Look at it. Me on the left just nine weeks ago after I rummaged through the closet and tried on a million things. I was supposed to wear my current favorite outfit to share with my new classmates in this thing called Style School.
My favorite? What was my favorite outfit? I definitely didn’t have one.
What I chose was a bit of a lie. The jacket was something I had picked up at a clothing swap the previous summer. I had dared to wear it all of twice previously and only once where I knew I’d know people. The scarf was Robbie’s, one that I also hadn’t worn too much. Yet there I was, wearing these new objects as if they were familiar to me, as if they felt like me at all.
And the me on the right? Self assured. Some badass and sass. She’s enjoying herself.
Here’s what happened: last spring, I wrote a thesis. I spent hundreds of hours either at my desk writing or in the car commuting to and from Bucknell, an hour away from where I live. Then, just weeks later, I accepted a full time job at a marketing agency. Suddenly, I was at or near my desk eight hours a day.
While not dramatic, the life changes took a toll. My body became, what I said in November, unfamiliar to me. I struggled to find time to work out or rhythms that worked for me–exercise seemed my only solution.
Not only felt unfamiliar but so did my life. I felt disconnected from parts of me that had once felt easy and assumed.
In response, I did what any raised academic would do: I decided to take a class. I heard about it through an “overheard” facebook post. You know the kind–the one by the friend you only slightly know, certainly not well enough to comment on that admits you read their full post that day. On a whim, I signed up for the newsletter.
Three months later, I signed up for Style School. I trusted Stasia though I’d never met her. She wrote like a best friend standing with you in a dressing room, clearing your head trash with a hurricane of affirmation. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. In fact, I felt nauseous. Took me a few days to tell Robbie what I had done and a few weeks to tell my closest friends that I was taking a class about clothes.
Little did I know… it wasn’t about the clothes.
Here’s the story I live over and over: I walk through a season, heavy and weighted. And then, and then, there is something that appears like a talisman. It’s physical, it’s real. I can touch and lift and turn it over. My fingers tell me that it’s going to be okay. My body tells me that there is something still beautiful in the world.
I am saved, again, by the physicality of the world.
As an RA, it was the intimate space of my dorm room, the first bedroom I’d ever had to myself; it was the light in my window and the futon and serving tea. As a senior, it was the magic of dishes and the weight of pots and pans, the color of food, the pleasure of a mug in hand. It was also dance, my body my own for the first time, happy to be itself. In my first working years, it was the taste of food, the surprise of making. In Bulgaria, it was buying bright fabric and ripping it to shreds to make ribbons to hand on my jail like window covers. The physical has brought me gleeful, peaceful, delighted into the presence of the spiritual.
The physical has always saved me.
The class, as I could have known, was not about the visible. The physical yes, but not appearances. It was about inside-out congruency–what it means to dress in a way that is oneself. It means to dress like a stage set for this theater production that is our life–not the curtain that hides the story from the audience. It means to dress with the precision a costume designer chooses looks and feels for a character–the clothing speaks the person, tells us who they are.
It sounded like an impossible task to uncover who one is through the process of clothes. But the physical is like that. It’s seductively inanimate, conventional and benign–until it isn’t at all. Our spirits tell stories with everything we build around us. When we leave off telling our stories with the objects that touch our bodies, that sit against us in an intimacy not typical in everyday life, then we’ve likely stopped telling the truest stories of our lives even to ourselves. Something is in the way. Maybe we’ve turned down the volume on the story so no one else can hear it, because maybe they wouldn’t be okay with me if they could hear it. Maybe we lost track. Maybe it got quiet amid a lot of loud and rambunctious stories that seem real, but are really lies.
Me? I’ve been distracted. I changed a lot in the last few years, which was the last time I thought anything about what I wore on a regular basis. I only bought clothes at Christmas and my birthday. But more than anything, I changed and didn’t know how to wear my story. I wasn’t sure what my story was.
Stasia really gets at this with an assignment called Power Words. In the middle of learning things about color and shape and pattern, we were digging deep to identify words that made us feel alive. The idea is that as we get closer to saying how we feel, how we really are, then we’ll get at how to dress. I kept shouting in my head “I am HERE!” By way of dressing, I was reclaiming space I’d let go. I began to dress as if I belonged to myself, as if six feet in any direction belonged to me.
I rediscovered fancy, a word I’d laid aside after I abandoned my girlhood of frilly pinks and purples and blues for earth tones and tshirts (yeah, no).
I reconnected with passion, with my speak up voice.
I found badass, this wild and disrespectful side that just doesn’t have time for nonsense.
I found an artist, someone who loves to make things rather than manage things, and dresses ready for the creative challenge.
Needless to say, the whole thing spilled out in a million ways beyond my closet.
And it spilled out beyond me. I talked about it with my close friends and saw them start making changes to take up their space. One friend declared this the “year of red lipstick.” Another realized she hated every pair of pants she’d ever owned because she didn’t know what a good fit looked like and went hunting for something that made her feel cute and work-ready. Another realized that her pants kept her from wearing her favorite lacy tops–so she skipped the pants and went with skirts. But none of these changes were about vanity–it was about taking back delight. It was literally putting on joy and ownership and saying, “I am me. And I get shit done.”
I recently wore my new favorite outfit to a local concert. A friend told me I looked like a James Bond girl: gorgeous, sultry, waiting to go on some high speed adventure. I am ready for adventures these days. Every day is a gift that begins with getting dressed and saying, “I am here. Let’s go.”
Consider Style School. Or an art class. Or a new sport. Anything that takes your life, shakes it everywhere, and puts you back down with more of you shining bright and clear. Make something each day. Make something when you get dressed. It’s a beautiful, worthwhile practice.
PS. A special thanks to my perfect, gorgeous, wild, infinite Style Sisters. They are part of this story in a way that deserves an entire blog post. After a week, I was weeping over their posts as if we’d grown up together. I kept wondering how I could care so much after one week! We were together five intense weeks and showed up for each other in powerful ways. They were vulnerable, brilliant role models. I was one of the youngest in the class and felt so much awe for the work that each of them did and the fire that lit in their spirits. We are on FIRE.
PPS. Stasia, you are a woman of crazy power and love. Thank you for doing your work. I swear it’s witchcraft. 😉
PPPS. Style School registration opens April 14th. Visit here!