How To Become Who You Want To Be One Dress At A Time

While most of us feel pretty in a great dress or unstoppable in the perfect pair of pants, I think it’s fun to remember the other side to our wardrobe: Clothes tell stories. They tell powerful stories. They not only help tell the story of who we are to other people, but they help lead the way to who we want to be to ourselves. Fashion shapes our identity.

In college, I had this one professor who was a complete and total character. Her hair was a strawberry blonde, wild, curly tangle, and her lips were always painted a happy, wet red. She would come into lecture wearing crushed velvet trousers and boyish oxford shirts that somehow managed to look petite on her; ones that would be occasionally accompanied by a fur collar or a vintage stewardess hat. Everything about her was electric, from the way she spoke about her research to the way she’d push our curious minds. There was an energy to her that was all her own, and it spilled out and colored how she looked.

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When I thought of her — admiration spilling over my thoughts — words like colorful, strong, and lively would (and still do) come to mind.

When I was a kid growing up in a small, century-old house in the the outer city blocks of Chicago, I had a neighbor to our left who was aged 70 and had a penchant for chatting over the fence with my mom as she’d water her tomatoes. Every now and then I’d wander through her back door and into her kitchen, seeing if I could charm a piece of candy from her when my mom wasn’t looking.

And as she’d fuss around her kitchen, asking me about my dolls and my upcoming tea parties, I’d sit at the edge of my chair, swinging my legs and taking in the lace at the windows, the delicate blue flowers on the tea cups, and the soft pearl trim on the tea pot. And as she’d lean down to offer me a ginger snap, I’d smell her pretty perfume, smelling pink and womanly. Her dresses were always pressed and she always looked like she was in her Sunday best. Even if it was just a Wednesday and her only company was a sugar-hungry 10-year-old girl. Years later, when I thought of her, I’d think of sweetness, primness, and homeliness, with images of butter cookies and soft smells coming to mind.

Clothes are powerful storytellers — they can offer someone your sense of self at a glance. Without words, your experience and the person you’ve worked to become peeks through. But how about if you’re still growing and changing? What if you want to better yourself or just have an itch to become a little different? Clothes can be that doorway for you.

Just as I remembered these women with a handful of words, you can make others remember you in the same fashion. Or you can start telling your story, even though it hasn’t been written yet. The dresses and pieces you wear can start being the paragraphs and chapters in your beginning.

Choose a handful of words that you think describe you (or you want to describe you). Maybe you want to be bold, powerful, strong, forward? Help those characteristics come out with sharp blazers, edgy leather jackets, bold pants, and strong fashion-forward trends. Or maybe soft, traditionally feminine, gentle? Coax out that side of you with dreamy pieces and sweetheart dresses. Maybe easygoing, relaxed, or open for anything? Mirror that side of you with easy going minimalism or free-spirited Boho and let the pieces back up what you’re trying to grow into and share. Choose your words and then create a wardrobe around them, letting your pieces mimic those adjectives. And when you wear those pieces, you’ll feel more encouraged to act like that version of yourself.

It’s almost like an encouraging prod forward. If you’ve always felt sort of shy and a little bit timid, but a good leather jacket and a killer pair of skinnies make you feel like you’re the babe-iest girl in the room, by all means, put them on. Maybe you’ve always felt prim and Southern belle-esque but never quite knew how to express it. You can’t be walking around serving iced tea and looking like you’re about to enter a debutante ball every day. Instead, help that part of you come out of its shell by embracing the sweet and ladylike style. After a few weeks playing in that wardrobe, the dresses will convince you that this is in fact the real you and you like it.

It’s hard to do anything alone, let alone a massive task like figuring out your identity. Clothes can be fun, frivolous pieces, but they can also be extremely helpful tools in figuring out who you are and what you like. Sometimes they just don’t fit (how many times have you said the phrase, “I just can’t pull that off”?) and sometimes they make you feel like you’re exactly who you are. They make you feel content and at home. Or brave and ready to begin.

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