March 4, 2017
A story of the relationship of me and clothes and age and appearance at different points in my life
When I was younger I thought I should have a piece of clothing in every color. That helped me make decisions when buying clothing–I would choose the item that offered a unique color to my wardrobe. I remember having one of those shirts where there’s the attached longsleeves under the t-shirt, and mine was purple with pink sleeves and embroidery across the front. It was one of my favorite shirts in the upper elementary grades. I remember getting a tie-dyed circle shirt and sequin-trimmed capri leggings from Justice in middle school, ruffled mini skorts and mini leggings to go underneath, I remember wearing all sorts of color combinations in my clothing and in the barrettes in my hair. In tenth grade I stopped wearing five barrettes in my hair at the same time. I opted instead for a single black bobby pin instead to keep the troublesome side of the wisps down, perhaps after reading an article on how French women don’t wear crazy hair accessories, perhaps after realizing that rainbow barrette combinations make me look like a middle schooler.
At the beginning of tenth grade I made a resolution to stop buying clothes if I didn’t know where they came from, unless they were secondhand. For a long time afterwards I didn’t add new clothes to my wardrobe because I couldn’t find “ethical” options that fit. My rationale was that the negative environmental impact, perpetuation of murky supply chains, unsafe working conditions, and destructive cycle of fast fashion were not worth new clothing. I did not want to ask my parents to put their money into such irresponsibility. I also tried working towards a capsule wardrobe in an effort to have minimalist consumption habits and to work towards the sophisticated outfits I wanted but was always feeling like my clothes just weren’t that great.
I gave up on my capsule wardrobe a while ago because I didn’t actually have enough clothes. I didn’t realize before reading the blog post on Anushka’s blog (called Into Mind at the time) about whether you should make a capsule wardrobe that you can’t have a capsule wardrobe if you don’t have enough clothes. I didn’t realize that could be a problem. What I had read was about people having too many clothes and not wanting to be too strict with limiting the number of clothing items.
Material possessions aren’t supposed to take up your life. Supposedly material possessions can’t bring you happiness. Supposedly material possessions are supposed to make you happy.
Through much of high school, I was wearing the same clothes that I liked four years ago, wearing the kind of clothes I wore in middle school every day. Nobody cares what I wear–until I start taking up space and making statements with my clothing, until I start speaking loud and clear through what I wear–but I care.
There goes my dreams of having the perfectly ethical wardrobe with a heavy me-made section, I thought. I went to NYC with my parents, I bought some clothes. At a business with a reputation for being not ethical. Not ethical at all. And with fibers that aren’t sustainable. A few months later I went to NYC again and did the same thing. The t-shirts I bought were 100% cotton but not organic cotton, the shorts I bought had blended fibers so that they can’t be recycled or composted with currently available technology.
I stopped the whole don’t buy clothes unless it’s ethical and don’t buy new thing because there are certain realities that need to be accounted for. Like how I’m not in middle school anymore. Like how I can’t keep wearing my middle school clothes which still fit and make me feel like a sticky baby if I want to feel okay about myself. Like how people keep mistaking me for younger than I am. Like how I was 15 and was asked if I was 12, like how I was 17 and was told that I looked 15. Like how I was offered a children’s menu (for people 12 and under) at the age of 16. Like how I was told that I can’t really know what I think because I’m just a kid. Like how I feel younger and younger, relative to my chronological age, the more time goes on. Like how I’m 18 and so different from when I turned 17, so different from when I turned 16, 15, 14…Like how I dress impacts how I feel. Like how I feel impacts how I act.
I used to think it was superficial to care what I look like, but clothing impacts how a person is perceived. I needed to grow up in other peoples eyes. I was already growing up but felt weirdly out of place with respect to my age. I wanted to look the part so I could start feeling it. Now, I still am on too many days wearing the same clothes, not looking quite sophisticated or edgy or unique or any of the other things I want to be. For a month after I turned 17, I nearly forgot that I was 17 and I felt at once old and young, mostly too young to be good enough at pretending to know what I’m doing.
I haven’t been told that I look younger than I am for a while now, I think. One of my teachers said that I look young at the end of last year. I wonder if it’s my body or if it’s my clothes or if it’s my behavior or if it’s societal expectations for what it means to be a certain age. I think about the people I know who supposedly look younger than they are. Today there was a girl who said she gets told she looks 12 all the time even though she’s a high school senior. There is a girl in my school who I would think looks her age or even older, and she said she gets mistaken for both an 8th grader and a teacher. I haven’t been meeting a lot of new people much, and maybe people have gotten used to me and figured out that I’m not as young as they think I am.
It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The you hate me, I become hateable type thing? But instead it’s you think I’m young, I act young thing. This is how I felt, like vomit, like a messy savage in rag clothes.
Occasionally I put together outfits intentionally, in an experimentation of sorts, violating all sorts of fashion rules, I bet, but becoming something that I mean to make. And who decides fashion? Who decides what is acceptable? On what grounds? (And who decides what is “age appropriate”?)
It’s a bit weird. Now that I’m 18 and a legal adult, and I’m almost entering my 20s. For a few years now I have liked 20-30 year olds’ clothing better than the teenager store stuff, but didn’t necessarily have the money or resources to buy all the clothing at once or even find it all in my size. So now I’ve missed my opportunity to show off my sophisticated years ahead of my age styling skills that maybe I don’t have. I have been afraid that I will grow out of this, that my style will change so much so fast, or that I would go on a year abroad trip and come back wearing completely different clothing–the styles that I haven’t liked now. That I would go to become all layery again or be a minimalist or maximalist in style. And I have long since figured out that there is no perfectly ethical clothing, that it’s all complicated and confusing like life, that nobody really knows what they are doing in some way, that a lot of people are just good at acting the part, that really the best I can try to do is be a minimalist in consumption habits, because I do not and should not have the right to just use up whatever I want on this planet.