I didn’t really have the opportunity to pick out my own clothes when I was younger; up until about middle school, I wore capris, colorful t-shirts, and bobby socks–you know, with the frilly bits on the ends–just because that’s what my mom bought for me.
Oh, the glory of the shape of ankles that I discovered existed beneath the boxy shape of my ankle socks.
Thus began my long, arduous journey to exposed skin and unreserved, unapologetic fashion.
My style through middle school shifted slightly. I didn’t know what I was doing or how to look and/or feel good in what I was wearing. I think confidence in preteen years especially is quite a nuanced thing. I didn’t feel I had the respect, let alone admiration, of my peers, and I certainly didn’t think that I could ever dress up enough to hide my endlessly frizzy and mercilessly straightened hair or the nose, lips, hands and feet I felt were too big, or the gaps in my teeth, or my ridiculously long fingers and legs, or even the pores on my arms that were big enough to look like freckles. Those things and nice clothes simply couldn’t–and wouldn’t ever–fit well together.
I observed what I thought looked good on others and tested it out on myself, come to find out that I didn’t like it nearly as much–I didn’t like anything nearly as much.
Embarrassingly enough, this was also the time when Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight series really began to gain traction. In my seventh grade year, the movie was in production and I saw Alice Cullen for the first time.
I decided I wanted my style to be dark, gloomy, and elegant.
But I had no idea how to accomplish that either, with what I had on hand–there weren’t many examples around me of women with my hair type and features that managed much variety in fashion, let alone black women that were described as elegant.
Plus, I had mostly my jeans, old Vans and busted up Converse, and I hated the way my feet looked in flats or open-toed shoes.
Come high school, I gave up my attempt at dark, gloomy, and elegant, and went for a dialed back skater style; camisoles under plaid button-ups, jeans, and simple t-shirts. Freshman and Sophomore years were probably the most colorful years of my life as far as shirts come and go. My inspiration: indie bands and pop stars. I wanted to channel Hayley Williams from Paramore, “Don’t Forget” era Demi Lovato, and appear like I was the type of girl who someone could see at the front of a band (because, hint, I wanted to be the lead singer in a band).
The pipe dream never happened, obviously (in fact, most instrumentalists that I mentioned it to just gave me odd looks and never brought up music again to me), but my need to express myself through clothing intensified.
Junior and senior year, I went for geometric patterns, a lot of black and white, combat boots and Converse, and, just a little more often than before, my natural hair out.
That, and my first couple years of college were probably the boldest years of fashion for me. It was my way of dealing with the pain and frustration of feeling rejected by so many of my peers–of saying that I didn’t give a fuck what they thought of me, anyway. I’d be myself, unapologetically, and that was one thing that I could count on.
My level of defiance has died down quite a bit since then. I can’t say I don’t miss it. I think my clothes put a whole new perspective about life into my eyes. I felt rejected and unnoticed by people for so much of my life. But they started to notice–and compliment me–when my style changed.
I got voted best-dressed by a few people in my choir class, which, though not a huge accomplishment, is something I never imagined would happen.
People in the hallways, a sea of thousands of students, would come to compliment me on my outfits.
When walking with my two best friends, people would say, “There goes those three again.”
As for how I viewed myself–maybe I wasn’t particularly pretty, or anyone’s ideal anything, but that wasn’t going to stop me. I could take over the world if I wanted to. I just knew I was going to live an amazing life, one way or another, no matter what anyone else said or did.
Then college happened. I felt I wasn’t where I was supposed to be–where I never truly wanted to be in the first place. And in the real world, nobody cared.
Why was I being so extra with my clothing, anyway?
So I gave away my checkered pants, my plaid leggings, my combat boots (or some of them; they’re my guilty pleasure), and my quirky sweaters. I gave up on the Mad Hatter side of me and decided I’d try and be a real life citizen.
I have to be honest, though.
It’s getting a little old.
So, among the many other journeys I’ll be taking, I’m going to find my fierce again, and when I do, I’ll wear it like a crown.