My Fashion Identity

September 7, 2022

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my fashion choices – which, for my entire life, has either been a hoodie and sweatpants or a t-shirt and basketball shorts, depending on the weather.

In my high school’s senior magazine, I wrote a satirical article arguing that my informal outfits were better than fashionable clothes because they’re cheaper, more comfortable, and more convenient to wear.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that these arguments aren’t very good – and that they’re actually just pretty bad.

For one, clothes aren’t that expensive, and even if they are, their value increases with continual wear. Secondly, I’m sure I could find comfortable and good looking clothes if I really wanted to – or, I know people I could ask for recommendations. And when it comes to convenience, there has never been a time where I’ve had to get dressed and ready to go in under a minute, for example. But most of all, I think, is the simple point that improving my wardrobe doesn’t necessarily mean that I can no longer wear casual clothes at all – just that I would wear them less (in public).

All of this is to say that – if I’m being honest with myself – I have no good reason to not improve my wardrobe. And yet, I’ve been continually resistant to doing so, and I wonder where that resistance comes from.

I think it’s an identity thing.

My brother recently took me shopping for new clothes. As we were walking through the store, he kept pointing out (presumably) fashionable and comfortable clothes, but I kept insisting that I didn’t want them.

The thing is, I wasn’t consciously saying that to be contrarian or deliberately edgy or anything. In my mind, I just didn’t particularly like (or hate) any of the clothes my brother suggested.

But thinking about it now, I suspect there was something more going on. I think I’ve slowly built the reputation as that guy who dresses casually, so anytime anyone suggests wearing better clothes, that identity feels attacked.

What’s crazy is that I’ve never thought about my clothing choices as an identity thing. I always thought of it as, I want to focus on stuff that matters (like academics and extracurriculars), not clothes. But it somehow never hit me that “focusing on the stuff that matters” and wearing presentable clothes are not mutually exclusive.

And so that realization left me with three questions: how did dressing casually become a part of my identity, why did it take me so long to recognize it, and what conditions changed so that I was able to finally recognize it?

I think my fashion identity began in middle school. From what I can remember then, clothing didn’t matter that much socially, and tons of kids – including many of the friends I made then – were wearing similarly casual clothes, so I never felt too out of place. Also, I’m sure being a boy and having less societal expectations for fashion also made it easier to get away with dressing casually.

Going into high school, I noticed that some of my friends – and more people in general – began wearing better clothes. Personally, I was distracted enough with academics and extracurriculars to not care or think that much about clothes, so I kept wearing basketball shorts and hoodies without a second thought.

What I don’t think I realized at the time was that my friends had gotten used to my clothing patterns and had known me long enough to not really care about my outfits. And I had gotten used to them being used to my clothing patterns to really not think about changing my style.

So in a way, their tolerance for my casual clothing fed into this growing fashion identity, even if I didn’t consciously notice it. No one cared if I showed up to hangouts in street clothes, and they were delightfully surprised if they ever saw me wearing anything marginally more fashionable.

(They were never delightfully surprised.)

Dressing casually became a part of my identity, and my friends (bless their hearts) accepted me for who I was (casual clothing and all). But I think it was my friends’ tolerance that unintentionally made it that much harder to realize that my fashion identity existed in the first place.

So, naturally, it took losing them to finally recognize it.

Okay, maybe that was a bit overdramatic. I went off to college.

But it was a new environment, and I was suddenly meeting new people who would comment or playfully joke about my clothing outfits – not in any malicious way, to be clear – but I had gotten so used to my friends from home not saying anything that it felt a bit jarring.

So that got me thinking about my fashion a little. And then I thought about how in high school, I didn’t really need to be proactive about making new friends because I had found my people early on – or carried over from middle school. And that meant not really needing to care about first impressions, trying to make small talk, or, of course, my clothing choices.

I know with time, I’ll get to know the people here better and they’ll get used to me and my casual dressing ways – just like how it happened in middle and early high school. But it is interesting (and maybe concerning) to think that there are more aspects of my identity out there that I have yet to discover. And that it might take losing things, people, or privileges that matter to me in order to recognize them.

Most of all, I think this little endeavor reinforces that cliche of not being able to truly appreciate what you have until you lose it. Even something as simple as friends tolerating your clothing options.

Conclusion: I should probably invest in some better clothes.

…which is something I say now – but will I actually do it?

I don’t know.

I still hate shopping for clothes, and I don’t know if that’s ever going to change. But at one point in time I also hated the idea of wearing anything other than basketball shorts, and not too long ago I brought some khaki…shorts…(I think)…to college. Which isn’t much, but it’s a start.