I think I’ve spoken about this before, but there were ebbs and flows with finding my personal style. Sometimes I tried too hard to fit in, others I tried too hard to stand out. To me, they’re almost one and the same. Neither came naturally, and both were intentional choices rooted in social purpose. I know it might sometimes feel like I’m trying to stand out, dressing the away I do in a Florida casual setting. But being myself and trying to stand out are completely different things.
The evolution of personal style
I spent a lot of my youth not necessarily fit in but blend in, to camouflage myself as fellow flora amongst the wallflowers. The funny part is that it was reflected more in my disposition than my clothing choices. Looking back, most of the time I thought I was blending in, I was wearing kind of wild clothing compared to my peers. I had no interest in following trends just because they were in. I wore whatever I liked, and expressed myself through personal style because I was struggling so much to do it in any other way.
Save for a couple of years in middle school when my mom’s BONGO shorts and oversized Winnie the Pooh shirts were my thing, I was always experimenting with my personal style, while simultaneously shrinking inward and making myself as small and discreet as possible around anyone unfamiliar. My lavender cords and polyester 90s does 70s leisure shirt betrayed my shy persona. Come high school, I’d wear metallic blue and green pants, pink satin bell bottoms, or snake print faux leather, but I could barely utter a single syllable to a boy I liked.
Even as I started gaining a bit more confidence, my social anxiety would pop up and squash my voice.
I once pretended not to be present in order to avoid accepting an award on stage…for Most Likely to Win an Oscar. A classmate said I was being fashionably antisocial, as though I were subverting the awards assembly in an act of cool rebellion. I leaned into it, because teenaged me would rather be seen as aloof than nervous.
Ah, the irony of a socially anxious, shaky chihuahua of a girl winning an award based on her stage performances in front of large crowds. But acting and singing was easy, a costume change, trying on a different persona. It was being me that was the challenge.
Then came college, and as coming-of-age movie cliché as this is, it felt like a chance to reinvent myself.
I didn’t know many people on campus, and I set new challenges for myself. This is when I started trying a little hard to stand out. New campus, new me, lots of fishnet stockings as sleeves and everything was cut up and put back together again. I would do silly things like turn my cutoff denim skirt (made from pants, naturally) sideways, because it made it feel different. Also, I dyed my hair every color under the rainbow, then cut my hair into a mullet, dyed it black, and starting wearing thigh high boots and graphic tees with everything. I was super into the scene at the time, and being scene meant standing out as much as possible…together. It was, essentially, micro-fitting in. Fitting in and trying too hard to stand out can sometimes be almost the same thing. Because there is always a socially centered goal in there. It was kinda cute, though, and I really fun time in my life with good shows every week.
I don’t regret it, any of it, because the phases and experimenting were essential to finding comfort and familiarity in my own sense of style.
Though I look back on some of my earlier blog photos and cringe, I also see aspects of my style and beloved clothing items that stayed with me through today. I was finding myself — and there is a 100% chance that future me will look back on my current style and cringe, too. Trial and error was the best way to zero in on what I liked — and beyond that, evolution is natural and arguably essential to growth. Just because I don’t like it now doesn’t mean it wasn’t authentic to myself then. And though I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I stopped dressing for a social purpose or specific aesthetic and started dressing in a way that feels organically me in that moment, I think that’s kind of the point. It’s not something that happens overnight. It comes with age, with confidence, with no longer giving a single care about what anyone has to say about your outfit.
I might not fit in, but it’s not for trying to stand out. It’s for not caring either way.
These days, I don’t put a ton of thought into what I’m wearing. I just wear what I want, according to my mood that day. I always say, “Why have one aesthetic when you can have all of them?” and I stand by that. Wear what you want. Joy and confidence will follow.