When I was in seventh grade, I went through an emo phase. It was short, no more than three weeks, but I went all out. I dressed head to toe in black, painted my eyelashes in thick coats of “blacker than black” mascara, wore a choker, a beanie, and listened to nothing but Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boy.
My emo phase was the first time I was ever noticeably different from my classmates. The first time I’d ever worn clothing that wasn’t something like a shirt from Aeropostale and JC Penney jeans. I felt confident in the beginning of these few weeks, but as the days continued I noticed people staring at me and suddenly I felt insecure. I started questioning whether I should be dressing how I was and the excitement of expressing myself through my clothing was replaced by the fear of being judged. I decided to revert back to the way I’d always dressed. Just like that, my emo phase was over. Although I didn’t have the uneasy feeling of people’s eyes on me wherever I went anymore, I lost the comfort of knowing that I looked exactly the way I felt.
I continued to dress the way I saw my peers dressing until my sophomore year of high school. The first day of that year I met one of my current best friends. She walked into the classroom wearing neon striped knee high socks over black leggings, jean shorts, and a purple shirt with tiny elephants. I remember thinking, I have to be friends with this girl.
She had just moved from Brazil and after knowing her for some time, she told me that one of the first things she noticed about the students at Oyster River High School was that we all dress the same.
At first I felt a bit defensive, but when I looked around, I saw a sea of dull, muted colors. It wasn’t just in the colors we wore either, it was in the design. I started noticing the same skirts, jeans, and shirts, on the people walking past me. I looked at my own closet, which had become an array of various leggings and sweatshirts, and decided I was ready for a change.
Sure I was comfortable, but I didn’t feel confident in the clothes I was wearing. None of my clothes excited me the way clothing is supposed to.
Gaining confidence in my appearance is what made school more enjoyable for me. It took away the stress of feeling like I needed to act and look like everyone else. Looking in the mirror and seeing the embodiment of how I feel and how I am inside gives me the confidence to have an opinion. It made me realize that it’s okay to not find the jokes other people find hilarious, funny, or be interested in the same things or activities my friends are interested in.
Being different and looking different from your peers is more than okay, in my mind it’s preferred. Don’t feel like you need to fit yourself into one category or style. However you decide to dress, the clothes you wear should make you feel confident and should be used as a way to express who you are and how you’re feeling. Gaining confidence in yourself and who you are is one of the many reasons that you should express yourself through the way you dress.
“Fashion has a big role in creating an identity for yourself,” said Brian Zottoli, a social studies teacher who teaches sociology at ORHS, a class that focuses on society’s behavior. “I think that in high school, people are desperately trying to be individuals but at the same time, they’re desperately not.”
While it’s contradictory, I couldn’t agree with what Zottoli said more. During this time in our lives, we’re all searching for ourselves and striving for individuality. On the flip side, a part of us is scared to step outside our comfort zones and possibly, show a side of us that our peers haven’t seen.
“There’s comfort in fitting in and I think that the way you dress is one way to do that. I think a lot of people wear things that they don’t necessarily like because other people are wearing them,” said Zottoli.
I think a big part of why a lot of people don’t venture outside of their comfort zones when it comes to fashion, is because we have this idea that if we develop our own specific style, we need to stick to that look. It’s taken me a while to realize that I don’t have to dress to fit one aesthetic. There’s no need to categorize yourself or feel as though you should have a set style. You can dress full on groutfit one day and business casual the next, as long as that’s what you want to wear.
“There’s no one way to dress,” said Yasmeen Gunadar (‘20). “People can express themselves in different styles of clothing.”
Don’t feel like you have to dress the same way each day in order to maintain a certain appearance. Not many people are the same from day to day, so how we dress should reflect that. “I feel like I don’t have a set style. I’m not girly, I’m not sporty, it depends on the day and on my mood. I just try different styles each day,” said Gunadar.
As someone who has been using fashion to express herself since graduating middle school, Gunadar realizes that it’s not realistic for people to dress up everyday. “There are sometimes when I don’t think that people care too much about their fashion choices. Sometimes I know that I come to school and I’m just not feeling it that day,” said Gunadar. “But there are other times where I feel like people are scared to be judged and I think that’s something we all need to overcome.”
Overcoming the fear of being judged is easier said than done. It can be challenging to see past people’s opinions, comments, and judgements of us. However, there are ways of thinking about these obstacles that make the journey a little easier.
“The way I’ve started thinking about it recently is if I dress the way I want to and not worry about what other people are going to think about it, I’m just gonna be happier,” said Aidan Covell (‘21).
In the past couple of years, Covell had always been a person I’d pinpointed as someone who dressed like the majority of guys at our school. The guys who mainly wear khakis and a hoodie. However, recently I’ve noticed that he’s been dressing differently.
“I would say my style is based on the things I love. I try to stick away from name brands and wear stuff that I think no one else will be wearing,” said Covell, who does this by basing his clothing on the activities he loves to do such as skating and surfing. “As a freshman, I definitely dressed the exact same as everybody else. I remember buying a pair of shoes because I wanted to be like the person I saw in the hallway.”
Dressing in a new or different style can be scary. You don’t know what people are going to think or how they’re going to react. Covell expressed his reason for previously dressing like the majority of students at ORHS by saying, “to dress differently and uniquely is to put yourself out there. You feel very vulnerable.”
When I finally faced the fact that I wasn’t happy dressing the way I was dressing, and became ready to switch up my style, I didn’t have a job. Since I wasn’t getting paid on a weekly basis and didn’t feel comfortable spending a couple hundred dollars on a new wardrobe, I needed a cheaper option than your average retailer.
One way to find interesting pieces at a cheap price is through thrifting.“I’m not going to lie, I do love high end stuff but I also enjoy thrifting,” said Gunadar.
Thrifting is the action of buying used items such as clothing or furniture at a discounted price. As an avid thrift store shopper I can attest that places like Goodwill and Savers have hidden gems that can improve any closet.
“I think one of the best things in fashion lately has been the resurgence of Savers and Goodwill,” said Zottoli. “That’s more accessible to other people especially if you’re strategic about how you go about looking for things there. You can get some really good stuff.”
You don’t have to buy expensive pieces of clothing or accessories to vamp up your style. “I love it because there’s so many different pieces,” said Gunadar, “you don’t know what you’re going to come out of the store with. Some of my most iconic and favorite pieces of clothing come from thrift stores.”
If you’re into high end fashion and thrift stores don’t provide you the pieces you’re looking for, Hiliary Jancsy (‘22) suggests “looking for good quality dupes. For example, I love shopping at Zara.”
Wherever you shop, make sure to pick out pieces that you not only like, but challenge what you would normally wear. It can be easy to wear the same things every day, switching up your clothes is one way to not only get you excited for the week, but to improve your confidence.
When you try on different patterns, styles, and fits, you get to know your body and understand what type of clothing that makes you feel and look the best.
“I think expressing yourself with not only fashion but what you are most passionate about is very important in building your self confidence,” said Jancy. “It creates individuality which is something our society is deeply afraid of.”
Helping people express their individuality is the main goal of Christina Buteau, Assistant to the owner of the Durham boutique, Solsistar. “I have always been into fashion and love helping people feel good about themselves in clothes,” said Buteau. As someone who’s always dressed the way they wanted to, Buteau believes that fashion is “feeling comfortable in what you are wearing and expressing yourself.”
Finding clothing that speaks to you can be challenging, and it’s confusing trying to pick clothes that you think represent who you are. A great way to explore is to take inspiration from other people. Gunadar shared her method of gaining style inspiration.“I like following big brands on Instagram, even though I can’t afford most of those brands,” said Gunadar. “Some of these fashion designers are really out there with their fashion and I find that amazing.”
Blending in is boring, and although it can feel good to look the same as your peers and fit into a group, standing out and expressing yourself will always be the better option. Dressing how you want and allowing yourself to be seen in a sea of blues and greys will give other people the confidence to do the same.
“Being different is such a beautiful thing,” said Jancsy. “Never let anyone take that away from you. Your happiness is worth so much more than some uneducated comment that you have received.”
Photo by Sofia Calzone