Style, some people are just born with it—what a load of BS! Personal style is something we have to spend countless hours and a laughable amount of energy to gain. So what made me decide to not only take that journey, but see it to the end? Well let me tell you a very personal story.
From the moment I entered this world, like many mothers, mine was struck with the dolly syndrome. I was an adorable, rosy-cheeked, doe-eyed, living, breathing baby doll. I’d happily comply (more like obliviously, I’m sure) to wear anything my mother found ‘too cute’ and the ‘ooh’s’ and ‘aah’s’ would follow. Lot’s of velvet baby doll dresses (again with that term), hair ribbons, coordinated pant outfits, and patent Mary Janes. My dad being a photographer may not have helped. I was quickly shaping up to be a real ham. By eight I had mastered the perfect cross-legged camera pose. It took seven step brothers to snap me out of this phase.
I was a smart cookie, and a tad sensitive (I was still a girl after all). If I wanted an in with my older step siblings, I’d need to toughen up a little. Plus, I was tired of them teasing me and pulling my pigtails. I threw fits about wearing dresses and lived in leggings, keds and funny little t-shirts (which strangely enough are very hip now). And the nearly decade long era of the pony tail begin. My hair had nearly reached my waist, and it was the one thing I couldn’t convince my mom to let me cut off. The only reasonable thing for me to do was to perpetually live in my ponytail. And when I say live, I am not kidding—I even slept with my hair up. Nobody saw my hair down for the next few years.
As puberty kicked in, my ‘womanly’ shape did too. That just would not do! So my new staple became denim. Denim shorts, denim pants, even denim overalls. And always a loose fit to hide my new feminine shape. My style was certainly dictated by my suddenly failing self esteem.
Eventually it got to a point where hiding my girlish figure was a chore, and that’s putting it lightly. So I was open to the idea of trying on a new look. That paired with my inevitable teenage obligation to rebel, lead to my punk rock days (punk rock lite, is more appropriate I suppose).
I got to explore my creative side at this point. Much of my apparel was very DIY. And by DIY I mostly mean taking scissors to clothing and making it look like garbage. Tight jeans, rocker-status belt buckles, little t-shirts, and NO MORE PONYTAIL! In an equally rebellious move a few years prior, I had gone to the bathroom and chopped (euphemism for butchered) my long hair into a few knobby stumps.
Funny thing is, every morning getting ready for high school at this point in my life felt like putting on a costume. I wasn’t being me. But hey, who needs me when you’ve got a group of really cool friends that intimidate the entire student body!
This phase continued well after high school. My friends were still my whole life, and I hadn’t found my purpose yet. So our style ever-so-slightly evolved together. We went from cute little punks to better-than-you scenesters. The return of the ironic tee, skinny jeans, old lady shoes, and my first, and last, mullet!
But I was still pretending. My look had become a way to avoid having to become an adult. I was too cool for conventional ways of life (you know, getting a real job and settling down). And as much as I may have seemed confident, if you had taken me away from my comparatively styled friends, I’d be lost. They, along with my hip threads and nose ring, were my security blanket.
Woman with a Plan
I eventually broke down and realized how lost I was, even amongst my circle. So I stopped cutting my hair, threw out my wardrobe and moved away to find the real me. This was a low point in my life. My self esteem was beyond shattered, it was entirely non-existent. I had created this persona to cover up the fact that I didn’t have a clue. Now that I was in a sense, naked, I was forced to look at myself in the mirror. And I didn’t like what I saw for the longest time.
I tried throwing myself into the future by burning my past, quite literally. I threw most of the photos I could find of myself in my tomboy/wannabe phase into the fireplace and lit a match. I thought it would be some sort of cathartic moment. (And that is why I’m lacking on pictorial evidence of this portion of my life.)
I forced myself to get back into writing at this point in my life. I had been told in my prepubescent years that it was my calling, but refused to believe that someone else could know that before me. Strangely enough, they were right.
The more I wrote, the more comfortable I got with my own image. And after that, I was in love with clothes again. But this time, I wasn’t dressing for a group of friends, I was finally seeing what I looked good, what appealed to me. I wasn’t afraid to venture out. I realized having a style, doesn’t necessarily mean having ONE style. And boy did I try on many different styles.
I fell in love with the resurgence of all things 90s. I quickly learned its okay to wear florals. Prints started appearing in my closet. And its perfectly okay to shop in the men’s department for a cozy sweater.
So after that long journey, I was doing what I loved, I felt pretty for the first time ever, and I had a closet of clothes, not costumes!
I’ve been reevaluating myself and how far I’ve come a lot lately. I’ve been through a number of obstacles and heartbreakingly difficult scenarios, all mostly self-induced. I am proud of persevering and in order to let go of the past I’ve recently cut off my lion’s mane of hair and thusly have shed twenty five years of being lost. I’ve also been streamlining my closet to the bare minimum.
My style has become less about the clothes and more about me. Which may seem bizarre for someone in the fashion realm to admit, but I would have it no other way. My style doesn’t define me, I define it. And I am the happiest any one girl could be.
by Grace Gulley