Like most people, my mother influenced my fashion sense. She raised me with rules like don’t wear white after Labor Day; match your shoes with your belt, bag, and jacket; never wear white before Easter; and don’t mix blue and black. To this day, those rules still govern what I wear, and yet, those rules are challenged as I discover my own style and my new-found joy of fashion.
The other day, I mentioned to Sarah that I was always the weird kid in school who wore red and purple together…remembering my classmates’ sneers in childhood at my horrendous color choices.
She looked confused, “but that’s OK!” she said.
That one statement shook my world. What!? It’s OK?
A few weeks earlier, she informed me that it’s OK to wear black and blue together. I was just getting used to mixing the color of my shoes, belt, and jacket! What’s next?? Wearing white before Easter!? I would never do that!
For my mom, Easter not only marked the beginning of spring, but it marked the addition of pastels and other bright colors to my wardrobe. Although the rule technically was “No White Before Memorial Day,” my mother broke that rule for Easter. She would dress me in flowery, pastel dresses, and take my picture. Before then, we dressed in black, brown, or other dark, muted colors. I would whine about the dark clothes I was forced to wear, arguing for light colors. When she worked, I would convince the babysitter that I could dress myself, and I’d run to school in my favorite purple pants and red shirt.
When my mother dressed me, I wore olive green pants with yellow or orange—her favorite colors. Of course, this was in the 1970’s—a fashion style that I laugh at now. (It seems to me that wearing red and purple together should not have been considered a fashion “sin.” In fact, I even found a 1974 image of a woman wearing red & purple together! I must have been a Maverick, and that’s why the kids laughed! They just didn’t know any better themselves!)
So, my fashion sense was built on shame: what could I dare to wear and not get laughed at? Unfortunately, it was all trial and error. So, at this early, impressionable age, I learned about fashion: t-shirts and jeans are always in style.
The other day as I dressed, I pulled on a V-neck shirt with swirls of colors. There was red and purple in the shirt—along with green, blue, and yellow. I hesitated—should I wear this? Does it look silly on me? Does it match my pants? What shoes should I wear? But then I asked the important question: Do I enjoy wearing it?
It occurs to me that fashion is a sign of our times: we have fewer rules in fashion just like we have fewer rules in social norms. It’s acceptable to wear red and purple…just like it’s acceptable for same-sex couples to legally marry (well…we’re getting there). The more we’re encouraged to follow our own identity, then the blurrier fashion lines become.
And I’m OK with that.