Style ebb and flow, me and others

The conscious pairing down of my wardrobe – and spreadsheet control – allows to see style changes from a mile away. Focusing on what works for me now also shows which garments are no longer a fit. Wardrobe visions might suddenly reveal something very different than what I’ve been working towards for years. And these changes feel scary.

Significant part of my identity is attached to my style. I see myself as somebody dressing at least slightly more outrageously than people surrounding me. Braver. Artsier. Signalling nonconformity and different aesthetics. I guess many people go through such a phase in adolescence. Mine started in adolescence but never went away. Outwardly it has gotten much more conventional since then yet I still have an urge to overdress and to express anything but fitting neatly in.

The trouble begins when my style shifts and garments I love the idea of suddenly become obsolete. The intense pruning of last few years has also been a move towards a more versatile wardrobe. My key travel pieces for this US trip were three dresses on the black-gray color scale paired with black tights. Very classy for my standards. And felt right for the occasion.

Yet this turn towards normal is in conflict with a part of my identity, the girl with bird headband. I keep consoling myself with the fact that I have a long way to go to even touch real normal (not owning a pair of jeans and insisting on bright henna hair dye help). Letting go, at least partly, of my supposed uniqueness through fashion is probably a good idea. Feels like growing up.

My stuff still has a story to tell, that’s the part I like most, not necessarily the clashing prints and out-of-place bridesmaid stuff. I know my garments much more intimately and prefer this to owning a wardrobe full of weird garments I had adopted because nobody else would understand them but wore rarely.

First draft of this post was written in Chicago Midway airport, on a very early Sunday morning, and the item rundown for this very un-special and un-fancy event is as follows:

Denim jacket: fast fashion, owned since 2003 or so, has seen most of my adventures since then.
Wristwatch: hand-me-down from C, he wore it when he was a little boy, leather strap.
Scarf: gift from C, part of the ethnographic costume of his region, wool.
Socks: gift from Liisa, made in Estonia, with ethnographic motives.
T-shirt: from a feminist crowdfunding, organic cotton, lovely print.
Pin 1: feminist message, from my SRHR activism with IPPF.
Backpack: hand-me-down from my dad, leather details.
Sweater: hand-me-down from my mom, fast fashion.
Sports bra: fast fashion bought new, very comfy.
Leggings: made in Latvia, silk screen printed.
Pin 2: feminist message, gift from Kristine.
Brooch: gift from my cousin, hand-made.
Suitcase: hand-me-down from C’ mom.
Ring: silver, a Latvian thing.
Knickers: Luva Huva.
Sneakers: Veja.

All of these carry a symbolic meaning or are a direct expression of my commitment to ethical fashion (that sports bra is the only outlier, very comfy though, hence representing my commitment to comfort). My wardrobe is evolving alright. I am OK with somewhat less flashy things that carry a story and link me with my loved ones.

And who knows, I might get back into the eccentric lady thing and weird hats with years to come.

The internal change is hard to disentangle from shifts in external expectations. I’m too used to people knowing the performative nature of my fashion choices. The implicit contract with my family, my friends and my partner is that I don’t ask for approval and they don’t comment on my choices. Hey, I went through high school dressing as I pleased, and remember only three fashion-related remarks I heard throughout those years.

Yet in last few months I have had several conversations when people I love thought it pertinent to remark that my fashion choices for the occasion were unfortunate. That threw me off completely as this is not what I’m used to. I expect people to stay silent about my outfits, especially if they don’t approve of them. That basic courtesy!

At the bottom of this is the fact that my headbands, lace dresses and bright tights are not for anybody else. I wear them for me and your opinion is not required. I already have the internal dialogue going on, debating under what conditions Lenin-with-punk-mohawk earrings are appropriate to wear. On one hand, he is a symbol of a totalitarian regime and of an ideology I don’t subscribe to, and makes fun of the tragic history of my region. On the other, it’s Latvian art, gift from my aunt, and I do find this kind of postmodernism funny… I don’t need additional input, thanks.

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