I’ve had strong feelings about personal style since age three. Around that time, a relative bought me a small, white t-shirt emblazoned with a bunny. If I remember correctly, there was nothing remarkable about it, but apparently my younger self valued simplicity. I decided I wanted to wear the shirt every single day, and if either of my parents denied me this request (as clothes, especially those worn by toddlers, require frequent washings), I screamed – often to the point where my mother feared what our neighbors might think of her parenting skills. To remedy the situation and preserve her reputation, she threw out the garment, which I believed lost until recently. I imagine that right now, it’s sitting in a landfill – below the Gameboys I played with far too often – stained and ripped, the rabbit I so revered marred beyond recognition by wear and tear. I’m over it… for the most part.
Nowadays, getting dressed usually doesn’t make me cry. It is, however, still a deeply personal process for me. Whatever I select reflects my level of comfort in my environment and confidence on any given day. Let me explain.
If you know me, you’re probably aware that I studied abroad in Paris this fall. Since arriving back on campus, I’ve been asked, “How was your semester abroad?” approximately 183 times (upon last count). Because of its ubiquity in my conversations, I’ve developed a stock response: I learned a lot, but it proved a difficult semester for myriad reasons. One of those reasons was that I didn’t feel comfortable dressing in a way that reflected my personality. Paris stole my metaphorical bunny shirt, and I floundered.
Part of this had to do with the fact that I was living in a city for the first time and had to adapt my wardrobe for safety reasons. As a twenty-year-old woman, I often have the sneaking suspicion that the moment I enter an urban area, a red neon sign lights up on my back reading, “PAY ATTENTION TO ME! THAT MEANS YOU, STRANGE MEN! ESPECIALLY THOSE WHO COULD EASILY BE MY FATHER!” During one instance where this message was apparently burning bright behind me, I was wearing one of my favorite shirts – a (bunny-less) white, sleeveless crop top with a high neck. Enjoying the confidence that a great outfit lends me, I was strolling along the sidewalk immersed in conversation with a friend when a group of men began to meow at me – a literal catcall. Because of this bizarre instance and several others like it, I opted to dress in a more non-descript manner for the duration of my time in Paris. Unfortunately, I still received unwanted attention, and the joy I derived from dressing myself creatively got stuffed away in a drawer with some of my better mesh tops.
Paris is also the fashion capital of the world – but not for my kind of fashion. Surrounding me on the streets were women adorned in tailored black pants and fitted collared shirts, red lipstick painted impeccably on their plump lips. They were the epitome of glamor and restraint. I, on the other hand, wore velvet like it was going out of style (god forbid) and habitually made the wings of my eyeliner thick enough to suspend me into the air. One day, in an attempt to better fit in, I nearly bought Zara out of their most basic attire. Soon, I wore black turtlenecks on a bi-weekly basis. I blended in better – and weirdly, looked a lot like Steve Jobs – but felt no happier. (For an excellent montage that runs parallel to my experience, please watch What a Girl Wants, filmed during Amanda Bynes’ prime. Her stodgy British peers bare a strong resemblance to my reserved Parisian ones. Unlike Amanda, though, I didn’t have a hunky boy with an accent to tell me I was ‘born to stand out.’).
Now that I’m back at Vassar, I finally feel capable of dressing the way I wish to. For one, I’m safe enough on campus to choose to stand out (which I relish – to paraphrase a recent Yak, the Deece is a place to see and be seen). I also take comfort in the fact that, on any given day, there will probably be someone dressed more absurdly than I am. So, bring on the ironic baseball hats and lingerie-worn-as-clothes. I’m ready to get weird – sub-zero temperatures be damned.