At the age of ten, I dressed for myself. With no concept of sexuality and femininity, I dressed for my eyes. I wore lilac cargo pants and a white t-shirt that read “Destroy” in electric purple diamante, flat clips that bore large butterflies. I wore army camo pants and a matching bucket hat, and I beamed, always. I dressed garishly, madly, so perfectly. I dressed as I pleased, my mother absolved from dressing me. I had an identity of my own, my clothes to tell my story. I felt most comfortable; it was the simplest I had ever felt, bearing a multitude of plastic beads from my neck and wrists, green eyeshadow. I had only clothes I was most myself in, and no matter what I wore, I would feel great. I was sure of myself, my own superhero.
I’ve been thinking a lot about women who dress for no one but themselves. Sarah Nicole Prickett writes, “In the end I wear the best top I ever bought (off eBay). It’s made of soft scratchy iron-grey wool, cut on the bias into a long, one-armed swirl. Everywhere it’s tight, but not too tight…I wear it with six-inch Aldo heels——designed for the brand by Patrik Ervell, they have rubber spike heels, a bulbous platform, and a Mary-Jane strap; they’re hideous——and a navy polyester ball-skirt I got for $10 at Joe Fresh a year ago. Maybe I look like a superhero crashing a prom.” It’s what she wears to fall in love. She must’ve looked like a madwoman, I think. She must’ve looked perfect, I think.
Throw in a crush, girlfriends advising to wear pink, he’ll appreciate it. At the cusp of sixteen, I became a female thing, a proprietor of sexuality and femininity that at so young an age could only be expressed in so many ways, and I was wearing baby pink spandex t-shirts with “Honey” sequined across the chest, skinny jeans inherited, tight on parts of me that I hadn’t gotten comfortable with yet, fitting in, becoming the same. My collarbones were my assets, I was told, gangly arms and long neck, assets, these I could show. My thighs didn’t fit, something to be worked on. My body had become my only asset in light of this new consciousness, and I was always uncomfortable, pulling at tops stuck to each curve and crevice of my soft belly, pants that made me want to chip away at my legs, bit by bit, thighs and calves and knees. I was fitting in, but spilling out of myself. I looked like anyone else, like any girl not sure of herself, and when an acquaintance said just this, that I looked like any other girl, it stung, but it was true. I dressed nondescript and pleasing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about women who dress for no one but themselves. I ask artist Kate Greer how she is so seemingly comfortable in her clothes, in her skin. She dresses in a manner that any other woman would know that she dresses just for herself. Her outfits would take me days to coordinate, hours to have the valor to put on, only to take off and cover myself in nondescript, or pleasing. “I find myself having to constantly battle an ego that wants to fit in,” she says, “and desires the uniform of my surroundings in order to do so (e.g. North Face jackets in college, Louboutins in NYC). I find that once I feel comfortable in a new setting, the full looks come back in full force! Once what inspires you takes over the driver’s seat and kicks out the desire to fit in, I go back to only buying what I love and the rest falls into place.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about women who dress for no one but themselves. My friend Lily and I met because we were going through growing pains, growing into our skin, who we are, who we will be. Lily dyed the tips of her hair shocking pink on her last day at her corporate job. She laughs loud, smiles wide and will dance to a good song everywhere. Her hair is beautiful and courageous now, sharp on one side, soft on the other, much like herself. On May Day, she posts a picture of herself on Instagram. The caption reads: “Happy May Day can you believe I’m only 24 and I’ve already found the outfit I want to be buried in?” Later that day, I meet her where boys are dressed for the year the Berlin Wall fell and girls can be so tidily fit into two categories. Lily is wearing an emerald and white tropical-printed top and a matching full skirt that twirls and blows in the wind. Her lips gleam ruby red and from her ears hang gold hoops like moon crescents. She wears what she can live on forever in. It is the most she has looked herself in, it is entirely her; she is entirely herself. She is a character from a Dawn Powell or Rona Jaffe novel who thrives and thrives and grows into herself while the rest of us wear grey and disappear.
I have an emerald green dress, fitted bodice, skirt that flares, too dressy for anything, an oddity amongst the black and white and navy and taupe one wears to just slip by, unnoticed. I am self-conscious as I put it on because in it I feel set apart, different, an anomaly in a setting where dressing homogeneously is most certainly de rigueur. But once it is on, I am most at ease. Sometimes I wear it to do the laundry, or to think or write or work; in it I confident but more so I feel good about myself and even more I can be myself, like Superman in his given flesh and sometimes, when I am brave enough, I wear it outside. I have a pair of black trousers, high-waisted and billowy, repellant to all men, so unlike my black skinny skinny jeans. They don’t cling or pinch, they flow and skim over parts of me that remind me that all the parts of me are my favorite parts of me. In it, I am a Helmut Newton muse. In it, I am comfortable, beautiful, lovely, just me, I recognize how beautiful I am outside the limitations of standardized beauty. I am my ten year old self again when I dress for myself, when I dress in what makes me happy. I’m my own superhero again.
I’ve been thinking a lot about women who dress for no one but themselves, and I think it’s such a marvelous thing.