The dusty old leopard print fur coat sitting in the back of my closet has always haunted me. Alright, it may not be that dusty or old, but I picked it up during a Forever 21 Black Friday sale in 2015, so it’s practically a relic. For some reason its magnetism that I felt in the store was lost as soon as it came time to choose what to wear for a day out in my suburban US city. It was a dream in a coat, lined with faux leather that could easily fool a passerby, but for some reason I could never quite work up the courage to wear it. It just didn’t seem right to wear something so ostentatious when the streetwear of the area consisted of no more than sneakers and a hoodie. This is only one example of how I recognized that the way I present myself is more dependent upon where I am than I realized. Not wanting to push the boundaries or the social norms too far, I opt to follow whatever standard is set for wherever I am at the time, which is both an honorable challenge and a somewhat tragic loss of true self expression.
When I’m home, I notice that instead of putting careful thought into matching patterned or colorful elements, I simply try to find something that won’t shake things up too much. The garments I choose shouldn’t draw too much attention when I’m doing something as mundane as grabbing groceries or heading to a lecture. The standard there is comfort over anything, and less is definitely seen as more. A simple t-shirt and jeans go a long way even on the days when my laziness outweighs my worry about strangers’ eyes analyzing my outfit. If I’m in the mood for something bolder, I may stick to this general style but opt for patterned pants instead, and throw on some accessories to liven up the look a bit. Statement earrings with decadent bandanas have been my summer go-tos for touches of flair. Overall, though, I feel more confident wearing clothes that are muted, neutral, and/or physically comfortable because these types of garments are what make me feel as though I belong. When I’m home, I rely on comfort.
Cities, on the other hand, seem to embolden me. Any area where there’s a wide variety of cultures, religions, and general aesthetics drives me to present myself in a way that is somewhat louder than normal. I want to be seen, and I want passersby to take a second glance at my coat when I pass them on the street. In a sense I feel like I have more to prove. The people surrounding me are so untouchable that all I crave is an ounce of validation in the form of a quick compliment or a question of where I purchased my shoes. Each city seems to have a distinct personality as well which leaves me torn as to whether I should wear something that feels “safe”, or try out something new while I have a short-lived window of opportunity.
It is difficult to pinpoint the aesthetics of cities I have not lived in, but some notable champions of personal fashion based on my travels to date include New York and London. When visiting these places for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect, so the clothes I stuffed in my rosey pink carry-on weren’t always the best options when I got to my hotel. Wearing jean shorts and a sweatshirt around a wealthier area of London, for example, may not have been the best look especially when it was only fifty degrees until the afternoon. I definitely could have taken advantage of the chance to wear something far more extravagant than I normally would at home, but I hadn’t yet discovered just how much my fashion taste would change from place to place. I didn’t think that maybe I would want to wear something different than I do every other day. It’s through these travels, though, that I’ve grown a mental index of what elements I can incorporate into my daily fashion and learned how to put myself into the fashions I experience in new places without having to ditch one or the other. It’s a balancing act between my fear of not fitting in and my desire to wear whatever obnoxious garment I’m loving at the moment.
My fashion, I have come to realize, is a means of tying together how I crave to be seen. It expresses my personality as well as the statement I want to make to the world. The desire to fit into the place I live in or visit shows a conscious effort on my part to breathe a new place in, to analyze what makes it tick, to discover what helps keep its heart pumping. Even opting to go against the norm would take a decent understanding of the area. Self expression and the world around me should not be mutually exclusive. They should instead live in harmony, both shining upon the other in some way or another.
By acknowledging the ways that I allow myself to get too wrapped up in how I am going to be perceived for wearing a certain outfit, I believe that I can continue to grow more confident in wearing whatever I want, whenever I want. The more I travel, the more I hope to understand the ways different cultures dress and find the confidence to show off my personal taste more even when I desire to blend in. The beauty of fashion is that it is ever changing. With time, trends will fade and grow and evolve, and through it all I’ll be waiting in my fur coat.
Article illustration by Beyza Çelikmenemail@example.com (IG)