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The external reflects the internal, and when I compare who I am now to who I was last year, I feel like I’m looking at a different person. The year 2016 was scattered with milestones that, month by month, totally changed the way I dressed. As I reflect on my twelve-month journey, I can attribute my growth to four life lessons.

I Learned Healthy Shopping Habits //

Last January, I felt like I had hit a dead end with my style. No matter how much I bought from Zara or Forever21, I still felt like I had nothing to wear. I hated my wardrobe and was tired of trying to make trendy pieces work in my everyday life.

After reading Elizabeth L. Cline’s Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, my eyes were opened to the reality of the fast-fashion industry. I made an abrupt decision to shop exclusively secondhand and ethical brands. I was nervous about making such an extreme and seemingly countercultural decision and anticipated a great deal of pining over the Zara website. To my surprise, saying no to myself was not too bad, and I felt a sense of self-control, which ultimately turned into a lack of attraction to fast-fashion items. It was as if I had stopped eating sugar and was finally not craving it anymore.

I used to have a superficial connection with consuming; it was just about picking something off a rack and making it mine. My goal when shopping now is to find unique items that I want to make part of my life because they represent my identity as a person. I’m looking at the clothes I buy as lifelong investments.

I Developed a Relationship with My Wardrobe //

While shopping at the thrift store toward the end of the summer, I stumbled upon an olive green pleated skirt for $3. I fell in love. There was something about it that filled my heart with joy and made me want to make it a part of my life. As my Verily coworkers can attest, I wore this skirt probably too much, but to me, it still didn’t feel like enough. I realized that I had developed a personal relationship with my little green skirt.

This year, I became more critical about the clothes I let into my life, not only making sure a piece was of high quality but also making sure I really loved it. I find joy in these clothes, and they’ve helped me express that joy every time I wear them. I learned to invest in my wardrobe like I aim to invest in my relationships with people. To cherish my clothes, be grateful for them, take care of them, and mend them. When I look at my closet, I value each piece so much and want it to last forever.

I Forced Myself to Be Creative //

The switch to shopping ethical brands or at secondhand stores is what really transformed my style. Because I was so frustrated with my lack of basic items, I decided to start from the ground up by getting the staples first. After all, you need a foundation to put all your fun statement pieces on top of! I focused on buying classic items I could wear with everything, and boy, was it easier getting dressed in the morning. I stopped caring about the modern and edgy silhouettes and got back to figure-flattering pieces that I could count on to make me look good every day—pieces that were timeless.

As I began to establish a solid base wardrobe, I began incorporating more fun items over time. This is where my vintage obsession got kicked into high gear. When scanning through the local thrift store or searching through Etsy’s endless online vintage shops, it forced my brain to start thinking critically by imagining how I would wear each item and what it would look like with everything else I own. As soon as I enter a vintage or thrift store, my brain goes into a zone that I can only compare to Cher’s computerized closet from Clueless. This new approach to shopping helped me regain my creativity and challenged me to think (and dress) outside of the box.

I Made a Commitment to Confidence //

Last year was a year of major personal growth for me, which resonated in my style. Stopping my unhealthy shopping habits and ignoring outside influences forced me to work on myself. Once I stopped trying to be someone else by copying the way they dressed, I finally had to look at who I was and become the best version of that. Even though the items I pick can be a little on the crazy side, these clothes express my newfound confidence while making me commit to being confident in myself.

I can only imagine where my style journey will take me in 2017, but I can’t wait to see what I will wear next.