For most of my life, fashion was a four letter word. It felt so foreign to me, so irrelevant for the “intellectual” I fancied myself to be. This perspective made me a bit of an anomaly within a family dominated by “fashionistas” – women (a mother and sisters) who love heels, make up and beautiful and sexy clothing. To and for them fashion (what a woman wore and how she wore it) had the potential to empower, it communicated something about you to the world and – perhaps most importantly – to yourself.
I vividly recall arrogantly rolling my eyes at women who obsessed over shoes – like, really? My look of defiant choice was head-to-toe black – show nothing, reveal nothing, force all to focus on my intellect, for (I believed) therein lies my only gift of value.
Life has a way of continuously challenging our perceptions, humbling us in all ways. One often does not see it coming, these lessons. So, at age forty, I decide to do something different, get out of my well-established comfort zone, and try something new. This resulted in the purchase of my first pair of jeans – yes, at age 40!!! Before this time, I abhorred jeans. I believed they were meant for skinny girls only, curvy girls need not apply. So, nervously and riddled with shame and trepidation, I slipped on a pair of jeans – doing exactly as my idol and mentor, Eleanor Roosevelt, encourages: what I fear most. The jeans fit beautifully, lovingly hugging my every curve. I was utterly astonished at the me I saw in that mirror! I stood up a little taller, felt a tinge more confident and – dare I say it – bloody sexy! The power of fashion lesson one of many to come.
A year (and over twenty pair of jeans later), I felt emboldened enough to try on heels. I remember thinking that as much as I love my penny loafers, sneakers and flats, I was now a woman of a certain age. I needed to dress like a woman to feel more like a woman. This does not make intellectually sense; it cannot, as this is all on the visceral and emotional level – the level I consciously chose to ignore\runaway from for forty years! That place was way too messy, unruly and unscientific for the science geek intellectual I so very carefully crafted myself to be. One simply cannot control or reason one’s way through that place.
So, I try on my first pair of high heels – at age forty-one. Truly I tell you, it was love (and, ironically given we are talking about four inch heels here, comfort) at first fit. Something just clicked inside of me, something within was set free and made more at home. That something: my sensuality. I felt for the first time that I can be – indeed, I am – smart and sexy. Those two components of my personality seemed to always be ill at ease with each other, unable (and unwilling) to comfortably occupy the same space within me. It took fashion (jeans and heels) to begin breaking down the silos of my personality and help me to see and perceive myself holistically. I am not just this or that, I am this and (all) that! Heck, we all are!
Fashion took me to that realization, that place of growth and evolution. It was not the myriad of spiritual books I inhaled or the countless hours of blissful yoga practice or quiet time spent in solitude journal writing – those all took me to other places and likely helped to open/soften me to the power of fashion as a means of self knowledge, expression and creativity.
What commenced with jeans and heels eventually led to a little make up on my face – a dab here and there to highlight and sculpt. Now, there is even – gasp – more color and texture in my wardrobe! I am more comfortable using fashion as a vehicle to tell a story and share a little more about my personality, revealing and exposing different aspects of me. Surprisingly, in lieu of diminishing my intellect as I had feared, making myself up (using a variety of clothes, shoes, makeup, perfume, jewelry, etc.) only serves to enhance my intellect, providing it with much-needed context and a little more flavor, if you will.
Looking back through the lens of maturity, I think I feared fashion on some level. We tend to fear the unknown – like we fear the dark. On some level, perhaps, that fear is based on our knowing that the unknown will change us, it will take us somewhere inside that we do not feel ready to explore, force us to see and face something we are not ready to confront. But we must. We must grow, we must evolve, we must become all that we were meant to be. This only happens by going there – to those hard and icky and darn uncomfortable places.
Take It where you can get It. Indeed growth and insight come in the most inopportune times and often wrapped in the most deceptive of packages (fashion – really?). When the student is ready, the teacher does come – just not looking the way the student would expect!