new clothes

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.


Finding balance in the gray area | Min X Max

January 8, 2017

Something that has been tremendously difficult yet fantastic to experience is realizing that we are always living in the craziness. A year and a half ago, two years ago, I kept thinking that once I got to this next step, I would be fine. I thought that if I got stuff done, I would be able to start living the life I wanted to live. The things that come to us in ordinary moments. A friend said something like “things were crazy and then I realized that things are going to keep being crazy” and I realized she was right. Like life is crazy and will always be that way.

I know very well how far from perfect I am. I wouldn’t even think to use perfect to describe anything close to the state of me or my life. I see so many things that I could have done better, that I wish I had done better–that I feel that doing better would make my life better. But a thing about growth is that there will always be more to do.

Also, everything is connected. As I have been learning about sustainability and the garment industry and scientific research and environmental issues and life, I realized how important the gray area is. As Rebecca says on This I Wear, “sustainability is the gray area.” There was a time when I was hoping that one day I would learn enough to make good choices for the rest of my life and not have to keep researching clothing or problems, that one day I would have enough information to make decisions I could stick to permanently, that one day I would have a clear sense of my political views. But maybe the best things happen in the gray area. Becca points out on Minimal Wellness, holistic wellness is in the gray area. Life isn’t just following a strict set of guidelines but a process of navigating something difficult.

I hope that no matter what differences people may have that it’s all ordered towards good in some way, and it’s the specifics around us, the momentary, that shifts and changes as we try to figure out how to express our core in our actions and lives.

How do I find the balance? Of knowing enough and not knowing so much, of gathering information but having the courage to live with never having enough information to feel comfortable, about acting on our beliefs while acknowledging that I don’t really know what is the best action. And of having a gazillion goals and dreams while knowing there is only one goal in life, of recognizing this contradiction while seeing how my gazillion goals fit into the process of that one main goal. Of trying new things but not taking on too much, of staying true to myself while stretching outside my comfort zone. Of exploring creativity and taking risks while doing things that will add value to my life. These balances are things to explore.

Maybe I am “a little older, a little wiser.” This school year has been full of reflection for me. With all the college and program applications, I have needed to reflect on my life, goals, aspirations, accomplishments, strengths, weakness, and I have needed to find what I can say about myself with confidence. During this time of reflection, I think I have settled a little into the uncertainty, and freaked out a lot. I know I shouldn’t try to get so many things done, try to juggle so many things that I lose track of them. I have a better sense I have taken on new activities for the sake of trying new things, but it’s still really hard to quit stuff. And maybe a little more sense of being okay with existing in the craziness, of laughing at all the times I fall when dancing to the music of life.

a glimpse of summer & of the present

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A cleaned up and edited version of what I wrote mid-August:

            It always goes like this, doesn’t it? I don’t quite accomplish everything I had intended to accomplish in a given amount of time, so I adjust my goals to be more realistic, and I still find myself far from doing it all. And it’s not even that much. This summer, I thought I had made sure I would get a lot done, a lot of the stuff that matters to me, without taking on too much. I would focus my efforts on the process day to day, I would spend so much time on writing, reading, sewing, and it would inevitably lead to some amount of progress, some minimum amount of product that I could achieve. So I would write at least a certain amount, read at least a certain amount, and sew at least a certain amount. Realistic and measurable. Three goals isn’t too much to work on. Set up for success.

            But wait, there’s more. I have school work, college research, college visits, college applications, and the amount of time that all takes isn’t trivial. And things took longer than I had thought, and there were other things I had to do, and also things happen, things get disrupted or interrupted or rearranged, or whatever. I thought I had made liberal estimates on how long the summer homework would take, but even that was too optimistic. That’s how it always happens. That’s how I should expect it to happen. This is life, not a contrived narrative where everyone and everything follows scripted perfection, and the worst problems are healed with happy face band-aids and a mother’s kiss (though the problems I mentioned here aren’t even very bad…they may be mildly frustrating and stressful, but I need to remember that often difficulty and annoying-ness is relative and maybe my reference point is in my own bubble).

            Story made quick: junior year burnout. I needed to take a break from school, a sabbatical. I would make sure I completed all the school work, but for a month, I would set aside school, college, and electronics and engage in a period of intense creating (writing, sewing, art, crafts) and filling (myself with inspiration–reading, taking walks, exploring, thinking).

            I didn’t actually set aside my electronics…I think I had to check my email for school reasons and similar work-type reasons…then I was behind on homework (according to my planned homework schedule) so I still had to do my homework and it was on the computer, and then I…decided to read some blogs. (I reliably find reading Madalynne and This I Wear a worthwhile experience.)

            I read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and it was good. (Yes, I did read other books. For example, I read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, and then I sounded like her while writing the second few drafts of my college essay.)

            I can’t write a marathon, especially after not writing for so long. If I want to build up my endurance, I need to start from what I can do, start small. It’s not a surprise that I can’t write for hours, that I can’t make a huge complex story take form on the page so soon. So I write, and keep writing, and keep writing. Not all at once, and not for hours without stop. But I try to make it a habit, get down some pages, try to gain some working endurance. Try to get this momentum (sorry, I’m mixing metaphors) and direction so that I can go, not crash, not slow down to a stop.

            There are days when I write more than others. There were days I set up hours to write but ran out of things, my brain felt fried. I think some of the best days this summer were when I did multiple different things, thoroughly, well. Some homework, some writing, some exercise… this is what I’ll be doing in the school year. This is not exactly a break, but maybe it will be a sustaining life. Sustainable, and enough to sustain me.

            But, actually, I think I have had my break from school? It’s not like I have forgotten that I went to school. But I did other things…I have read a bunch of different books. I have written many pages, even if they weren’t revised into anything great, even if it wasn’t weird [note–11/24/16: I think I was trying to write poetry about the weirdness in life or something. I guess it wasn’t sufficiently weird?] And I have been able to see things from a different side. I didn’t really sew. I wanted to sew out of necessity, anyway. Creating is fun, but there can only be so much that I do. And I got to do the clothes-shopping, so I filled some gaps in my wardrobe and I think the clothes will last a while, even if the clothes weren’t from the best sources or materials. And I did the school work and college apps–that’s a lot. Maybe writing my college essays is not the most glamorous way to spend my time, but it’s good.


So, where am I now?

I’m in senior year. There’s the idea of senior stress: the roller-coaster of senior year. sometimes more than junior year, sometimes less.

I suppose a lot of my life right now is defined by senior stuff–school, college. It does take a lot of time to do my homework and apply to college.

But what about when I write down poetic thoughts, when I write whatever without caring how pretty it looks, when I start to put the scraps of my thoughts together into what emerges as a piece of writing? What about when I spend hours reading about environmental and social issues, about positive feedback cycles that perpetuate climate change or the implications of Trump’s presidency or Standing Rock or how to think about trees, and realize that I will never know enough about the world? What about when I fell over in ballet class while attempting a pirouette on a weird day, or when I was complimented by my teacher for the successful execution of a fouette turn on a different day? What about the hours I spent this week and last week, walking around the school or neighborhood, picking up trash and wondering why it even exists? Are these things part of being a high school senior? Are these things part of being a teenager? I think what I see, I see through my eyes, which are inevitably influenced by my place in society and therefore my grade in what school and my age.

At school there has been some mention of “senioritis” and “senior slide.” I kind of get it now–how you react when something difficult is almost over, but it’s not over. When you’re either going to crash or burn out. (Or when you experience that feeling after a big test. Though if you want to know what I did after finishing an AP exam last year, it involved studying for the next test. After lunch and a cookie dessert.) But I want to remember what I knew so strongly (last year, the senior slide exhibited in my senior acquaintances bothered and confused me): senioritis doesn’t make sense to me. Life is education. I do not do what I do so that I have a chance at getting into a special college. I do what I do because I want to make the most of what I have in the way that I can (which is continuously improving). And I chose the colleges to apply to because I think they will give me the best opportunities for me to do this. I am scared sometimes, that walls around me will fall to expose that I’m not good enough–that I’m not smart or good at anything, that I only occasionally appear smart when I work really hard. But other times, I think, isn’t that the important part–isn’t what you do with what you have more important than possessing un-stretched ability?

So, senior year. A lot of work. A lot of stress. But also, a lot of fun. No, not the stress. The stress is not fun. I mean my homework and college applications can be fun, and writing can be fun, and ballet and other activities can be fun, and taking walks can be fun, and cleanups…cleanups are fun with buddies. The buddies part is fun. The trash part is sad.