I believe that personal style is a dichotomous artform. If you choose to, you can uncover your psyche while covering your body. Clothing is both an armoring and a laying bare, a defense and a vulnerability, a liberation and a cage. It is an opportunity to break the rules while conforming to society’s expectation: the expectation of not running through the streets with no clothes on. In essence it’s a tightrope walk, a balancing act. I always wanted to join the circus, so that works for me.
There are no rules about what your personal style should look like. It’s a discovery you must make for yourself, and the journey can be quite enlightening in the process. As you learn things, like how to hide your perceived flaws while accentuating your assets, what colors work for you, or what your signatures are, you also learn a lot about yourself. Being faced with the parts of your identity and body that you either love or heartily dislike, you get the opportunity to accept and embrace them both. There’s a catharsis that happens.
For me, there is a reverse engineering that happens with my personal style. In order to take care of my outsides and present myself the same way as I feel on the inside, I also have to knowwho I am inside. It challenges how much of myself I’m willing to share with the world fearlessly. I never want to be that guy that presents the illusion of having something to say, just to cover up the fact that I don’t. Which begs a single question: is the image you portray a real reflection of who you are beneath the fabric? If you’re not sure, it probably isn’t. And if you ask me, that’s a problem.
Although I stand by my position that there are no rules to personal style, society has rules, and many of them directly refer to the way we dress, present, and express ourselves. Just as we all know it is inappropriate to curse in a church, there are certain unspoken, yet universally understood, codes that we all feel obliged to follow. Breaking the rules gets us in trouble, and ain’t nobody got time for that. Conversely, following the rules is oppressive, boring, and cookie-cutter. I don’t have time for that, either.
I can think of plenty of folks who have made the decision to be what they think people want them to be, at the expense of their true spirit. They present a false version of themselves in order to gain acceptance or get what they want. They are charlatans, deceivers, mirages. It must be quite uncomfortable to be so constricted.
Your style should be a looking glass into your personality, not a mask to hide it or please other people. Clothing is not meant to hide you, but instead to showcase you. It’s a dustcover for the book of your personality and your experience; a visual index of the chapters within, and a window into your unique spirit. Whether you’re a picture book or a mystery novel, you should take measures to ensure that it gives a clue to what’s between your pages.
Have you ever noticed that it’s the people who are the most conservative and uptight by day, who get into the weirdest, most out-of-character shit behind closed doors? It’s almost as though they’ve had an identity schism, and they become two-faced as a result. Metaphorically, it brings to mind the ancient Chinese torture method of disambiguation, or “death by a thousand cuts”; which, in psychology, is defined as a major negative change which happens slowly in many unnoticed increments, and is therefore not perceived as objectionable. That is, until it gets out of hand, and you die from myriad small infections if you don’t bleed to death first. In essence, these are people who have been buttoned up so tightly, and for so long, that what was once a harmless need to be expressive has become a sick and twisted version of its former self. I can think of many better and more enjoyable ways to slowly kill my Soul and lose my mind. I say we should all try to avoid this pitfall, at all costs.
So how does one go about being appropriate and true to self simultaneously? How do you bridge the gap without being sheared in half in the process? Must we simply adapt to living a life that swings from conformity to depravity, just to experience the full range of the pendulum of expression? Must one be resigned to live a double life, or is it possible to be compliant and cheeky, respectful and rebellious, to fit the mold and break it, at the same time?
I often hear people say that they would love to be more expressive with their style, but they feel constrained by their responsibilities to their professions, or their stations in life. Mothers feel that they can no longer dress as they did when they were toddler-free, executives feel they have a professional image to maintain, religious persons believe they will offend their church communities or their God if they dye their hair or get a tattoo.
There are no rules about what your personal style should look like.
Okay, I get that. And to that, I say, try something subtle. Balance that constraint with just a touch of defiance. As I mentioned, there is a balance to it. If you must wear a suit and tie, trade your loafers in for a fabulous pair of Cubans, and throw in a colorful pocket square. High heels make you fall down? You are not alone (Idon’t have that problem, of course). Some flat-heeled knee-high slouch boots can be just as sexy. Try a wild nail polish, or even just a cool hair accessory. I also think tasteful adornments are your friend when in doubt, and yes, I mean jewelry. And news flash people, tattoos can be hidden. Youknow it’s there, and a little secret lurking beneath your shirttail can be fun to keep. You’re on your own with that embarrassing and ill-conceived tramp stamp you got during Spring Break though, I will not be responsible for that.
Sneak a little something in! It’s 2018 people, and I promise you, you can get away with a skosh more than you think you can. Add some of your unique personality to your attire. Don’t be afraid to poke at the line a little bit, even if you’re too buttoned up to color outside of it completely. If I die today, I want people to remark “how sad that poor Astro got hit by that bus, but he sure looked good in those sickening shoes as he went flying across Broadway and landed in pieces in front of Jimi.”
And a little tip from me to you, dear reader: there are loopholes in everything. If you’re clever and you make the effort, you will surely find them yourself. Just like there’s always a better mousetrap, there’s always a way to bend the rules without breaking them. Hell, I’m doing it right now… Remember when you were a teenager, and you found ways to slide under the radar or get out of trouble on a technicality? “Astro! What were you thinking, showing up naked to a funeral! You should be ashamed!” … “Well, you said to wear all black, and technicallyI’m black all over, so…” Yep, it still works as an adult. Carpe diem, bitches.
Speaking of naked… I came into this world butt-ass nekkid, but I sure as hell plan to go out in style, showing the world who I am until the bitter end. Let the haters hate. You should never have to apologize for showing the world who you are beneath the skin. The world should thank you for sharing your truth, and you should consider it your duty to give it to them. Tell your story with your clothes. Because reading is fundamental, and we’re in college now. Get your life together, honey.
Astro (they/them) is the Editor-in-Chief of the Seattle Collegian, the President of Seattle Central's Queer Cooperative club, a fully-professed Guard with the Sisters of the Mother House of Washington, a social worker and behavioral scientist, founder of Transgender Day of Remembrance at Seattle Central (TDoR), Board Member-At-Large with Diversity Alliance of Puget Sound (DAPS), and a self-identified Queer-Alien-Person-Of-Color. They have won awards for their journalism and community service work as well as for innovation in leadership and academic excellence, and are an active and outspoken advocate and activist for both the LGBTQ+ and recovery communities. They speak regularly at events relevant to these causes, and work closely with their fellows to support these communities. Social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion are their banners, and their belief in the gifts, strengths, and resilience of all minoritized communities is the driving motivation behind their work and their mission: using the powers of journalism, self-expression, creativity, conversation and connection to uplift and foster acceptance for all peoples.