Unfolding the layers of my personal style

A student reflects on the interesting fashion sense in her younger years that impacted her views on self-expression and style as an adult.


Growing up, I always had a distinct style. There was nothing necessarily wrong with it, but to put it simply, I always dressed differently than everyone around me. 

My taste in fashion was initially curated by my mom, who picked out my outfits throughout the entirety of elementary school, way longer than she probably should have. While other girls my age wore bright and sparkly age-appropriate clothing from desirable stores, like Justice and Aeropostale, I was donning neutral colors, pearl necklaces, denim skirts, bow headbands and patent leather Mary Jane shoes.

In elementary school, my signature outfits often included turtlenecks or dresses paired with loafers and socks up to my knees or the plaid Bermuda shorts that traumatized many Gen Z girls in the late 2000s. 

My mom’s personal favorite outfit — and the one I remember most — was a monochromatic chocolate brown number. A brown top, paired with brown corduroy pants, brown socks and brown Mary Janes with a matching brown headband to top it off. 

As the youngest child and the only girl in my family, I felt like a real-life doll, and my mom dressed me in clothes reflecting the style of an older woman rather than a little girl. I knew that my outfits were a bit unique in comparison to my peers, and while I occasionally questioned it, it never bothered me.

When I learned to dress myself around 12 years old, I maintained those very particular and atypical tastes. By that time, my peers had aged out of Justice and moved onto tween-friendly brands like American Eagle and Abercrombie. Meanwhile, I could be found across the mall at stores like J.Crew and Gap. 

I’d arrive at school every single day wearing pencil skirts, ponchos, clogs, maxi skirts and heels. I would get up early in the morning to style my outfits and do my hair and makeup before strutting into school looking like a grandma on her way to church.

The way I dressed always caught people’s attention, and it became a joke among my friends and even teachers. Everyone knew I was always going to dress up like I had a formal business meeting to attend, and my clothing choices never went unnoticed by the people around me.

My friends teased me about which shawl I was going to wear to school the next day or laughed about how they could always recognize the loud click-clack of my heels on the linoleum floor as I walked down the hallway. My teachers often pretended to be shocked on days when they could see my ankles due to the conservative nature of my style. 

As a teenager, I let all the silly comments roll off my back. Although I was occasionally embarrassed and wondered if I should change my style to fit in, I opted to stick with what I knew and liked best. 

When I questioned if I wanted to revamp my wardrobe and shop at the same stores as my friends and peers, I recognized that while my style was a bit mature and humorous, it was my style. 

My fashion sense allowed me to embrace my individuality and remain conscious of the fact I didn’t need to change who I was to appease anyone else or hide who I was. I knew that nobody my age envied the things I was wearing, but I took pride in the effort I made to look my best in a way that made me comfortable and happy.

Once I got to college and approached my twenties, I decided on my own that it was time to shed the ponchos and the maxi skirts. Ironically, I felt I had “aged” out of my wardrobe and was itching for a new look, so I donated much of my clothing to my mom, as it was far more appropriate for her than me.

Establishing a new style was harder than I anticipated. There were times when I was tempted to drop hundreds of dollars at popular shops I was never previously drawn to, like Shein or Lululemon, to reflect the fashion trends I saw in real life and on social media. 

At other times, I was drawn to a sense of familiarity, wondering if I should go back to the depths of my teenage closet and bring back the old lady clothes I had already parted ways with. However, neither of these options was true to who I was anymore or who I wanted to be going forward.

Instead, I started experimenting with different looks and exploring the ever-changing fashion trends for girls my age. I combined what was in style with what I liked, and I gradually found a way to express myself organically with a new and dynamic wardrobe. These days I love jewelry, platform shoes, layers, and solid colors, and I’ve learned how to build all kinds of outfits based on these key favorite pieces. 

Although I initially struggled with finding a discernable fashion sense that still felt unique to me, I feel confident in my ability to dress up or down, follow my own tastes and choose what I love to wear without worrying what anyone else thinks.

My personal style is ever-evolving and the perfect outlet for my self-expression, something I learned from my fashion sense throughout my childhood and teenage years. The most stylish things I can wear are comfort, confidence and authenticity, regardless of how unique or grandma-like it may be. 

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