This morning, without a second thought, I picked up my pilling, oversized cardigan from a pile of clothes on my chair and matched it with my well-worn elastic denim (ignoring its slowly disintegrating crotch). Sitting in Asha tea house and penning this, I feel cozy and comfortable, and somehow don’t care that my aesthetic is turning increasingly drab. The silk, leather, and fur I consider my prized possessions are slowly getting buried in the nether regions of my closet.
Dressing well feels great! It equates to confidence. When a few heads turn as I speed to class, as the compliments on a new outfit pile up through the day, I get an undeniable boost. But I’ve recently noticed that my daily outfits are turning less experimental and adventurous. I’m prioritizing comfort over aesthetics. Why? I guess I no longer feel reliant on my clothing to qualify my worth because regardless of what’s on me, I am more than enough. My outfits are inconsequential because I am my own reassurance. I haven’t always felt like this, and thinking about how my style is changing prompted me to question my relationship with fashion.
7th grade was the year I discovered the wonders of the mall. I was fixated. No longer was I wearing bland striped tees and the baggy denim of my elementary days. I exclusively wore haute couture, hand-picking garments from the runways of Aeropostale (no judgment, it’s a phase), American Eagle, even Macy’s. I graduated from nondescript, generic pants to wearing Levi’s. I was developing my personal taste and my self-worth was increasing, albeit for the wrong reasons. But as a middle school nerd, clothing was something that offered an escape from comments like, “On a scale of 1-10, you’re maybe a 2” (cue hysterical giggling from prepubescent girls) or “Your only decent feature is your hair.” I don’t even want to think about the incessant comparisons to Dumbo the Flying Elephant.
Kids can be evil…and some of my now-closest friends were the original purveyors of said comments. My point in bringing this up isn’t to call out some sort of obscene bullying or reference a sad and depressing childhood—on the contrary, mine was filled with plenty of great memories, with a reasonable and expected share of negative, immature comments. Regardless, they took their toll and fashion became my primary outlet.
Fast forward to last week. Jess bumped into me during a supermarket trip and before she even said hello, she screamed, “HAVE YOU BEEN LIFTING?” down the ice cream aisle. I keep running into vague acquaintances on the street, a friend of a friend of a friend whose name I can’t remember, that tell me how they obsess over my photos. Some of my oldest friends tell me every subsequent shoot is guaranteed better than my last. On my way to an Oakland art festival, Eric was trying to market my Instagram to two completely random girls on the bus. One of them was…somehow…already following me?! These little experiences, where people take notice of me and my work rather than my clothes, are such a refreshing change to the comments I received in high school. People now commend me for my art, my conceptual ability, my photography and styling, for my humor and occasional wit, my smile, and even my infantile muscles, much more than they used to.
Fashion certainly held a completely different meaning growing up. If my interests stemmed from a childhood lack of self-esteem, how will my relationship with fashion change as my confidence grows? What does fashion offer me now that I finally feel like my personality, my art, my own self speak louder than the clothes I wear? An adequate answer would imply that I’m on the right track, that I love what I love and do what I do for a wholly legitimate reason. With its original meaning diminished, what legitimizes my interests? Is that even a sound question and do I need an answer...can I like something just to like it?
The answer came to me pretty quickly. I love, live, breathe fashion for its more substantial and fulfilling qualities now. It’s given me the confidence to create. Every time inspiration hits, I chatter on about how I want to photoshop my neck into a bouquet or play with smeared makeup or put a glass orb on my model’s head. For the most part, I get confused and hesitantly encouraging responses. I forgo their comments, go with my gut, and something personally meaningful always results.
Fashion gives me a chance to tell stories and craft characters, to escape mundanity and enter a surreal world of my own creation. Looking through my portfolio, one consistent trend I see is a lack of documentation. I hate capturing anything as I see it (event photography? NO!). Life is great, but an escape is better. I construct personas, either for myself or my models, and find new meaning. I’m able to create and capture wild personalities, bringing my visions to life and turning them to pixels.
My photographer friend Peter once said that he takes pictures while I make pictures. Making photos requires a deliberate hand, one that can combine clothing and makeup, location and lighting, innate personality and performance. Fashion is indispensable to this sort of creation. It lets me turn an applied math and computer science double major into a porcelain doll picking tulips under the shade of a Dutch windmill. I’m able to make a global poverty major intent on pursuing education reform into an asynchronously glamorous farmer touring the Wild West in her lemon yellow truck. I’m antsy to shoot my upcoming project, where pre-med Jimena (who is currently conquering organic chemistry) will transform into a silk-clad trophy wife, unhappy with her diamond-encrusted fingers and rich husband, moodily sipping on her glass of bubbly.
This long and rambling post has reassured me that fashion is my home and I’m certainly here to stay. Way back when, it introduced me to confidence as all those baggy pieces of fabric helped me hide my insecurities. In retrospect, I’m incredibly grateful that I was able to find a transformative outlet. But I’ve finally learned that this dependency actually indicated a deep-seated feeling of inadequacy. Fashion has boosted my self-esteem to realize I don’t need it, that self-worth shouldn’t stem from wearing slim-fit instead of classic cut. Enjoy and love your closet, but don’t rely on it. Instead of hiding myself in the clothes I wear, I’d much rather use clothing to reveal my thoughts and innermost musings. As these musings come to life, one successful shoot after another, I’m finding that fashion is still giving me confidence and in a much healthier way. It’s an avenue to dream up adventures and narrate stories. More than anything, fashion has granted me a cure to my insatiable, stirring desire to create.