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Going to College Helped Me Learn How to Dress Like Myself, Not Like Everyone Else

I used to be obsessed with wanting to dress in what everyone else was wearing. When I was in the fourth grade, I  transferred schools and wound up in a school where most of the students dressed similar to each other. They kept up with what was “in,” and so I wanted to do the same. I changed my hairstyle and my clothes so that I would look like everyone else, hoping I’d make friends. 

Looking back on how I dressed and how I was so desperate to be popular, I feel ridiculous. Last year, I made this TikTok that is a compilation of my old middle school and high school photos before I went off to college, and then it ends with the type of fashion I wear now. Fashion that I feel more comfortable wearing, whether trendy or just looks stylish to me. Changing my style not only made me more confident about myself, but made me into a better version of myself. Here’s how I managed to get out of my comfort zone and wear what I love. 

Before: Trendy but insecure

Before style change
Original photo by Naya West

Back in high school, I based my sense of fashion around what was considered to be in style. I wore skater skirts, so much Simply Southern and Aeropostale apparel (two stores that were very popular among my classmates), band tees, plaid shirts and basically anything that was trending between 2012 and 2016. I used to get my fashion inspo from Tumblr and Teen Vogue. I was trying so hard to be fashionable back then, but I wondered if these looks were what defined me. At one point, I just dressed myself based on what everyone around me was wearing.

When I first went off to college, I was still wearing the same style of clothes that I did in high school during freshman year. I attended art school, where so many students had their own sense of style that I had never seen back home. While the students from my high school wore clothes that had more of a “Southern” style, the fashion students wore at my college was much more diverse.

Related: 10 Things You Should Know Before Attending Art School

When I saw how spontaneous and unique the other students’ fashion was, I was amazed. I used to notice the international students and how they dressed in fashion that was popular where they are from and think, “Wow, that looks amazing on them. I wish I could pull that off.” I was very insecure about how I dressed going into college. Everyone had their own looks, and then there was me, figuring out what looks good on me. But later on, I decided I wanted to overcome that and simply wear what makes me look and feel great. I took note of what looks and feels good on me and experimented with many different styles of clothes. I came to the conclusion that I just needed to have more confidence in myself and wear what defines me, not what defines others. 

After: True to myself

After style change
Original photo by Naya West

Figuring out my wardrobe was not an easy journey. It was hard to get rid of old clothes that I loved. But I also wanted to grow up and start dressing more like my age. It was time to grow out of my high school phase and move forward into my college phase. I thought to myself, “What would Naya wear?” and I went ahead with experimenting with different trends. From thrift shopping to people watching and seeing what different students from all over wore, I experienced what shopping for a brand new wardrobe was like. It was so fun trying on different styles I never wore before, like vintage clothing and international clothing.

I will say that one of my biggest accomplishments when it came to changing my look would be my hairstyle. I used to straighten my hair constantly throughout middle and high school, and as a result, my hair would become so damaged that it was hard to maintain. That’s when I decided to go natural towards the end of my junior year. It was originally a one-time thing, just to see how others would react, but I was pleasantly surprised: I received so many compliments from people. They thought I looked beautiful with my natural hair, and I felt beautiful, too. I never straightened my hair again. 

I get fashion inspiration by watching different YouTubers that focus their videos on fashion and lifestyle content, including Kianna Naomi and Ashley (bestdressed), who both make fashion videos like hauls, try-ons, lookbooks, and so much more. Aside from YouTube, I always look back on my fashion Pinterest board for inspiration, as well. 

Related: 5 Petite Style Tips That’ll Really ~Elevate~ Your Outfits

Finally being able to put together different outfits that fit me body-wise and personality-wise was the best decision I could have made. It feels great not to copy someone else’s look and just dress like I’m “one of a kind.” Because I decided to wear what I like and not what everyone else likes, I feel so much better about my outfits on a regular basis. I can wear what I want, wherever and whenever I want and feel like I’m on top of the world. I always encourage others to wear what defines the real you. You should never change yourself for the sake of others, especially when it comes to what you wear. Wear what you love and embrace your glamorous self!

Naya West is an actor, singer, dancer, and content creator from Augusta, GA. She graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design. where she majored in Performing Arts and earned her B.F.A in Entertainment Arts. Naya also has her own personal blog, called Just Being Me, where she talks about her many life experiences and gives advice to others. Her hobbies and interests include cooking/baking, watching anime, reading, and making videos for her YouTube channel.