My relationship with fashion has been one filled with tension and contradiction. I'd watch old movies with Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, and I want to be like them. Unabashed. In control of whatever room they walked into. Unafraid. Confident.
At the time, I formed an opinion of who they were as women from the clothes their characters wore. Later as I studied the women, reading biography after biography, I learned that they were trailblazers and actively shaped the clothing their characters wore. Attire mirrored and magnified their personalities. And even more than ever I wanted to be like them.
Relearning to Shine
Ever since my first corporate internship in high school, I learned to hide my love of fashion. Fashion became something to be ashamed of. Any compliments were to be brushed off and downplayed. In male-dominated work environments, I was cautioned to avoid drawing attention to myself. Where I naturally gravitated towards the sophisticated styling of 1940s and 1950s business attire, to appease HR, I camouflaged my hourglass shape in boxy double-breasted jackets with shoulder pads worthy of a football player. In my corporate garb, as a twelve year old I could pass for a woman in her early thirties.
As the only female in many of my undergraduate engineering classes, makeup and a styled appearance were eschewed. Female engineering students who put thought into their appearance weren't there for an education, they were there for a husband. Outwardly, I nodded along in agreement with my male colleagues. But inwardly, I was envious of that other woman's confidence.
When I was pregnant with our daughter Gates, I realized how much I wanted to shine. How much I wanted to be that woman I was envious of in college. Being pregnant, I was thrust back into oblivion--the uncomfortable space where you exist but no one acknowledges you. Family, friends, and strangers were focused on one characteristic of my being: my uterus. (Where many women take countless photos of their baby bump, I fled from cameras. Besides one photo of me on New Year's Eve, my baby shower was the only other time I was photographed while pregnant. I didn't want reminders that I was invisible.)
Preparing for my first Alt Summit in 2013, I was sick with worry. I didn't know what "my style" was. (I was somewhat relieved when I read a stylist's post about why she wasn't going to win best dressed at Alt.) There were days when I walked out the door and felt like "me." But, I couldn't tell you why I felt like me on some days and not on others, why if I wore the same outfit I couldn't replicate that feeling reliably. (Even now I shake my head at a couple of the outfits I pulled together, wondering what I thinking beyond frantically trying to find attire that my post-pregnancy body could fit into.)
When cubes ended up in the hospital last Fall, I was struggling with once again disappearing into the background. And this time I did something about that feeling. I started participating in Hilary Rushford's #StyleMeSeptember and signed up for her Style and Styleability course. Little did I know that I'd be on the way to finding my confidence and relearning to shine.
Understanding Your Fashion Icons
Have you ever sat down and thought about your style?
I never really gave my personal style or my fashion icons much thought until I created a Pinterest Board filled with clothing I liked and similar to items I wore. (Here's a link to my Style and Styleability Pinterest Board if you're curious.)
And then it hit me. The two things all my fashion icons had in common. A no nonsense attitude. Tailoring that flattered and accentuated their femininity. And then I had it, my style: No Nonsense with a Touch of Classic Femininity. Fitted silhouettes with defined waists. No wonder I'll take a fitted button-down collar oxford (darts please!) with jeans and loafers or belted sweater over a tiered cotton skirt with boots any day over a t-shirt and yoga pants.
I don't know when femininity began being seen as a sign of weakness. My fashion icons are anything but weak, whether in the movies or in real life. Taking care in how you dress and being excited to be a woman should make you feel good, not guilty, because seriously, who wants to spend 365 days a year hiding or secretly apologizing for self care? When I realized how I'd been sabotaging myself and decided to stop, it was like a veil had been lifted and I had a new bounce in my step.
What can they tell you about yourself?
Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.