I take a certain amount of pride in my own personal style. It has evolved over nearly 32 years of life, and has been influenced by so many factors, including my cultural background, the music I listen to, the places I've lived in and traveled to, and the amount of money available to spend on shopping.
I come from a pretty conservative Latin American family, and I’m an only child. My family has pretty traditional values and customs, which, thanks to my rather alternative tastes, makes me a complete black sheep. I listen to metal and post-punk, my closet is made up of mostly black clothes, and my hair hasn’t been one solid color in 15 years. I live in Brooklyn with two cats and my heavily tattooed boyfriend who plays in metal bands. I have a good, solid college education, and I have worked in media and web production over the years, while dreaming of the day I can finally write my novel. I’m kind of a walking contradiction, but all of these things make up who I am, and I’m happy for it.
I got to thinking, though, that because of all of the different facets that make up who I am, there are different people in my life who see me in entirely different ways. I wondered if there were things they saw in me that I don’t necessarily express myself. And I wondered if, perhaps, they might be able to express them for me, and physically put these attributes on display — by dressing and styling me to look the way they see me.
I decided to let three of the most important people in my life dress me: my mom, my boyfriend, and my best friend. I made them each go through my closet and put together an outfit based on items I already owned — that way they each had an equal playing field. As I put their outfits on, I asked them each why they had picked each item. The results were somewhat expected, but nonetheless interesting to see. Here’s what happened:
The Mom Outfit
As I mentioned, my mom is generally quite conservative. She moved to the states in the early '70s when she was still in her teens, and has struggled to support her entire family for her whole life. Having worked from an early age, she never went to college — so it is a huge source of pride for her that I always excelled in school. As she was going through my closet, she lamented the fact that there was so much black in there, and that I didn't actually own a tailored pant suit.
"I want to see you in a classic look," she told me. "Pretty, professional, and elegant."
She picked out the one pale pink dress I own. As I changed in front of her, she saw my latest tattoo piece (a Virgin Mary on my upper arm, in memory of my late father) for the first time, and nearly had a fit.
"I'm not saying it's not well done, but... I hate tattoos. You ruined your arm." She sighed and handed me a black 3/4-sleeve blazer.
The rest of the outfit consisted of nude stockings and a pair of "sensible" Dr. Marten heels. She asked me to wear light pink lipstick and comb my bangs to the side. She also had me take my nose ring out, as well as all the earrings I had on. "Just one pair of earrings... don't you have any that match?!" (It took a while to find a pair... I haven't actually worn matching earrings in years.)
My mom took extreme pleasure in dressing me, probably because she hadn't really done so since I was about five years old. It was a nice bonding moment, and I know she wishes she could see me looking "traditional" and "professional" all the time. If anything, I know I can always count on my mom to help me look spiffy for job interviews. Her outfit made me feel accomplished and proud.
The Best Friend Outfit
I've known my best friend for about 10 years. The reason I consider her my best friend is that she's been there for me over the years through all of my toughest times — breakups, career changes, apartment hunting, random boy drama, college exams — but also been there to party and celebrate with me through all the best of times. I can talk to her about literally anything. We share tastes in music, clothing, movies, and most importantly, humor. It's also nice that we generally wear the same size, so we can occasionally swap clothes, too.
While going through my closet, she amassed a pile of every single leather item in there. "I'm basically going to dress you to look like the female equivalent of a dude I'd like to date," she warned me.
The end result was a goth bohemian look that she referred to as "vampire cowboy" (like Goran Visnjic's character in Practical Magic). I wore a pair of faux leather leggings, a cropped band tee, a fringed vest (that she had fittingly gifted me a few years ago), and a pair of gold cowboy boots I bought on a whim but barely find an excuse to wear. She told me to wear bold red lipstick, and put my hair up to give me "a more sophisticated look up top."
It was the perfect attire for a fun boozy brunch in Brooklyn. Her outfit made me feel cool, independent and unique.
The Boyfriend Outfit
My boyfriend of three years is a musician and a painter. He grew up listening to heavy metal and industrial music, and his first childhood crush was Christina Applegate as Kelly Bundy. It probably should have come as no surprise that when I asked him to dress me, he asked me where my most form-fitted dress was. He also picked out the strappy "bondage" bra I bought recently, along with a decorative harness by designer Chromat. He asked me to wear my hair down, and put on red lipstick and black eyeliner.
When I asked him if he was trying to make me look "sexy," he insightfully said, "'Sexy' is kinda relative. Some people think looser clothing is sexy. I just like seeing your figure."
The ensemble he picked out was perfect for a night out on the town, or at a concert. His outfit made me feel sultry and like a badass babe.
Ultimately, each outfit was comprised of my own clothing, and so I felt like "myself" in each of them — although it was clear that each of the important people in my life wanted to highlight specific elements of my personality that they particularly valued. This experiment showed me that sometimes the clothes do make the man, if you want to put forth a specific trait. It also showed me, however, that the people who value you most will always be able to see past your clothes to recognize those traits in you, no matter how you choose to dress yourself.
Images: Author's Own; Giphy