I'm a woman who has a very strong sense of style. For me, developing my own style has never been stressful. Dresses in saturated summer colors don't scare me; I find their watermelon pinks and lemon grove yellows charming in their cheerfulness. I see poetry in the lines of dress hems, enjoying the way they exchange whispers with the spring breeze as I cross city streets and stop in front of bakery windows. I find that the way delicate straps over bare shoulders look make me feel quietly beautiful on the inside, and I find romance in the way the morning sun comes through the skirt of a sheer dress — much in the same way its happy voice hits through lace curtains over a bedroom window.
Patterns on top of patterns make my heart dizzy with happiness, and the more I resemble Iris Apfel with her cluttered, wonderfully playful style, the more content I feel. I feel comfortable going out on a limb with a new trend, dabbling in baggy mom jeans and a mile-long butt without a lick of shame, and I find myself testing out overalls with more curiosity than trepidation. Things like the ugly-pretty trend intrigue me, and I find myself buying things like orthopedic-looking clunky sandals with the same amount of excitement as someone who is buying a daydream of a designer dress.
I don't mind making mistakes or admitting that something doesn't quite fit, mainly because I have the same mentality when it comes to fashion as a five-year-old getting into her mother's jewelry box when she knows she shouldn't: It's all about playing and having a ridiculous amount of fun.
My style is more than just the clothes I throw over my head: It's who I am. It's the way that I found to express myself, and it's just as much a part of me as the gold in my eyes or the sound of my name. But not everyone chooses to express themselves through style; we each have our own ways. And because of my strong sense of self through clothes, I've noticed that women who don't choose to share themselves through dresses and colors tend to be extremely apologetic around me. Like extremely apologetic around me.
They would fidget with the sleeves of their simple sweaters, feeling uncomfortable with their uncomplicated picks. They'd express wishing to be as brave as I am, laughing (regretfully, self-consciously) that I probably think they dress terribly. And my answer to that is: Knock it off.
Style is not an obligation. Style is not something you have to have in order to be seen as beautiful, put together, or complete. It's something that's created out of experience, memories, and influence — and if you choose to not express that in the form of sweaters and dress hems, then that's perfectly OK with me.
You can't force it, and I don't expect or want you to. No one does. Developing your style is an extremely personal thing because it's a process of finding a way to be true to who you are on the inside. It's the reason I might feel right at home in a wiggle dress and you might balk at the very idea of zipping yourself into one: It might not represent who you are and the type of woman you've grown to become. So when you look at it that way, how can you think someone has the right to judge you and your experience?
If it's going to stress you out to think about your style, if you feel anxious showing so much of yourself at the first hello, then don't do it. I've honed and created my look from years and years of moments. It started when I decided to trade in my candy money for my first Vogue at age 14 and has been slowly building from there. The colors I choose and silhouettes I gravitate towards tell a story of my years.
They reflect my teenage walls taped up with romantic, fairytale Dolce & Gabbana dresses and dream-like couture editorials. They reflect the Chicago neighborhoods I bounced around in and the easygoing, loud-laughed disposition of my friends and me. It reflects my complete adoration of my Slavic mother and her offbeat style, and my adventurous "why not?" spirit of picking up and moving coast to coast, or flying over oceans and time zones for summer-long adventures. Everything in my closet is a reflection of where I've been and who I've become, and everything in your closet is the same for you. But if you don't wear your heart on your sleeve (literally) the same way I do, don't stress yourself out.
Not everyone is comfortable wearing their journey on their backs. They show it a different way, and it's just as beautiful. Because the important thing to remember? It isn't so much the mementos that reflect who we are — it's all about who we are. If you have an appreciation for my dress, thank you, to me that means you have a liking to the type of person I've grown to become.
And if I can't figure that out right away about you through the sweater you wear, well, I'm going to have fun learning it through a different way.
Images: Messages on A Napkin/Marlen Komar