If there's one thing I can say about myself, it's that I've always known who and what I want to be. I was one of those kids who forced adults to look at scribbles of family members and princesses, but my drawings were all of outfits. Now that I'm the style editor at Verily, I realize it's a blessing to have had such a clear understanding of my passion.
But when I reflect on the actualization of my dreams-to-reality story, it's not as cut and dried as it may seem. I was actually embarrassed about my dreams to go into fashion. I never denied my passion for sartorial expression, but in a self-deprecating way, I always joked about my silly interest for clothing. I thought my zeal for style was superficial, so instead of pursuing fashion, I pursued journalism.
When I was a junior in college, I won a yearlong fellowship that ensured me a position at a major national news outlet in D.C. But I am just the fashion girl; don't they want someone who writes about politics?, I thought. The man who vouched for me to win the fellowship took me aside once and said, "Fashion is so important. It's foolish to think it doesn't matter. Your voice is powerful."
Sometimes all it takes is one person saying something point-blank for it to register.
In my senior year, I discovered how closely linked the material and the immaterial are (i.e., the internal and external of the human person). It's the physical body that manifests the spirit; personalities and moods that are visible through facial expressions and body language. Every time we put clothing on our bodies, there is an opportunity to express the internal even more. I think we all instinctively know this.
And yet the pursuit of expressing our internal via what we wear can easily become a slippery slope into materialism—buying things just because they're on sale, binge shopping on cheap merchandise we'll wear just once. How do I know? Because I've done it. I've found myself looking to clothes to define who I am internally, rather than the other way around. I've laid awake in bed at night wondering, "Who would I be if I didn't have my clothes or my style?" It's easy then, to start basing self-worth on physical appearance and the clothing that provides it.
Anytime I want to feel particularly confident, I find myself reaching for strong silhouettes and bold colors. My blazer keeping my back straight, the popped collar encouraging me to keep my chin up, my pencil skirt reminding me to walk with swagger. It may sound silly, but who can deny the power of a bright red dress that flatters in all the right ways and billows behind you as you conquer the day?
But the clothes cannot be an end in themselves. I may love that a particular pair of designer shoes makes me feel like a powerful woman; on the other hand, the pursuit of "it" shoes just because they're trendy, or convey a certain status, is something else entirely. I know I have found myself thinking things like, "If I buy and wear this dress, I'll be better, I'll be full, I'll be happy." Materialistic behavior is often a result of misplaced self-worth. We all want fulfillment, but when we start looking to things to fulfill us, we end up feeling empty. Self-worth resides in the same place personal style does—the interior. Exterior things can't determine who we are or what we are worth; we have worth regardless of the things we wear.
Generally as humans, we have a great desire to be understood and clothing is one way to reveal who we are to others. In this respect, clothing is actually a form of communication. We may not realize it, but the way we dress gives everyone around us all kinds of information about who we are. If you're someone who wears a lot of black, your no-nonsense approach to dressing might convey how you approach life in general. If you love busy prints and bright colors, you might not be afraid to take risks or be different. We're expressing hundreds of things about ourselves without even opening our mouths.
This is why I'm such a proponent of personal style. Style gives us the power to visually express what we cannot verbally, to reveal who we are in a way that is entirely unique to ourselves and our clothing. It’s an approach, a method, a technique that has been chosen by you to best represent who you are as a person.
While I may know the difference between materialism and personal style, I also know that I'll probably have to keep myself in check for the rest of my life. In a practical way, I try to focus on how my wardrobe dignifies my self worth. I've found that the times in which I truly felt like myself was when I wore items that brought me joy and confidence. Most importantly, I learned that a true understanding of your own worth will radiate through what you wear, and that's real style.
Photo Credit: Elissa Voss Photography