It was the night before my first day of middle school and I was pacing around my room with my mind racing. Thoughts on what I should wear and how I could make a good first impression whirled through my head. Shorts or leggings? This tank top or that shirt? Denim shorts or athletic shorts? Oh! My hair, should it be up or down?
I was determined to walk into my new school looking like the coolest person ever, and having the perfect outfit would be the first of many steps in my elaborate plan to make tons of new friends. Knowing I had to go all out and that the summer heat wasn’t leaving anytime soon, I decided on a mid-thigh length pair of denim shorts and a backless tank top.
Being only a sixth grader, I was quite oblivious to the world of insecurities that would haunt me years later. At the time, I could — and would — wear literally anything I wanted without caring about what others thought. I felt so rebellious wearing backless tank tops, short shorts, tight leggings and other “revealing” clothing. As the year continued, I enjoyed wearing my outfits to school, feeling confident and not giving much thought to every outfit.
But all of a sudden, my life flipped upside down. I transferred to a private school where I would spend the next two years wearing a uniform every day. Despite this huge change, I still felt a need to keep up with fashion trends as it felt like my clothes were something that defined me. In a school where everyone was forced to look like clones of each other through their generic uniforms, I felt that being able to wear what I wanted would give me back a piece of my identity I lost to private school.
In the summer of 2018, as I was going into seventh grade at the private school, crop tops and fringed shirts were in, Brandy Melville was the hottest store and skinny jeans were still cute. My new school allowed students to have a “free dress day” once every month. This day was my chance to assert my personality and give my classmates a glimpse of my fashion sense. Little did I know how much I would start obsessing over it one day.
Every night before “free dress day,” I would bring in the big guns. Once a month, I dragged my uninterested sister into my room and made her listen to my clothing dilemma. “OK, so I have this cropped long-sleeved shirt from Brandy Melville but I can’t wear these leggings with it. Oh my god, I also have these new overalls I bought last week for free dress day but I don’t know how to style it.”
By the time high school rolled around, I was all too familiar with the world of catcalling, sexual harassment, insecurities, body shaming and slut shaming. The #MeToo movement was drawing a lot of attention at the time, as many students were finally sharing their #MeToo experiences on Instagram. This movement not only led to insecurities but changed my perception of what I initially thought was a friendly and warm world.
I became very self-conscious after hearing stories of students my age being cat-called whether they were wearing a crop top or a hoodie. Being 5’9, many of my first impressions or interactions with others would include a comment on my height. This made me aware of my long limbs and while it wouldn’t make me insecure, I felt self-conscious. Hanging with my friends during lunch and hearing whispers of how a girl came to school only wearing a bralette made me think twice about what I should and shouldn’t wear to school. With a new and more negative outlook on the risks of partaking in revealing fashion trends, I had lost some of my confidence regarding the clothes I wore.
I no longer had any interest in wearing the perfect outfit, sticking to trends and pushing a certain image of myself. It became easier to use clothing to hide my body rather than emphasize my features. Long jeans and long-sleeved shirts became my best friends. Wearing clothing that showed more skin felt risky as it would attract unwanted attention to me, so I started to shy away from wearing it.
At school, because I was constantly busy with various tests, projects and essays, I prioritized my comfort above all else. Whenever I left the house, whether it be to go to school, do errands or get boba or snacks with my friends and family, I wouldn’t pay much attention to what I was wearing as long as I felt safe in it.
On the other hand, whenever I found myself in a more social or active setting, I would feel pressure to wear more revealing clothes. I felt like I had to wear more revealing clothes to maintain a certain image of myself. Trying to push an image of someone who was socially accepted, pretty and approachable became something I felt like I had to do. Eventually, I figured out that for those times that I don’t feel like wearing something revealing that shows a lot of skin on its own, I can layer it on top of a more covered shirt. It gave me the best of both worlds, comfort and I the ability to still stay in touch with fashion trends I may have been too scared to try. As I ease myself into reaching the confidence I used to have, it is exciting for me to rekindle the joy I used to get from dressing up.