Published on March 4th, 2020 | by Nina Pulley
On Clothing, Fashion and Presenting Oneself
Where do I begin? There are so many clothes in the world, and fast fashion is destroying our climate faster than automobiles. Even still, there are so many pieces I want to try and wear. Yet a voice—perhaps my conscience—tells me to avoid the trap of trying to be fashionable or likable based on my appearance.
It’s an age-old tale. In Biblical times, the Son, beholding the flowers, said “worry not about what you will wear” as the Lord cares for even the flowers of the field, and not even Solomon in all his splendor could compare.1 If He cares for the flowers of the field, He cares for His children. In the last few days, I have perused several websites selling fashionable looks—lines you’ve probably heard of and know well—each time feeling guilt wash over me. I just want this one pair of shoes, this one pair of jeans, and this one fashionable item and I’ll be done.
But something in me knows it never ends.
I am looking for a way to present myself accurately with clothing that tells the world who I am without me having to say a word. As a Black woman who spent a significant amount of her life in the church, I know what fashion means and the status it can convey. I know the symbols of more—the shoes, watches, and church hats—as well as the signs of less.
Part of me has been afraid to look poor—to become a social victim. Perhaps this fear stems from a harrowing experience in the fifth grade when a deep, insatiable desire to have the coolest clothes and the newest fashions found fertile ground and took root within me. My peers had nicer sweaters or “gauchos” than me ‒ if you know, you know.
Part of me felt rejected and small. I slowly but surely became the wallflower I didn’t want to be, all because I didn’t have the means to impress the people around me. The fifth-grader in me still wants to make a statement, to show them—whoever “they” are. But the truth is, my former classmates are long gone, doing whatever it is they are doing, and my fifth-grade world is nothing like the life I live now.
Perhaps clothing is a way to prove to myself that I’ve “made it.” Even then, many of the experiences and challenges I’ve gotten through are more an indication of that than clothes could ever be: I’m a recent college graduate from one of the top thirty liberal arts colleges in the United States, and since then I’ve been appointed to two paid internships back-to-back. I’m currently interning at what is now the most popular Smithsonian museum in the country. Part of me wants to play that part: wear the nice leather boots, the sharp, cool moto jacket, and the fresh-pressed slacks, to show people that I am fierce, in the game, and ready to play.
Yet, part of me knows that I very much do not want to be in the game—much less play it. Part of me would rather be kind and nurturing than intimidatingly cool. Can one be fierce, loving, and honest all at the same time? (We know that this true, rather, this is a rhetorical question. Yes, we can be all three, as we probably know those people in our lives.)
The point remains: I am facing a conflict of interest and intent. The tension I feel in this dress-up game (oh, the hours I spent playing them online as a child) is an impulse to present myself other than exactly as I am. I feel the pull between the truth of being authentically me and pursuing this visage of a woman I cannot fully connect with, the edges and contours of her being yet unclear in my mind.
On some level, I know this incomplete image is wrong. I know it is better to settle into myself—into who I am—and to fully realize that than to depend on something external to communicate whatever that is for me. I can only speak for myself, but I know this resonates. So many of us put so much into how we look and judge others harshly based on the same premise. I want to be someone who sees beyond all that, beyond the judgment, into the soul.
Instead of a guard or a defense, clothing can be a signal of identity and intent. It should accentuate your being, not conceal who you are. So, I’m done with “clothes.” The younger me would be quite happy to hear this statement. I’ve been told multiple times that I hated my onesie as a toddler and would have to have it bobby-pinned securely to stay on. I believe that’s how I first learned exactly what bobby pins were (the ones with the plastic ends), not to mention how to take them off. What I mean though, in this case, is that I’m done with the charade of clothes. I am done with masquerading—with masks of all types. I am done lying to myself and others about who I really am, and I am ready to face life exactly as I am. You can be, too. If you’re reading this and it speaks to you, I know there is more to you and this journey. Join me as I take off—pun intended—towards the abundant future.
- In reference to Matthew 6:25 (NIV) “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”