When I was a teenager, I was fearless. Insecure and a bit of an idiot, but fearless. Isn’t that true of most teenagers? Isn’t that why it can be dangerous – you take unnecessary risks – but also why you have such clear, vivid memories of those days – because you were really alive?
I used to dress like I was fearless. It seems like such a small thing. They’re only clothes, after all. Who cares?
But how you present yourself to the world is a pretty accurate model for how you live in the world.
I went through a hat phase. Not ball-caps. More like old-school cloches, bucket and bowler hats. I had a lovely Panama hat with a pink ribbon. I wore a lot of pink back then.
I wore a bag was that was a gift from my friend, a talented seamstress and artist. One-half was pink, and the other half was a cloth-printed page of comic from my favorite manga series, Ranma 1/2. I stuck on a series of band pins for good measure.
My hair changed with the seasons. Each time my uncle would see me, he’d jokingly exclaim, “So this is the new flavor of the week?” Black, bleached, auburn, pink, short, long, bangs, it was all an open playing field.
I liked tights. Standard stockings like fishnets, but also multicolored or neon ones. The weirder the better. I loved to wear them under a simple skirt, or my cut-off jean shorts (which I cut off myself).
Not a nail-painter then, since I always chewed them off. Nails need to be short when you’re a piano player. Back in the early 2000s, when I was in teenhood, the metalhead boys would paint their nails black, and wear black from head-to-toe. The baggier the clothes, the better. Band shirts, chains, dreadlocks, piercings. Of all the high school groups, they were the silliest and most fun to hang out with.
Why does any of this matter? Who cares if I wear a Panama hat, or mismatched clothes, or lots of pink?
It matters because of what happened when I became a “real adult”. Conformity, an idea I stood in diametric opposition to as a teen, became an attractive and useful concept in my twenties.
Some of it was fear. Fear of standing out and being noticed. It’s normal to be a weird kid. It’s weird to be a weird adult. Who’ll take you seriously?
Standing out can be problematic when you’re a young woman. You get unwanted attention. People say things. It can get scary. What better way to be left alone than to look like you’re on the frumpy side of bland?
I was a creative spirit as a teen. As an adult, I swapped out creativity with pragmatism. Bills, earning a living, being a role model for children (and not freaking out their parents), getting into serious relationships, all of those things required being practical and pragmatic and grounded and. Not. Weird.
My clothing choices reflected that. I donned the jeans and tee (or hoodie) uniform. Plain shoes, some plaid here and there, nothing too wild. Hats, but only toques and beanies to hide my floppy unstyled hair. I just didn’t care. I was comfortable.
That’s exactly how some people would best express themselves. But it wasn’t me. I spent a decade not dressing like me.
I’m noticing something magical about being in my thirties, though.
I’m not insecure anymore. And I’m way less of an idiot (at least that’s what I tell myself). I’ve got this adult thing figured out – I can pay the bills and do work I enjoy and support and love my daughter. It’s easy.
So I don’t need to focus on that adult stuff so much anymore. It’s a learned skill. Put it in the bank, it’ll run on autopilot.
Time to put that focus toward something more fun. Discard the fear that’s been holding me back. And lean back into that creative spirit, the person I really am.
Maybe I’ll be dressing a little different in 2020.