My favorite thing to do besides play Barbies was to play dress-up. My mom had saved all her old fancy gowns and I spent hours in the basement or my bedroom putting outfits on and strutting around. I played house; I pretended I was a model, or an actress.
I also loved putting outfits together—I think I must have changed my clothes four times a day because each new activity demanded its very own outfit. And the patterns…flowers with polka-dots; frills and pink lace with denim shorts, lime green and yellow flowers.
It’s been fun watching my daughters play with clothes to express themselves. Kyler recently wore her favorite twirly dress and then another twirly dress with her arms through the sleeves as a cape. I knew what she had in mind but the execution is about what you could imagine.
One day I was sitting outside with this little girl, my legs propped up on the table reading. Her legs were on top of mine and I saw our shoes side-by-side. I had opted for the practical gray converse while she chose the sparkly mulit-colored pink and glittery shoes. Little girl me would have fallen in love with the impractical shoes that don’t go with everything because they were fun and playful.
When people talk to me about the patterns I mix and match, I tell them I just pretend I’m five years old. They laugh and assure me it doesn’t look like a five-year old dressed me, but they’re missing the heartbeat of what I’m communicating. I started choosing grey practical shoes when I listened to what the world said to wear—or rather, I chose the jeans and t-shirts because I was scared I would choose wrong and people would laugh at me.
I didn’t want to stand out. I didn’t want to be the fairy tale, princess pattern-loving mixed up girl. That felt unsafe in this world that can be so cruel and judgmental. So I played it safe and chose simple solid, color palettes. I knew what I was drawn to, but it wasn’t accepted.
But I never stopped eye-balling all the things that were flowy and long and full of patterns. I never stopped wanting to mix things that didn’t look like they went together.
I have loved my late twenties and thirties because I’ve re-learned to play. I’ve learned to love what I love and not apologize for it. I’m no longer interested in if it’s the most flattering cut, or if other people would wear it, or if it’s currently “in.” I have gone back to what I’ve loved as a child. I spent most of my teen and early twenties learning to suppress my individuality…and now I’m finally listening to my sassy five-year old self who unapologetically loved what she loved—princesses, fairy-tales, and all the patterns all the time.
So if this is new to you, but like me, you’re eyeballing all the things and want to start playing, I invite you to start.
What colors and patterns are you drawn too? What makes you feel like your most true self? And it’s OK if you’re copying someone else. We forget that that’s how we learn and then we fine tune and make it our own. We learned to talk by mimicking our care-givers. We learned to walk while holding onto someone’s hand, or the random piece of furniture. The more you play, the more you’ll figure out what you like. My former roommate has an edgy, rocker almost gothic style—I copied some of her pieces, but now pair them with other things so they have more of a fairytale vibe. I liked what she did, but I made it my own.
Start small…I was at a trunk show the other day and a woman was trying on patterns for the first time. I suggested she start with a pair of leggings instead of the tunic she was holding because she could wear a solid top and wouldn’t feel overwhelmed every time she saw herself in the mirror. Confidence and feeling comfortable are so important. Starting small gives you the ability to add-on and build confidence. Scarves, shoes, belts, and necklaces are all easy ways to add pattern and/or color. Then you can practice mixing and matching those pieces with other things in your closet.
Ignore the mirrors. We lived in Uganda for two months during our adoption process and there weren’t any mirrors around. I wasn’t able to check myself out, or examine an outfit from every angle and it was so freeing. If you love what you’re wearing and feel comfortable in it, the mirror shouldn’t be the final judge. It’s a tool, like a curling iron. You don’t ask your curling iron how your hair looks. Do ask friends, especially as you’re learning. I have two that I will text when I’m trying something that feels risky to me. I trust them to help me fine-tune.
Be brave…or at least tired. Sometimes I’ve done the weirdest stuff because I’m just too tired to care and it ends up looking great. Sometimes I’m feeling brave and so I’ll try something new. I may never wear it again, but I learned that a) people loved it or b) no one even noticed/cared. And honestly, most of the time it’s the latter. I wear clothes every day and most of the time no one cares to comment one way or the other. And so I learn to dress in what I like because the world isn’t really paying attention to me. I’m not Taylor Swift—and there’s tons of freedom in that.