I feel it to be indulgent even though I’ve taken great lengths to redefine what self-care means to me. Since the start of the year, I saw the dentist twice, began flossing religiously (Thanks, Queer Eye! Thanks, Jonathan Van Ness!), started an investment vehicle for retirement, internalized new budgets and savings goals (Thanks, husband!), made the decision to opt out of a big international vacation in order to work on paying off our existing credit card debt, stuck to a commitment to make time for green space once a week, and got back to a once-a-week yoga practice.
All of these have had great effects on my well-being, but it’s the yoga that gets me excited the most.
It’s the yoga, for sure, but it’s because I take immense joy in being about to pull up men’s shorts and an oversized tank top to the studio—along with my unshaved underarms. If this were a few years back, I can’t imagine summoning the gumption to work out in something other than leggings or cute sports bras, even if I hate how I look and feel in them.
Tuning into what doesn’t feel like myself may be one of the first significant self-care things I did in my adult life. This realization of this “self” became clear when I became a mother and parenthood started swallowing up my identity. Granted, the self is ever-evolving, but mothering made me aware that if I don’t fight for the parts of myself that didn’t involve child-rearing, I could easily auto-pilot the rest of my life and disappear.
Turning my gaze to my clothing became my vehicle for claiming my personhood. As someone very visual, I like fashion. I experimented a lot with my clothes growing up but when I came across capsule wardrobes and started living in a small apartment, I embraced minimalism and stuck to a color palette.
It was easy for me to give up wild or trendy experimentation with my clothes because it often felt like putting on a performance. In a way, it was, because I based the way I expressed myself on the subcultures I got into. I first got into plaid and Chuck Taylors because I loved grunge music. When I started listening to punk (post, pop, etc.) and emo, I donned studded belts and checkered Vans. When I got into indie, the genres I liked went all over the place so it wasn’t unusual for me to be in a vintage polka-dotted dress one weekend, then in a neon bandeau paired with sequined shorts with another. Those were fun times but I was entering a season of my life where I didn’t want assimilating into a group to dictate my choices so much. It got tiring and I wanted to be more intentional with the money and time I spent on clothes.
I kept the Chucks, but they were now paired with denim pants, bateau shirts in various color combinations, button down shirts, and jackets. It all worked out really well until it didn’t.
I was able to clean out and streamline my wardrobe, but I couldn’t find my personality anymore. I thought dressing like my profession (graphic designer—clean lines, timeless pieces, thoughtful colors) would settle the matter of self-expression. At that time in my life, getting myself to be more productive was more important than visibility.
When I had my daughter, so much of my identity poured into how well I was able to keep her alive and happy. It became an all-encompassing preoccupation that everything else that wasn’t my child had to be advocated and fought for. In the things that I deemed worthy to fight for, I prioritized my marriage and my career, then my friends and my hobbies. In the milieu of it all, I forgot all about my appearance. My life became all about productivity.
Pre-kid, I didn’t have a lot to juggle so it was very easy to feel visible. Post-kid, everything that I was doing started to overshadow my individuality.
It took working on a menswear project to reignite this need to feel tangible again. Being around my clients who were so enthusiastic about clothing was contagious. As I started going deeper with my research with heritage clothes, tailoring, and work wear, my work started entertaining all sorts of new possibilities with my personal life.
When I started entertaining the notion that I could communicate so much more with what I wear, something shifted in me.
It started with pockets.
I began to notice how much bigger pockets were on men’s pants. It was both mind-blowing and infuriating to be made aware of something this mundane. I also began to see how much more breathing room their pants had. At around the same time, pants for women were transitioning out of the skinny jean era. I started paying attention to wider legs, pockets, and higher waists. I started making time going into my favorite mall store that carries these (hint: It’s Japanese, starts with “Uniq,” ends with “–lo”) and trying them on just for fun. It became another soothing me-time thing I could do.
I stopped wearing clothes that require a strapless bra, I just couldn’t be bothered with it anymore. I stopped wearing heels entirely. I started wearing blouses and shirts in bigger sizes because I didn’t see why I had to put up with garments that clung so close to my body. In studying menswear, I saw so many restrictions I had unknowingly put on myself that the feminist in me was weeping. I was so tired of making myself awkward in my own skin just because of unquestioned fashion cues.
When my work research brought me to vintage military clothing, I felt such a strong connection to the history. I come from a family with aviation roots, but I also have a fondness for eras such as World War II because it was also a time when women for the first time stepped out of the kitchen in droves to aid in the war effort.
For the first time in my life, I felt like I wasn’t dressing up to play a role. It didn’t feel strange to tie a bandana around my neck or to wear berets to my meetings. I started putting myself together in a way that reflects the things I believe in. A lot of the stuff I already owned transitioned well into this new phase. I’m still carefully selecting clothes that can cycle through many seasons but this time there’s more play and whimsy to the utility. It amplified my inner compass and it’s allowing me to trust myself in a new way.
Yet I still have a hard time admitting that I like clothes. I still felt the need to introduce this part of me in line with my other self-care. There’s still a voice in me that feels that “finding my personal style in my 30’s” is frivolous.
This exercise in personal style is helping me to pause and delight in who I am.
When I slip on my hi-tops with the bright cerulean socks, I feel like I’m more capable of dealing with anything the world hurls at me. It tells me that I refuse to drift off and that I am here.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.