Around my mid-twenties I really figured out my personal style. After years of trying not-for-me trends and being hyper aware of how I was perceived, I found a bit of peace with my closet staples. Now at 29, I’ve damn-near perfected it. Which isn’t to say that I always look awesome (I don’t) or that I always stay true to my personal style ethos (I still own a crop top despite it being very off brand for me), but generally, I know what I like and I wear it on repeat.
But thinking about the evolution of my personal style and my relationship to fashion as a teen is sort of an interesting exercise in perspective. Let me explain.
If I were to list some of the style choices I’m known for—flat shoes, baggy or oversized basics and rarely anything feminine—you could draw a straight line between my current closet and my high school insecurities.
I’d like to think that the reason why I don’t own a pair of heels is because I find flat shoes more comfortable (anyone who has broken in a pair of leather loafers knows this to be a lie), or because I think they just look a little cooler than heels (also a lie, there are some unbelievably cool heels out there). But it’s more likely that as a 5-ft-11 15 year old, I was insecure about my height and the fact that I towered over not only all my friends, but every single boy I had a crush on.
I’d like to think that the reason why I wear oversized or menswear inspired tops is because I appreciate casual wear, and wearing a men’s button-down is my way to French je-ne-sais-quoi style. But it’s possible that I gravitate towards shirts that skim my body because I carried my teenage weight fluctuations in my middle and anything that clung to my middle made me hyper-aware of that fact.
I’d like to think that I steer clear of anything overly feminine because I just prefer clean lines and neutral earth tones—but it’s just as probable that I felt clumsy and boyish as a teen and so even trying to be girly seemed like a lost cause.
I’ve grown since high-school. Obviously. Many of the things I was self conscious of as a teen I no longer care or even think about. The hair on my arms. The size of my breasts. My teeth. But there are a few that I can’t quite tell if I’m over them, accepted them, learned to love them, or if my coping mechanisms have simply become part of my style identity. It’s hard to tell whether I don’t wear heels because I’m genuinely uncomfortable in them, and they aren’t “me” or because I have lingering hang-ups about taking up vertical space.
To be honest, I don’t know if this is power—turning your coping mechanisms into the foundation of your style identity.
But, I will say that I won’t be giving up my men’s button-downs or my sneakers anytime soon. The path to streamlining my personal style—one of the more accessible modes of self-expression—may be littered with teenage (and let’s be real, young adult) insecurities, but it is mine, and it is something I feel good about today. The truth is, sometimes your insecurities get the better of you, and fifteen years later you find yourself reaching for the same things that made you feel better then. But as long as you derive confidence or power from them now—who cares? I feel better about myself in flat ankle boots, oversized t-shirts and skinny jeans, and I don’t think teenage me would be bummed to know that I don’t own a pair of heels. I think she’d be impressed that I managed to find confidence in a pair of sneakers.
If you haven’t quite nailed down your own personal style, here are a few tips to help!
Don’t Ignore Those Teenage Years
Though many of the things I wear now were a result of insecurity, they’re also things that gave me a bit of a boost too. Confusing? Sure. But so are teenagers. What I mean, is that wearing men’s shirts might have been my way to avoid body con, but it also made me feel comfortable and confident too. I was way more likely to enjoy myself and meet new people when I was wearing them, then I ever did wearing something I pulled at all night because it made me feel self-conscious. Years later, the same is true.
Embrace Your Uniform
One of the best things about getting older is getting a better handle on your likes and dislikes—and the fact that you begin to care less and less what other people think about you. If you’ve got a uniform—whether it’s all-black everything or fit-and-flare dresses or crop tops and mom jeans—go with it, especially if it makes you feel like the best version of yourself. You don’t need to have a completely new style persona every day—unless that’s your jam.
Try New Things — But Only When You Want To
Not all trends will be for you—so you don’t need to try them all. For me, I know that no matter how popular Millennial pink is, I’m not likely to wear it—it just does not peak my interest at all, despite its enduring fame with people in my age group. But, I am suddenly drawn to cowboy boots—something that is definitely not part of my current uniform—and I’m willing to explore that trend a bit, because I want to.
(Story by Contributing Editor, Alexandra Donaldson)