. “I think that’s one of the most important things in a relationship.”
A typical bit of feedback from Burcell might be “switch the shoes,” she said. Emgushov, on the other hand, is less focused on the details of fashion continuity and admires any outfit carried off with cool.
“I think anybody can make anything look good with the right confidence, like, even if it looks wack,” Emgushov said.
The relationship has also been a sounding board to try out different styles, they concurred. The source of support they provide for each other allows them both to take risks with the safety of someone backing them up on their wildest ideas.
Emgushov said that when he goes out with Chloe, he dresses with her in mind — not the judging eyes of strangers — because she appreciates his individual style. In fact, it wasn’t until Burcell’s encouragement and guidance that he embraced his interest in makeup as an avenue for exploration.
“I think I could rock [makeup], so it’s just figuring out how to do it and how to do it well,” Emgushov said. “We’re making a safe space to experiment.”
Burcell also feels comfortable navigating uncharted territory for self-expression with Emgushov cheering her on. Having always had short, straight eyelashes, Burcell said wearing fake eyelashes — an idea Emgushov gave her — has been a fun change.
The couple has cultivated acceptance and creative support in their relationship which allows them both to discover new ways to express their unique styles.
“I think what is so cool about us is that we are able to give each other feedback and try new things without any judgement or embarrassment,” Burcell said.