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've arrived in grown-up land, I realize it's a blessing to have 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 dry as it may seem. I was actually embarrassed about my dreams to go into fashion. I never denied my passion for sartorial self expression, but in a self deprecating way, I always joked about my silly interest for clothing. I thought my zeal for clothing was superficial so instead of pursuing fashion, I pursued journalism.
When I was a junior in college, I won a year-long fellowship that ensured me a position at USA Today in D.C. But I was just the fashion girl, didn't they want someone who wrote about politics? The man who vouched for me to win the fellowship took me aside 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.
He helped me realize that yes, fashion is important and that I needed to pursue it 100% in the city where fashion dreams come true. So instead of taking the fellowship in D.C., I packed up my bags and moved to New York to prove myself at Verily Magazine. As I grew in my mission to help women discover the power of personal style, I began reconciling the part of me that associated my interest in clothing with being materialistic.
It wasn't until my senior year in college that my perspective changed and 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.
Anytime I've felt particularly confident in myself, 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? Our clothing choices embolden us to express our innermost feelings, character, personality, and aspirations. I had previously believed clothing was a detraction, something that hides who we really are. Clothing is just a material object, but it's the human person that makes it so much more than that.
Generally as humans, we have a great desire to be understood and clothing is a way in which people can come to understand who we are. 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, you're 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 for personal style. Style give 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.
But style is a process that comes from within and manifested without. It's a slippery slope into materialism when we look to clothing to define us. How do I know? Because I've done it. I've laid awake in bed at night and wondering, "Who would I be if I didn't have my clothes or my style?" I've found myself looking to clothes to define who I am internally, rather than the other way around. It's easy then, to start basing self-worth from physical appearances and the clothing that provides that. The pattern is as follows: "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 self worth regardless of the things we wear.
While I've figured out the difference between materialism and personal style, I know 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 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, now that's real style.
This article originally appeared in Verily Magazine.