I’ve always had trouble with clothes. I used to wear whatever the hell I felt like, clashing colors and patterns be damned. It drove my mother crazy, and she wouldn’t let me leave the house sometimes because I was wearing white shoes and black socks or plaid leggings with a polka-dot shirt. I didn’t mind looking quirky, not then. In fact, I reveled in it.
Then there’s that phase that probably every kid goes through where they want to dress like everyone else. Suddenly, my patterned leggings seemed juvenile. My raggedy sweaters out of season. My bootleg jeans stupid-looking. So I watched the other kids in their short shirts that grazed the waistband of their skinny jeans, you know, the ones that pull up when they raised their arms. I watched them in their solid-colored tanks with, maybe, a stripe or two. They looked boring in their almost-but-not-quite crop tops, dark wash jeans, and black Vans, but everyone else was wearing them.
So I shoved my knee-high socks into the back of my drawer, tossed my cargo pants to the floor, and raided the stores I knew everyone else frequented. My mother almost seemed excited that I was “growing out of” my purples and yellows, my plaids and polka dots. I went home the proud but nervous owner of an almost-but-not-quite crop top and dark wash skinny jeans than squeezed my legs into teeny-weeny tubes. I had a pair of purple Vans from my aunt that I dragged out from under my bed already, so my ensemble was almost complete. Very, very nervously, I put on the thinnest stripe of eyeliner I could manage and hoped for the best.
“Nice,” said my best friend at the time, glancing at me. That was the last she said about it, and the only thing anyone said to me about my outfit change. Nobody really cared, but I felt almost like I belonged.
I didn’t feel like me, you know? I felt like a pretender. But these clothes were my shield from the way I knew people judged
me, with their snickers when they saw me wearing stripy knee-high socks and my long, slouchy t-shirts. “The heck are you wearing, Gina?” they used to ask. Now nobody paid me a second glance. I may have felt like a pretender, but I also felt invincible. Good enough, I supposed. Better a fake than a target.
Swimsuits were a whole other ball park. I liked my tankini, thank you very much, with its unassuming color, and my black board shorts. “Nobody at Tina’s party is going to be wearing a tankini though,” pointed out my other best friend. “I can guarantee you’ll be the only one there in one.”
And she was right. It was a sea of bikinis interrupted by one girl in a tankini and board shorts, nervously tugging at the straps.
My insecurity was right there for everyone to see, to pick at.
Never again, I told myself.
But there was a moment where I realized that look-alike clothes didn’t make me a part of their group. They still found me unattractive (which I learned after a group truth that left me reeling and disgusted with myself for even hoping for a better answer) and I still felt like a fake.
I went home after that first party and knocked my head against the wall, searching for answers. None, unfortunately, were forthcoming.
I went back to my knee-high green socks proclaiming my Hogwarts House affiliation the next day, and I wore them proudly.
But I still went and bought a bikini.
A feigned air of confidence was all I needed to keep people from looking at me the way they had when I had come out of the bathroom in a tankini.
I still had my arms crossed in front of my stomach, though. “Damn,” said one of the guys there, when I walked out of the bathroom, a teasing note in his voice. I stuck my tongue out at him, and he grinned back. He may have been an asshole, but his joke kept me from having an anxiety attack later than day.
So maybe I could be both, I said to myself. I could wear stuff to be me, but I could also fit in. it was a tricky thing to decide, but it felt truer than any of my other attempts to conform.
I still have trouble with clothes. They’re tricky no matter who you ask, really. I struggle balancing expressing who I am and keeping people’s judgemental stares away. You know how they say “Aw, who cares what other people think? You do you”? It’s certainly a nice sentiment, but impractical. Everyone cares what other people think. I care what other people think, and your dogmas and cliches aren’t going to make me into someone above it all. Does this mean I have to change, though? Does this mean my New Year’s Resolution should be to stop caring what other people think?
No. I don’t think it does. I am okay with caring what people think.
Wait, that’s a lie.
I wish I could wear pinstripes with tye-dye and orange with blue. I wish I could wear fuzzy boots in the summer and sandals on Christmas. I wish for a lot of things, but most of them aren’t feasible.
Because I could wear pinstripes with tye-dye and orange with blue. There’s no law against it. But I know that if I did wear whatever the hell I wanted to and flipped the bird at whoever disapproved, people who snicker. They’d laugh. They’d judge.
And that is a fate I would prefer to avoid.