A few weeks ago, I walked out of the bedroom in black leggings (not a new sight), ankle high white socks sticking out of my grey and teal sneakers and rocking a 70’s inspired cropped, zip-up track jacket that was bright pink and black. My partner looked at me and said “I like all these style choices you’re making lately.” (Over the last couple days I had been exploring wearing all my clothes and trying things out that didn’t fit the norm of my daily attire.) Initially, his statement made me feel self-conscious. I immediately felt myself become defensive and pulling the words “thank you” out of my mouth was almost too much for me… like I was like trying to tear up 50-year-old tree roots with my bare hands.
“How crazy is this?” I thought…My partner just gave me a compliment and before I even said “Thank you” I asked him if he was serious or being sarcastic…WHAT? I’ve been with this guy for over 5 years, I’m fairly certain I can tell the difference between sarcasm and serious – and I can. However, my inner self-conscious, the not super confident “me” inside was terrified that someone had noticed that I was trying to allow a part of who I was, that I had been keeping at bay, begin to show through. These small “risks” I was taking with my clothing had been noticed and they were not the choices I normally made, which meant that of course that I was being judged – What else could it possibly be?!
Where did this come from? This immediate response to feel defensive, to shut out the compliment and ward off any chance of being vulnerable…
As usual, I was out walking Mr. Maverick (our Black, 3-year-old Belgian Malinois) and it came to me that I used to ALWAYS push the limit of my clothing style when I was younger. I made bold choices, I miss-matched patterns, wore sneakers with skirts and dresses before it was trendy. There was always a part of me that loved fashion. There was a time in my life when I used to draw clothes every chance I got, dreaming of a life as a fashion designer – turns out I’m not that great at sewing! Anyway, while on this walk and thinking of how confident and unafraid I used to be in making these choices, I realized that I had developed what Brene Brown calls “a mask”. I had created and been living behind a mask of wearing clothes that were “safe” and fit inside the societies bubble of being acceptable.
But again I asked myself “why? When did this change?”
I believe it changed as I started to get older and there was pressure to “be cool” to “fit in”, it was ok to wear fashionable, trendy things, but don’t create your own look… if it wasn’t on a mannequin at the store, you shouldn’t wear it and even it if was on the mannequin are you cool enough to pull it off? That paired with questions from people like – “You’re wearing that?” “Why are you wearing heels?” “whoa, those are short shorts!” “That shirt is pretty loud!” “Those patterns don’t really match…”
The worst part, these questions or statements came from people I was intimidated by (usually meaning I wanted to be their friend) or people who loved and cared about me, like my family and closest friends….
So, I was either left feeling bad about myself because the person(s) I wanted to impress were not impressed or the people I trusted to build and lift me up questioned my choices instead of encouraging them.
Now, to my family and friends – I know these statements have never been made out of hatred or negative anything. Sometimes they were genuine questions or comments, sometimes they were a subconscious projection of their own insecurities - but it is important for me to acknowledge that these things helped create the mask I put up to the world.
My goal as I watch my friends try new things or watch my nieces explore their creativity and self-expression through their clothing, is to NEVER ask them “why” or make any statement that might make them feel like they made the wrong choice. Their self expression has absolutely nothing to do with me. My job as someone who cares and wants the best for them, is to genuinely support them.
So here I am, 31 years old, and just now realizing that I have been carrying around and wearing a “fashion mask” as I’m going to call it. One that I put on so that I could wear clothes off the mannequin to fit in, but nothing too outrageous that anyone would say anything other than “you look great” etc. etc. A mask that has had me staring at myself in the mirror questioning my choice, and changing 3-4 times before heading out the door. A mask that has left me feeling as though I needed to check with someone about how my clothes looked before we went out or before I took a photo.
I’m so ready to take that mask off and leave it behind. I’ve started making small choices in my clothing and shoes – nothing to extravagant yet (but give me time) but buying a limited-edition sneaker that are trendy instead of ones that will “still be cool” in a few months. Wearing a sheer, fully sequin bodysuit dress to a gala that was basically me in a leotard. Being comfortable wearing a crop top or bra top without looking at myself in the mirror and thinking “no, someone will think this is too much, or I’m showing too much skin, or it’s not appropriate”
I’m ready to discover what my style truly is. I want to put on clothes and feel GREAT, not just comfortable. What does it feel like to put on an outfit, LOVE IT, and then confidently walk into a room without wondering what other people think of my clothing choice.
& most of all, I’m ready to hear a compliment without immediately questioning if it’s genuine or not. I want to let go of that low self-esteem that believes a compliment must be some kind of attack. I am ready to be vulnerable and take risks.
So, here’s to my 30’s – a decade of taking fashion risks and learning to feel confident, happy and comfortable in my own style.