Throughout my 30-year journey, I’ve often struggled with my identity. Whether that be in the way I verbally communicate or through various visual elements, the choices I’ve made to express myself have often been met with multiple bumps along the road. And no other topic has been quite as “controversial”, in this aspect, than that of what I choose to wear. For much like a beautiful cactus out in the desert, my decisions have often left someone (usually me) in some sort of prickly situation.
But the main reason I have come to write about this came by way of a Reddit post. In the text, a man details how he felt disrespected by his (now ex) girlfriend. Why? Because he consistently felt uncomfortable with the homemade quirky outfits she wore for her preschool teaching position, due mostly to the attention it brought to her whenever she’d be seen out in public. This of course escalated into the two of them parting ways (along with a lot of fascinating drama involving his mom – trust me, it’s a good read.) But it got me thinking (in that Carrie Bradshaw sort of way) about how often I’ve experienced a similar tale within my own life.
Ever since I was born, my family has always had an opinion about my clothes. After all, I was the first grandchild on my mother’s side, which made the picking of outfits quite a fun task for my fashion-focused tribe. Luckily, I can say with confidence that I’m blessed to have wonderful relatives, that often support my quirks on and off “the runway” known as life. Yet (like in every fairy tale) there are always bumps along the experimental, fashionable road.
From the terror of me walking into a room in head-to-toe Hot Topic, to the increased purchases of black coats to counteract my overly bold wardrobe, certain members said a lot with their credit cards more than any words or glances could have expressed. Sometimes it came from a place of innocent ill-consideration, while other times it was clearly intentional. My fashion choices were out there, as was my ever-apparent feminine shape. And if there was a way to shift me into something more conventional and “acceptable” by their standards, certain members would do their best to accomplish said goal.
This particularly came to a head (both literally and metaphorically) when I decided to shave half of my hair. It was a daring choice, one encouraged in the early 2010s. But when a certain member saw this new style, they gasped in utter disbelief. They had seen my goth, punk, and everything in between phases, accepting them to varying degrees. Yet this decision was the last straw – for it was the hairstyle embodiment of ripped jeans, low-hanging undergarments, and barely their tube tops, all boiled into one singular image. Because in their mind, I was making a choice with this haircut – the choice to look (in their words) “ugly”.
Now from the mind of someone that grew up over a multitude of decades, I could see why such a style would come across as the opposite of attractive. But when those words are spoken by a person that held you in their arms at the youngest of ages, you can’t help but feel the dagger at your side. For though they are known for their moments of being bold, I certainly thought this person would keep such comments to themselves.
Yet, as mentioned, these moments are a dime a dozen. I am surrounded by countless creative, free-thinking, and inspiring individuals that express themselves in the coolest of ways. And though a select few might wish for me to show up in whatever is on sale at Kohls, rather than obnoxious vintage finds, I’m happy to accept the support I’ve been granted.
When it comes to the family I’ve chosen, that story is a tad more complicated. For though I have a cavalcade of friends that cheer me on when it comes to my wardrobe, there have been just as many that have made their opposing thoughts loud and clear. And from high school all the way until just last year, these interactions have continued to be memorable, regardless of how you shake it.
Starting with awkward glances, trickling down to even more odd comments, I’ve certainly experienced my fair share of criticism from my friends. In most cases, it’s warranted, especially since you would hope your pals have your best fashion interest at heart. They want the world to see you the way they do – glittering, bright, and at your most authentic. Or, at least, that’s the optimistic theory behind such advice. Yet there are certainly moments that unfortunately will never fit that description.
One that particularly comes to mind occurred during my senior year. I was finding myself immersed in the world of Japanese Street Fashion, specifically anything related to Lolita style. This led me to come to school in head to toe lace and frills. Do I slightly regret this decision, in hindsight? Sure. But am I embarrassed by my bravery to be myself? No. Yet sadly to say, I experienced quite a bit of second-hand embarrassment, mainly from that of my closest friends.
It was one thing to have random classmates giggle at me as I walked down the halls. But when such comments came from those I felt the most vulnerable with, it felt like I’d been branded with the scarlet letter of shame. I know I was putting myself out there, but to hear that I made people “nervous” or “uncomfortable” by my clothing choices, certainly got me in the gut. And though I would later come to forgive and continue to love these individuals, this first taste of criticism was just a primer.
Suddenly the rumblings of snark from the cafeteria transferred to similar remarks within subway cars. And in the heat of those somewhat terrifying encounters, I would luckily have my tribe by my side, to defend my style. And in the times where that wasn’t the case, I could feel their empowerment, much like Sailor Moon does during her final encounter with Queen Beryl. Yet the ability to tap into that superpower hasn’t always been easy – especially when the antagonist in question is someone you hold close.
From remarks that reek of jealousy to radio silence, these moments cycle through your mind much like the most hilarious of gifs. But they often can be indicators of multiple things – from said friend’s inner-workings to the climate of the moment, this all boils down to a lesson in patience. One where you either stand your ground or take a moment to reflect on how genuine these friendships are.
Thankfully, these experiences (from the bad to the ugly) have helped me discover what true kinship feels like. And even though no friendship is ever perfect, the ones that last through the most intense of hurdles (in fashion and otherwise) are the ones that you’ll always latch onto. And the ones who are the cheerleaders, who encourage you to be yourself 24/7 – those are the legitimate keepers.
So what are your experiences when expressing your fashion choices to your family and friends? Comment below with your own stories.