Ever since I was a kid, I think I've been aware of the importance that is placed upon appearance. And while I sure as heck can't change my ethnic origins (nor would I want to), or the results of the genetic lottery that produced me (I'm actually quite happy with my physical form/appearance, thanks), there's a lot of stigma attached to that which one can change. And while I'm not going to talk about physical fitness, weight, eating disorders, plastic surgery etc. here (seeing as I feel those types of changes are beyond the scope of this particular blog posting), there's a lot about one's presentation to the world that is interpreted in certain ways.
As a kid I was excited to wear the hand-me-downs of my cool older cousin, because her style was (and still is) cool. As a kid I wore a lot of mismatched clothing, a lot of tomboy-ish outfits, and rebelled against pink and pastels, probably because I was gifted too many clothing items that were pink to wear. As a tween I only wore a gifted bright orange sweat suit around the house, because I didn't want to be seen in public wearing it. I always (and still do) over thought my Halloween costumes because what would people think? Would the costume be good enough? Would it be interpreted as being what I thought I was dressing as (often people guessed wrongly as to what I was dressing as, and I'd let them because isn't their interpretation just as or more important/good as mine?)?
When I was teen, I was encouraged to pluck my eyebrows (because that makes you look more dignified), to wear heels (because you're short), and to wear makeup (to hide my blemishes). As a teen who is developing one's own identity it was hard to find/choose clothing because although I was a nerd/geek/etc. I didn't want to be seen as too much of one. I wanted to fit in (a struggle I've constantly fought with). I wanted to wear that which was both comfortable and a good representation of whom I was.
And as an adult I continue to struggle with the perceived expectations of society and practicality and my own desires as to what to wear and how to curate my appearance. I go through time periods where I wear makeup consistently and weeks where I don't touch the stuff. I spend hours seeking out the right footwear that is actually style appropriate AND comfortable/practical (because never the twain shall meet apparently). And I struggle with the fact that much of the clothing on the market isn't made for me: colours, styles, fits, quality etc. are all at odds with what I want and how I want to represent myself to the world.
Because as an adult, I want to wear pretty dresses, but I don't want to look like a babydoll. I want to look attractive but not slutty. I want to be warm on a cold day and cool on a furnace of a day but not uncomfortable and I want to be wearing the appropriate clothing to both my expectations and the expectations of what I happen to be doing. My closet is overflowing with clothing (and I don't actually add that much to it in any given year) but I often don't find the right outfit for my mood/desires or the societal expectations of a particular event/occasion.
As a woman I'm expected not to wear the same dress to the same event twice. Somehow I'm expected to have demure blouses and pencil skirts and business jackets and heels and maybe I don't actually own that outfit because it's simply not me to own that outfit (the closest I've come, I think was when I dressed up as a femme fatale in a comparative literature class for a presentation once). I wear a uniform to work daily and so I don't have all that much of an opportunity to dress the way I actually want (or to be warm if it's ridiculously cold near the entrance/exit doors) [note that I'm really darn aware of expectations. I don't like breaking rules even though I can and do wear the wrong colour of socks on occasion with my work uniform etc.]. If I don't dress up/wear makeup/have something girly on me, I could be looked at as being a tomboy/being unattractive/being unfeminine. But although I wish to always wear skirts/dresses (I'm 100% more comfortable in dresses and skirts than I am in pants, partially because of how it feels to wear them but partially because it's so hard to find pants that actually fit right) I don't want to be all frilly or to look to lolita-fashion-ish. Sure I might love many aspects of being a woman (and I wonder at how much of my attachment to feminine traits is because of the amount of times my name has me mistaken for a man actually), but I rebel against pink and pastels and so many other hypothetically feminine traits (like wearing a lot of makeup, or blowdrying hair always, or straight ironing hair always or….)
Sometimes it feels like I'm constantly waging war against the expectations of me, even when all I'm doing is opening the wardrobe. No matter the dress code, I often feel like I'm either acquiescing to the expectations of me, or I'm doing my own thing in my own way but feel like I'm transgressing somehow. And I really wish this weren't the case: that people were less judgy (and that includes me — because I'm sure to be my own worst critic here). I wish I had more confidence to pull off the looks that I see some other folks doing… but even more than that, I wish that much of what I want to wear were more available to me. Because it's damn hard not to care. And I think by this stage in my life, I've simply accepted the fact that I won't stop caring, and others will simply not stop noticing.
And you know what? I don't think I'm ever going to own certain things in my wardrobe. And I think I'm okay with that.