I almost never walk out the door in an outfit that doesn't feel like "me." Those outfits that make me feel like the truest version of myself typically involve sneakers (that are in no way intended for physical activity), a healthy dose of animal print, a copious supply of layers, and some sort of jarringly bold lip color to top it all off.
Take today's ensemble, for example: a beloved t-shirt with my cats' names embroidered onto it underneath a pair of (admittedly kind of unflattering) wide-leg overalls with my favorite leopard motorcycle jacket thrown on top. Per usual, the whole outfit is paired with my trusty platform sneakers and a favorite pair of wide-rimmed glasses for which I have absolutely no medical reason to wear.
So the other night when I was about to hit the town in an uncharacteristically plain, all-black and layer-less outfit, I stopped myself. Something felt off; this boring get-up didn't quite feel like "me." I slipped on a thick choker and whitewashed jean jacket to give the otherwise dull combination a little something extra, feeling an instant sense of relief knowing I looked a bit more like myself.
Dressed in something that felt more my style and dancing with friends, I was having a perfectly fun night out. That is, until one man decided it was his right - nay, his duty - to intervene. He made some sort of power loop around the bar before pausing in front of me. He glanced down at my necklace before offering up a curt "Nice choker," in an irrefutably condescending tone. I responded with my best comeback (fine, I said nothing and continued sipping my drink) and he returned to his pod of bros.
I was so annoyed, mostly with myself for allowing someone the satisfaction of doling out rude sartorial commentary without so much as a peep from me in return. But I was also annoyed because the comment was so presumptuous. It was as if my crafting of an outfit that didn't make him immediately want to, I don't know, hit on me, I guess, was some sort of failure on my part that should deeply concern me.
It was as if crafting an outfit that didn't make him immediately want to, I don't know, hit on me, I guess, was some sort of failure on my part.
Of course, to many I suspect that this brief encounter could seem like no big deal. But like most women who experiment with style, this was not my first experience dodging unwarranted fashion advice from men I had never asked for in the first place. There was that time I wore overalls to a party in college and spent the duration of the night listening to the same guy ask me what "had possibly inspired me" to pick out those overalls over and over again. (As fun as it sounds!) Or the time that a complete stranger told me my romper made me look "like the Genie from Aladdin" (good one, my dude) when I had, again, not asked his opinion.
For a long time, I shrugged off this kind of commentary; if I liked what I wore, who cares? Well, this time I finally had it up to here. During the cab ride home, I made sure to tell the choker-gate story to my friends. They all nodded their heads in agreement, each recounting their own experiences with men who had mistaken their personal style choices for ploys to gain approval from the opposite sex, belittling them for wearing something they didn't perceive to be attractive. Had it seriously not occurred to any of these guys that women didn't just stare into their closets each morning in hopes of nailing the perfect combination of clothes to earn the highest approval rating from men?
Frustrated with the recurring critiques, I thought about why I seem to refuse to dress in a way that would make everyone happy, or at least allow me to blend more seamlessly into every crowd. The truth is, it just wouldn't feel like me.
And to the guys who don't understand how important that is, I can only offer my personal explanation: I dress the way I dress to feel like myself; to feel like there is something about the way I look each day that is consistent with who I am - my taste, my influences, my personality - without having to say anything out loud. And while some people view fashion as a way to slip into a character, I see it as a vehicle for feeling like the most authentic version of myself; a means to accurately reflect whatever mood I'm feeling that day. Sometimes that means wearing obnoxious pink furry jackets when I feel like making a loud entrance, and other times it means swiping clothes from my boyfriend's wardrobe when I'm feeling a little androgynous. (Photographic evidence of both below.) Most importantly, it really never means that I'm looking for your approval.
So the next time a man volunteers a backhanded compliment or an unwarranted analysis regarding my look, I won't stare back in silence or awkwardly laugh it off and pretend I didn't hear. I'll tell him that he wasn't asked. And then I'll go back to my closet the next day and put on whatever weird AF outfit makes me feel the most like myself in that moment. Because I can and because it's fun. But mostly because the only (extremely biased) fashion judge I listen to is me.