Each time we reach into our closet, whether cognizant of it or not, we address a private matter between ourselves and our wardrobe. The vast majority of us aren’t even aware of the road rage ahead.
Recently, I phoned a friend while I tackled my look for a downtown event. I was itching to wear this gold jacket that I absolutely adore because while completely unexpected, it just somehow works. Like a goodnight kiss.
“That gold jacket is like your stop sign,” my friend said.
Radio silence voiced my confusion.
“Obviously you have some message. Why else wear a gold jacket?”
Instantly my closet took on a deeper meaning. I studied everything—dresses, tops, boots. Nothing stopped me, but on the top shelf and hanging on the door were flashy belts, bright handbags, retro sunnies, and a giant black Cossack hat. My clothes were one way traffic, but my accessories were glaring stop signs. And although I knew they were statement pieces, I never stopped to consider what I was stating.
It’s said that women dress to impress women with their fashion prowess or to attract sexual attention. And while given the circumstances, that may flirt with truth. But the joke is on the person who believes we thought of them first. The truth is that the very first person we consider when dressing is ourselves. Like hobbies, home décor, and Instagram posts, our clothes reveal our innermost desires. They are meant to stop traffic and release whatever private statement we’re ready to publicize.
After my phone-a-friend turned self-examination, I saw stop signs everywhere—my friend’s six inch heels, another’s fur coat, and another’s low-cut tops. Whether as trendsetters, bohemians, moral compasses, or for sexual freedom, we’re stopping people. Even if we never stopped to scrutinize it, every day we choose to make admittance to ourselves about our character, and in turn everyone we meet.
The question is, do we have the assuredness to dress as the person we know lies within?
Last summer in London, I had reservations at a trendy nightclub called Circus. I had been warned by several accomplished clubbers that I needed to dress the part or risk my reservation. I required something tight, short, and the higher the heels the better. Suddenly I was crashing head on into my greatest fashion fear: I had to be sexy—historically a stop sign I let everyone run because it’s simply invisible. There’s a behind closed doors us and a public us. Some master a perfect blend of the two. I am not among them. Circus was an ironic setting for my fashion fear. I saw myself as the clown, not the contortionist. Still, why waste a popular ressie? And so, for one night I wore the stop sign I never display on the street. And the biggest lie I will tell you is that when I looked in the mirror, I saw someone else. She was all me. I just had to conquer me first.
With each stop sign, we must anticipate the judgement of “traffic cops”. Did I look like I was craving sexual attention? Maybe, but that was an incidental side effect. It’s like that old adage, “when you look good, you feel good” but flipped. Because I attracted myself first, I attracted attention. Others may call it shock value, but they’re reading the signal wrong. Whether it’s this year’s trendiest look, a spicy corset, or comfy joggers, you’re releasing something that has more to do with who you see yourself as than them. When judgement pulls up, giving zero shits and wearing it fully is our only getaway. If you don’t believe it, we won’t. The alternative is fashion roadkill.
I know enough to know that while things aren’t always as they seem, the truth is visible in the allusion if we stop and observe. My accessories are intended for you to acknowledge that I am actually confident, whimsical, and maybe even low-key sassy. The rest of my look is the awkward goober that I probably share more, but I first intended for you to see my boldness. Under the mask of carnival season in New Orleans, it’s a perfect time to look for stop signs. Is that a costume you’re wearing or is it you? And just like with that Instagram post, we have a choice to admit it was real when all the glitz and skin and brashness of carnival goes dormant. “Be not deceived with the first appearance of things, for show is not substance” is an English proverb, and I wonder if it was written by a man, or someone who never stopped? What we show is dripping with substance. It’s the fabric of who we are and who we want to be, should we have the nerve to speed ahead.
What’s stopping us?
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.