I was seven years old when I successfully bargained with my parents for an American Girl doll like the ones my older cousins received as Christmas gifts. I wanted my doll to have all of the outfit options, but my crafty mom opted to create custom matching pieces for my doll and I.
From a young age, my mom made all of my fashion dreams come true. When I started elementary school, she picked out my outfits and always had a hand in my wardrobe decisions until middle school when I started to prefer dressing myself.
Although I loved the outfits she picked out for me, I reached an age where I wanted to be in control of my appearance. I’ve always loved expressing myself through my clothing. To me, waking up every morning and dressing to reflect how I feel is the ultimate form of self expression.
However, all of the popular girls in my school dressed alike, and wore the Ugg boots, skinny jeans and Abercrombie & Fitch sweatshirt combo. I noticed that showing off as many expensive labels as possible in one outfit became the social currency of middle and high school.
My mom rarely took me to the mall, she chose to shop at local businesses and my older cousins provided tons of hand-me-downs. I began to get this creeping feeling that my outfits did not fit in with everyone else because I dressed differently than them. I was wearing flare jeans and leather boots while my classmates stuck to what was trendy.
When I opened my closet to see wool sweaters, patterned dresses and faux-fur vests, I saw a wardrobe that was out of touch and curated by my mom.
I was upset that I didn’t possess the trendy items my classmates wore and began thrifting at local consignment stores.I hit the jackpot on a matching velour Juicy Couture tracksuit and some gently worn Abercrombie T-shirts.
I enjoyed expressing my individuality through my clothing by wearing items that weren’t considered trendy, but a part of me longed to open a wardrobe similar to my classmates.
As I found myself attempting to blend in with my classmates by mixing my thrifted pieces with the rest of my wardrobe, I started immersing myself in the music my parents introduced me to as a child, like David Bowie, The Cure and The Smiths. When I was younger I thought the music my parents were listening to was lame, but I grew to realize that these artists and albums that they loved were classics.
I became interested in authors and artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and Duncan Hannah because they all were unapologetically themselves. When I was a sophomore in high school, I began to decorate my room with band posters of “Aladdin Sane” by David Bowie or “The Joshua Tree” by U2 and I collected the autobiographies of Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and John Densmore of The Doors.
I figured if they could all become themselves then there was no reason why I couldn’t do it too. All superstars and icons were once insecure teenagers just like I was.
I became more intentional in how I dressed for the remainder of high school. I thrifted for the perfect leather jacket or Levi’s jeans, and instead of wanting the same clothing that everyone else had, I coveted things that were perfectly unique.
When I decided I wanted to transfer from the University of Pittsburgh after Fall 2020, I wanted to find a lively city school with a more creative and fashionable scene.
A month before my first semester at Temple University, I found myself elbow-deep in the Goodwill outlets. I was sorting through clothes, searching for vintage nightgowns and prom dresses or a perfect faux fur coat. I enjoyed the thrill of the hunt instead of sorting through racks at the mall.
When I came to Temple, I was excited to start dressing to my full potential. Life was similar to how it was before the pre-pandemic during the period I transferred, and I felt more comfortable in Philadelphia than I did in Pittsburgh. The city felt more established creatively and I didn’t have to worry about the hierarchy of materialistic items like everyone in my high school did.
I took down the posters I had at home and put them up in my apartment when I moved in because they still provided inspiration when I found myself lacking creatively.
My mom and I went on monthly outings to the thrift or antique store this past summer break. I arrived home and washed and cleaned every piece, while she would mend any pieces that needed alterations.
Although I don’t live at home anymore, my mom and I still bond together for our shared love of finding the perfect unique piece and making my fashion dreams come true.
Before I get dressed in the morning, I gaze at the posters of “The Queen is Dead” album cover by The Smiths or the poster of David Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane” hanging next to my closet. Their immortalized faces look down on me as I get ready for the day. I press shuffle on my music and I examine my wardrobe, figuring out who I’m going to be today.