After moving back home after a failed stint in Seattle, I had to reevaluate a few things in my life. The first being that I was nearing 25 and back in my childhood room, the teddy bears on my bed coming off as more mocking than welcoming. I just came back to Chicago after trying to move cross-country with a boyfriend, with nothing planned other than an apartment picked off of Craigslist and an ambition to live off of a writer’s wage. Suffice it to say, things didn’t go quite as planned.
Now that I was back home and under the watchful and disapproving eye of my Polish mother, I had to do two things: 1) Find a job that didn’t make me want to spiral into a quarter-life crisis, and 2) save enough money to move out and go back to pretending to be an actual adult.
Number one was pretty hard; number two was even harder. In order to save enough, I had to cut out all frivolous shopping — something that was near impossible. How could I walk past a store window and not be seduced by the siren song of a neoprene dress or a fur vest?! I was one of the few that didn’t mind crashing into the rocks that their song led me to. I welcomed it. So while I couldn’t go completely without, I did promise myself a compromise: To only buy things that I truly, really loved.
And not “Aw, that’s so cute, oh my God I love it” loved, but the type of loved where I actually felt an emotional tug. I couldn’t just like the piece or envision it matching just about everything in my closet. I needed to zip up the dress, look up in the mirror, and feel my belly lurch or my palms zing. I had to fall in love with the version of myself staring back in order to purchase it.
Building a wardrobe in that way completely changed my style and the way I approach dressing. It became more about me and less about the actual clothes. No longer do I have a stock of cute floral dresses and fun winter sweaters hanging in my closet. Now I only have mini love affairs folded onto shelves and daydreams with sleeves organized on hangers. There isn’t anything “cute” in my closet; rather there are only pieces that bring out the very best version of me.
It’s an interesting feeling to experience how clothes can transform you from the inside out. While a killer dress can give you an extra strut to your walk, there’s something about finding a piece that echoes your personality. It’s like it highlights the best parts of yourself that you weren’t aware you had, and then turns to you and says, “Did you know you were this amazing? Let me show you.”
One such moment comes to mind when I was shopping at a little neighborhood boutique, and I snagged myself a bell-bottom jumpsuit with little roses decorating the length of it. I thought it was simple and fun, but when I zipped it up and turned in the dressing room to face myself, it was like I didn’t recognize the girl looking back at me. I had to touch the mirror to make sure my reflection did the same. I was completely different, yet the same. The low cut of the back, the delicate shoulders, the sweet flowers tumbling down the length of my legs — each of those details somehow combined in a way that looked the way I felt inside. And it made me feel amazing.
I felt like the best version of myself — like the girl I wanted to be. And all because the way the straps fell on my shoulders gave me the confidence to be her. In that jumpsuit my smile became a little slier, a little more knowing. I felt like I could just about do anything I wanted, because I've always had the ability to do it. And that’s what happens when you build a wardrobe with items that you feel an emotional tug for, rather than items that are just pretty. They become these transformative pieces that help show you that you are that amazing person you've always thought was just a bit out of reach. You don't have to lose that one more pound or be that one good haircut away from becoming her. You've always been her — it just takes some shifting around to find her buried underneath those second guesses and doubts.
And when you have a whole closet built with those type of pieces, well, every day will be your day. Just try and have a bad one when you feel like the whole world is conspiring to give you everything. And all because the citrusy stripes on your skirt make you happy.
Images: Getty; Giphy