Often, fashion is trivialized. Those who are involved in fashion are pinned as lacking the depth necessary for other hobbies. I was made to believe that fashion was vain. Women only care how they dressed to catch the gaze of men. Fashion is just a status symbol. I even pondered if my desire to put together unique outfits was “sinful” due to a combination of loose interpretation of scripture and church modesty culture. In early high school when my love of fashion was coming into full bloom, I was embarrassed and ashamed of it.
None of these previous statements about fashion are true (at least, ninety-eight percent of the time). Some of these statements are products of a society that profits off the objectification of women. Whether or not it should be this way, fashion has been classically identified with women. Modeling and fashion are among the few industries where women have an upper hand, as queen Tyra Banks has said. This art form is about us and society shudders at the thought of women doing anything just because we want to, so they flip it around and try to distort our motives. This is where the idea that fashion is about pleasing men comes from. If they can convince us for even a moment that pleasing men is what we desire, they can sell us more insight into the male mind. Whereas, it is much harder to sell to an audience whose criteria is defined solely on personal style. The idea that any appearance decision I have made was to please men is ludicrous. I wish I had a dollar for every instance throughout my life in which I was told boys liked girls with long hair and then decided to get a haircut anyway. I’m not recommending getting a haircut out of spite, but I may have done so once or twice.
Dispelling the other misconceptions doesn’t take much. The idea that fashion is lacking depth is a statement lacking depth in itself. Do not tell me I cannot be both an honors student and a fashionista: I contain multitudes. There is a difference between loving fashion and loving shopping. Do not equate every person who is into fashion as someone with a 2003-Paris-Hilton-esque shopping addiction. It is not about spending money and it is not about having the latest trend. Many people have even moved away from the word “fashion” to focus more on “style” in order to stop being viewed as a trend-leech. It is especially hard to say that fashion-lovers are shallow when so many of us are using our platforms for activism, drawing attention to slave-labor, unfair wages, and negative effects on the environment. How can you call us shallow when we are so willingly pointing out the flaws in the industry we love, so willing to hold nuanced views and have hard conversations?
The most insecure years of my life I dressed in Nike shorts and old t-shirts. Of course, some people dress this way because that is how they are most comfortable. (Do your thing!) However, I used it as a form of camouflage. I did not want to be seen; I thought I was not supposed to want to be seen. I grew up, as many of us do, confusing insecurity with humility. Here is how I now differentiate: humility is how you view yourself in relation to others, being secure or insecure has to do with how you view yourself when no one else is around. Self-love and humility are not mutually exclusive. I thought I had to hate myself in order to think highly of others because that is what was modeled to me. I strongly believe we love others best when we learn to love ourselves (a process that takes time and is not linear, something we may all struggle with continually).
For me, fashion was and is self-love. It was a way of saying to myself, “It is okay for people to notice you. You are allowed to take up space.” I remember the first time I wore a skirt on a week-day–going somewhere that wasn’t a Sunday morning church service in a skirt was a huge deal. It was a gathered maroon skirt that I picked up from Forever 21. (Forgive me of my past sins.) I was nervous and self-conscious, constantly tugging at the hem. Simultaneous proud of myself while also hoping no one would comment on it. And yet, someone did. I remember someone asking what I was “so dressed up for.” The classic and unintentionally yet blatantly misogynistic, “What, do you have a date or something?” I replied with a line I had rehearsed in my head over and over in preparation for the impending battle ahead, “I don’t need a reason to dress up.” I may have stuttered, may not have looked the opponent in the eye. It was not a perfect battle, but it was a quiet victory. It was a step towards freedom from physical shame.
Fashion is not an inherently shallow form of art just because your body is the canvas. Art is vast. It is anything we create. Sometimes our best creation is ourselves. You are allowed to feel like a work of art. If you feel that way no matter what you wear, that’s beautiful. Sometimes we all need to dress up a bit to remind us that we are all alive, capable, and growing. We must fight self-hate in whatever ways that we can. I choose to fight with fashion.