Growing up, I have always been taught by society to dress for others. Girls have been taught to dress for protection against the male gaze or told to dress for male attention. I’ve been told to dress “lady-like.” I’ve heard others tell me to dress for my body type. “Oh no, the boys will stay away from you if you wear that.” Boys have been taught to dress traditionally masculine and follow the instilled gender norms. They should avoid any sense of style as to not appear “flamboyant.”
Collectively, we have been told what is appropriate for certain occasions and for particular social environments. When it comes down to it, we even dress to look cool to our friends.
But, what do you wear when no one is watching?
I’m sure you’ve all seen the TikTok trend in which women share their before and after photos of when they decided to “stop dressing for the male gaze.” Over the years, we have universally chosen to dress a certain way in order to please others. It’s not until we let go of those expectations that we achieve a viral-worthy glow-up, in which we are happier and free.
They say that fashion is a form of self-expression. It is how you introduce yourself to each person who lays eyes on you. However, how often does what we wear reflect who we truly are?
Instead, I took an oath to start dressing the way I wanted to dress — to make myself feel comfortable and confident.
I realized that I wanted this for myself during the initial lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic. I started the quarantine period in the same pair of baggy sweatpants until I finally snapped out of shock and tackled my mountain of laundry. Each morning as I stood in front of my closet, I realized that I didn’t know what to wear. What was the occasion? Who was I going to see? Without the possibility of being overdressed or underdressed, I wiggled into my favorite pair of flare jeans and layered my oversized cashmere sweater, and started my school work-at-home. In that moment, I felt like myself again.
In the past, CF community member Aliania Citron would only wear Abercrombie & Fitch skinny jeans and anything with the words “Hollister” written across the chest. She always felt pressure to give in to the trends and wear what everyone else was wearing.
“I have memories from middle school and early high school of always asking friends what they were wearing, so as to not be over or underdressed,” said Alaina. “There was a certain need to fit in and not stand out too much.”
Up until quarantine, she never truly wore what she felt like wearing. Like me, the confinement forced her to examine her wardrobe and encouraged her to experiment with difficult looks and combinations. After finally coming out of her work-from-home attire, she has made bolder and riskier fashion choices.
“I lost that fear of being judged for what I’m wearing,” said Alaina. “I began to dress for me, wearing those bold printed pants or the bright blue blazer — no matter how others would react to it.”
Growing up in the south, CF community member Enjanae’ Taylor was put under a lot of pressure on how to express herself. In high school, she hid the bold style she once embraced as a child and dressed to seem normal to her peers.
“There was a particular way everyone dressed to school and for events, and I thought if I wasn’t wearing the exact same brands the same way as everyone else, I wouldn’t fit in or [would] be looked down upon,” said Enjanae’.
Ever since starting college, she works every day to spark the confidence that was swashed by negative opinions. She uses fashion to unapologetically display her personality, her feelings, and her goals.
“I’ve had fashion shows in my room since I was a little girl. I put on my favorite outfits and blast music and just strut around my room,” said Enjanae’. “I totally still do this, and always put on the extra crazy things not as wearable because of the Louisiana weather or just because they’re more formal, and just have fun with it.”
Sometimes I wish I could talk to my ten-year-old self. I would tell her to hold on to her carefree attitude as long as she could. Now, I can’t remember a day where I wasn’t aware of others’ judgment. I miss the confidence I once had when I wore nothing but peace signs and different colored fedoras everywhere I went because it made me happy. I strive to be that girl again.
If I want to live in my collection of oversized linen shirts, I will not stop wearing them because they are “unflattering” to my figure. The local middle-aged hater can no longer stop me from wearing my butt-lifting mom jeans with rips at the knees. The male gaze can no longer tell me what to walk out of the house in. Once you learn how to dress strictly for yourself, you will unlock a power you didn’t know you had in you and you will be released from the constraints on your fashion freedom.
Featured photo by @jahaesy.