I think that high school me would be horrified by many of my current outfit and decor choices. I went to a small, rural Indiana high school, and wearing funky clothes wasn’t really seen as normal. Fashion came purchased in a Hollister, American Eagle, or Lululemon bag. It wasn’t typically seen as a form of creative expression. That changed when I got to college.
Going to a liberal arts college like Denison has many perks. One that I didn’t realize until I got here, though, is how different peoples’ understandings of style are here than they were back home. I have noticed that people aren’t nearly as judgemental about what people wear as many of my peers in high school were. Living in a place that is full of people my age, but from a variety of diverse backgrounds, has exposed me to styles or “aesthetics” that I wasn’t familiar with before.
My typical outfit on any given day in high school was a pair of ripped skinny jeans with a simple shirt, light jacket, and sneakers. Not a bad look, per say, but certainly not something that I felt completely like myself in. My goal in high school was to blend in, especially since I was already seen as a sort of weird, quiet girl. As I’m writing this now, I’m wearing a white bell sleeve top, a thrifted crochet vest, patchwork jeans that I made myself, doc martens, and a bunch of crystal necklaces (a pretty standard everyday outfit for me). So how did I make this change?
- Getting over my fear of being judged
I quickly learned that people in college wear an interesting, eclectic assortment of clothing on a daily basis. Even more, peoples’ dorms often reflected their tastes in a way that I thought was interesting. I loved learning about who other people were and what their interests were through how they presented themselves outwardly. And from there, I realized that I wasn’t doing myself any favors in finding “my people” by trying to blend in and wearing things that didn’t reflect my personality. That’s not to say that you should judge people by their appearance at all, but you definitely can learn a lot about someone by how they present themselves, and as I continued through college, I gained the confidence to present myself outwardly in the way that I felt best reflected my internal style.
- Sustainable shopping and thrifting
One of the best ways you can learn about your own style is to experiment. Which is certainly what I did! I’ve long loved to shop secondhand, but instead of looking for brand names like I had before, I started taking a different approach. When I go thrifting now, I look for patterns, fabrics, colors, and textures that catch my eye, not initially worrying about the practicality of any piece I find. From there, I narrow down my selections to the things that bring me joy that have a good place in my wardrobe. Once I started taking this approach, the thrift store felt less like a treasure hunt for brands that I couldn’t always afford at retail price, but more like a world of unique individual pieces. I take the same approach to finding decor and accessories when I’m thrifting. Letting myself experiment with unconventional mixes of patterns, textures, and layers in my clothes has helped me to characterize my own style while also not boxing myself into one “aesthetic.” From there, I fill out my wardrobe by buying basic, high quality pieces either secondhand or from sustainable small shops when I can to make sure that I have some things that will go with everything (not everything funky goes together, after all).
- Sewing and repurposing old clothes
I don’t always have a lot of free time in college, but when I do, I love to do anything crafty. So, when I started realizing that I was often yearning for a piece of clothing or an accessory that I couldn’t find, I harnessed my creative energy and started to do a lot of sewing to create my own clothes. It started as crocheting small bags, making headbands, and sewing patches onto jeans, and has turned into occasionally making dresses, skirts, or tops from scratch. I have a whole drawer in my dorm dedicated to fabric, if that tells you anything about how much I like to make my own clothes. I also do my best to repurpose older clothes that I don’t wear as much anymore to try to give them a second life. Using my free time in college in a productive way is really fun, and it also has given me the freedom to try out styles of clothes that literally don’t exist anywhere else.
- Taking inspiration from others
One of the (sometimes) great things about college is that you’re around a ton of people your own age. So, you’re constantly seeing how other people dress themselves, outfit their rooms, etc. Once I got to a place where I wasn’t trying to just fit in with what I wore, I started noticing specific things that my friends picked out to wear that I genuinely liked. From there, I was able to pinpoint specific things that I noticed I consistently liked and incorporated them into my wardrobe. I also used online inspiration to find things that I liked. Pinterest can be your best friend with this. I promise.
- Not labeling my “style”
I think that gen z has a pretty pronounced culture of labeling specific styles as aesthetics. Words like cottagecore, Y2K, and academia often flood my social media, and I think that we’re often encouraged for everything in our lives to fit one specific mold of style, which doesn’t allow for much creative expression. Once I stopped trying to label my own taste, I felt free to like whatever I like. One day I’ll wear a classic, princessy outfit like a white dress and pastel floral fitted cardigan, and the next I’ll wear bell-bottom jeans with a funky beaded shirt. Not putting pressure on myself to always look a certain way makes me so much more comfortable and way less self-conscious.
I’m in a place now with my style such that when I buy or wear something new, my friends often say “that is so you.” And I love that that’s the compliment they give me. When I’ve asked them what they mean by it, they often can’t explain. It’s great to be secure enough in my own taste that not just me, but other people, can tell when something looks like me, but can’t pinpoint exactly what that means. That’s not a place I ever thought I would be in during high school, and I’m grateful that college has given me the chance to open my horizons and gain the confidence to experiment and find myself in this way. I hope that my experience is something that you are able to have as well if you haven’t already, because it’s freeing and rewarding.