For a the vast majority of a decade out of my young life, I would look down and see a slight variation of the same composition: black mary-janes (then oxfords, then clunky boots) and a swath of bottle green fabric (at first a flowing A-line, then a shorter hem, an exposed knee, the sausage casing of a tight pencil skirt). I attended a Catholic school and can’t help but ruminate on dressing oneself in the context of having worn a uniform so long; the ways in which I related to myself and others as a result of this common denominator, a blatant social signifier in the face of questioning one’s budding sense of individual identity. I grew up fat and weird in a country where that was a significant, noticeable deviation from the norm. Ready-made clothes were never really available in my size (though hallelujah for brilliant tailors) and I never quite learned to truly dress myself until much later in life, at least partially because I spent most of my days in that uniform. There was comfort in belonging to a larger group, the “uniformity”, allegiance and “freedom from distractions” that the school espoused, of course. But there was also the innate need to transgress, albeit in small but significant ways. There was the aforementioned shortening of the hem; a lace bra peeking out beneath the white shirt and monogrammed pocket; dyeing my hair peacock colours in the most crunchy ways possible (hey, it takes a few tries to get it right); swapping out white socks for black (not to mention getting ratted out for it) and the hours upon hours I spent in the principal’s office or with teachers, debating the merits or the validity of my choices.
In my off hours, at first, I veered towards (or only vaguely recall) shirts made of local (bangladeshi) check prints, oversized multi-pocketed cargo pants (oh lord, remember those and all the other nu-metal trends?) and platform wedges. Back then, I didn’t fully grasp the systems in which I existed. How what we called “western dressing” was idealized largely due to eurocentric ideals and proliferation of foreign media, neatly wrapped up in a package of inevitable modernization that was accessible to only certain classes. This could be an entirely different essay for another time, I digress. The point is, I bought in to the b.s. hook, line and sinker. All I knew was that as a young girl, wearing pants and not covering my tits with an orna got me in trouble and pissed people off: that was reason enough. Through my teens, the few pieces in my off-duty wardrobe were replaced with about ten shades of black and a cluster of spiked and silver jewelry – a nod to the subcultures and music I was engrossed in at the time. Problematic within that was also the popular notion that fat women should wear black, shrink and shirk, clothe ourselves in what is perennially “flattering” and “slimming”. A construct my teenage, babygoth, deeply self-hating and insecure self certainly subscribed to.
When I first moved to New York for college, what is now a laughable deficit seemed like endless options for clothing in my size (aka Torrid, Lane Bryant, Avenue and Ashley Stewart). I saw women and men dressing in a myriad of different styles, from the monotone head to toe looks to elaborate night-life costumes to minimalist basics with an eye for impeccable details. I didn’t quite fully understand styling yet, but day by day I observed strangers on the train like a hawk, taking in all I could – making mental notes of elements I wanted to emulate, to try on, fail spectacularly at. Without the leveling framework of a uniform, every sartorial choice was up for studying under a microscope. What did that piece of jewellery communicate about the wearer? Is an outfit in all primary colours inherently a hit or is it because the person in question styled and carried themselves in it with such aplomb? It all felt new, the process of learning how to dress. What is otherwise a rite of passage for most young children and teenagers, didn’t actually arrive for me until I was a young adult. The remnants of all those years of wearing a uniform, and being limited in dressing in so many other ways, never quite dissipated. As an overcorrection, there were years where I never repeated an outfit in the exact same combination and thought it blasphemous to do so (obnoxious, I know) because for so long it was dictated what I should wear and repeat daily. In other iterations, I wore only bright colours and patterns, because being so visible in a large body felt liberating and revolutionary for my once-hidden, younger self. Days in moshpits and shows still dictated my wardrobe – those same tenets of uniforms and social signifiers still applied – now pledging allegiance and shorthand familiarity to those in the know. The patches for your favourite bands that never could draw a big enough crowd, the hours upon hours spent with bruised fingertips hammering in studs on your vests: it all accounted for more than just aesthetics. I have always believed style, and by extension, uniforms, are ultimately about connection & community. The need to seamlessly express oneself in a visual form lends to being perceived in very particular ways. For those that have the freedom to dress as they choose (and not everyone does, please help me if I ever go corporate), it can mean having a modicum of control over how they are seen. Ideally, it’s a reflection of your authentic self and the life you occupy.
All of this to say, I have been thinking a lot about my current uniform because it’s clear I still have one. It made sense, then, to start off this blog documenting my personal style with what I wear the most on a daily basis. There’s clarity and comfort in routine, in repetition. The sloth in me eschews high heels and structured fabrics of my youth for jersey and cotton, stacked boots and androgynous loafers. Pieces that are in heavy rotation are the most malleable to the seasons and have the versatility of being worn braless on a bodega run to being dressed up for a fancy dinner. I still unabashedly love seventeen variations of black and I will gladly live in the colour now that I have unburdened the fucked up messages of it being inherently slimming. See, I don’t feel hidden in black. Quite the opposite. I feel like a large mass with my own gravity pull, taking up as much space as I contain, and no less menacing. I feel solid, immovable. I have more freedom to play with textures, fabrics, details and drapery when I wear all black – what would be a whisper in another colourful outfit seems a thunderous boom in monotone and negative space. This right here: it is what I feel most at home and myself in.