Learning to Match in Your Twenties
My Fashion Journey to Careless Professionalism
I’m standing in front of the closet door mirror wondering whether or not my outfit is within the constraints of “professionalism.” This particular dress has been getting kicked into my limbo pile for months. I’m not even sure it’s clean. I can’t find any visible stains or unknown scents. Would I care if I did? As I go through the routine get-dressed checklist, floor dress seems to pass the preliminary rungs of acceptability. I put a scarf over the questionable collar and wonder: “how did I end up in my twenties unable to match?” A colorful struggle through the world of alternative fashion contains some clues.
In the sixth grade, I was kind of a loser. I was an extroverted art kid – drunk on discovering Pink Floyd and the freedom of buying cookies with my lunch money. I made friends with the Hot Topic shoppers and internet punks. I threw away the Old Navy t-shirts my mom got on clearance – you know the ones with fake surf shop logos – and started anew. I was boldly confused and preadolescent, dressed in combat boots and costume jewelry. I could have saved myself a lot of stress early on if I had just realized that it’s also “alternative” not to care. To my unrefined understanding, the more plaid and patches you wore, the more punk rock you were on the inside. Thankfully, Facebook wasn’t around to document the fishnets-under-ripped-jeans look.
High school wasn’t much better. Socially speaking, I fit in somewhere between the casual stoners and newly crowned indie kids (“hipster” wasn’t yet a part of our vocabulary). After a failed trial period with hemp necklaces, I cut my hair. Short hair is edgy, right? I just couldn’t figure out how to shout “I’m different and into Joy Division, damnit!” – because that was totally necessary at seventeen.
A gracious realization coincided with the opening of our town’s Goodwill. I could wear whatever pattern needed a home, and escape the dress code of style-segregated suburbia. Almost. Cross-stitched handkerchiefs, skorts, and any semblance of ‘50s americana became my thing. I was late for first period regularly because of my overdrawn eyebrows. Red lipstick stained most of my belongings. I felt cool for a while, but eventually grew tired of the Bettie Page costume contest that had become my social life.
After a brief grunge stage in early college, I felt a need for simplification. I slowly broke the habit with second-hand hoarding and found solace in black – a simpler tempo for the wardrobe-conscious nonconformist. Though I was quick to discover that “all black all the time” can overstate nihilism. A harsh truth dawned. No outfit seemed to match my identity, and beyond this, did I even care to represent myself with clothing choice anymore? Even dressing for function has its implications. Are worker’s pants okay to wear with polka dots? I couldn’t find a medium.
With my quarter-life crises in full bloom, I lean towards stylistic apathy and find more satisfaction in consciously avoiding personal flair. Matching my dress code to my ethics, preferences, and taste seems boring. But I don’t think I’m quite ready to put on the dress pants. Or ditch the cowboy boots.