I used to wear jeans and a solid-colored t-shirt nearly every day—long sleeves in winter, short sleeves in summer. This can be a comfortable, versatile wardrobe choice. I didn’t, however, choose those clothes for ease or because I felt like myself wearing them. I chose them because they helped me feel safe.
Generic clothing choices didn’t draw attention. While there wasn’t much to compliment about my attire, there was also little to criticize. Those clothes allowed me to blend in and more easily pretend to be whoever I thought the people around me wanted me to be.
More recently, I’ve started giving more consideration to the question of what I actually like to wear. I still don’t pay that much attention to what is trendy or stylish—sewing most of my own clothes keeps me from being limited to what is available in stores. What I really want to figure out is what I feel good wearing, what feels like me.
Discovering my own style is taking more trial and error than I would like. I’ll love something someone else is wearing and think it captures the way I want to feel. So I buy the pattern, choose the fabric, and sew it up.
Sometimes it is just the thing. I regularly reach for it when I’m getting dressed and dream about new versions to sew. It fits—both my body and who I’m discovering myself to be.
Other times I realize that, as much as I admire the style on someone else, it doesn’t feel like me when I actually try it on. It might be close, needing merely a fit adjustment or a different fabric to make it work. Or I might feel like I’m wearing something that was meant for someone else.
Of course, this process shows up in more parts of life than figuring out what I’m going to wear. Identity is a big, ongoing question for me. I’ve spent so much time trying to be who I thought others wanted me to be, trying to earn acceptance and love.
I want to be able to live as myself but that comes with the fear of what people will think of the real me and the question of who I really am. After looking to others for my identity, it’s hard to sort through what is me and what is pretend.
While I want to depend on others less to tell me who I am and who I should be, part of my process of self-discovery does have me looking at others. Like with wardrobe inspiration, I try on the qualities and characteristics of people I admire.
Sometimes those qualities do feel like a part of me, even if it takes some adjusting to discover how they play out in my specific life and circumstances. Other times I’ve come to the realization that just because something is good doesn’t mean it is me.
Recently, I cleaned out my closet, getting rid of clothes that don’t work for me for one reason or another. This is never easy. I’ll hold onto something I don’t feel great wearing because it was a gift, because I used to love it, or because I’m not sure yet what will take its place. It’s especially hard to pass along clothes I made myself—I know the care and effort that went into them.
I get frustrated when I’m not sure what I like or what I want. Even as I desire to know who I am, I cling to old ways of being because they are how others have described me, because I’m not sure who I am without them, or simply out of habit.
But I’m also learning the value of not this. Part of learning who we are and what we like and what we want is being able to recognize who we’re not.
There is no end to what I can learn about myself. Like you, I’m a complex, sometimes contradictory, ever-changing person. Sometimes I try something new and realize not this. Sometimes I need to take a fresh look at what is and say not this anymore.
Just because that was my favorite shirt a decade ago, just because it technically still fits, doesn’t mean it belongs in my closet anymore. Just because that is what I used to believe or how I used to act or what I used to admire, doesn’t mean it’s still who I am or who I want to be.
Sometimes we have to let go of pieces of who we used to be in order to make space for something new. We don’t have to hold onto those patterns and habits of self-protection. We don’t even have to hold onto those things we loved most about ourselves if we’ve outgrown them. In a way they’ll always be part of us, but they don’t have to define us.
As I learn to recognize what isn’t me, it gets easier to figure out what is. I still don’t know what all belongs in my ideal wardrobe but I have learned that boxy, structured garments aren’t me—no matter how amazing I think they look on other people. I’m far from knowing all of who I am but I know being the outgoing person constantly surrounded by others isn’t me, no matter how much I admire that kind of charisma.
These are good things to know. They keep me from continuing to pursue something that isn’t me. They stop me from trying to force myself to be someone I’m not. That leaves me free to discover more of who I am.
Now I’m curious…where can you say not this, whether that’s your aversion to skinny jeans or your realization that you don’t actually do your best work first thing in the morning. This isn’t about shaming ourselves for not being something we think we should be or giving up because we don’t think we can get to what we want. Rather it’s about letting go of the expectations that don’t fit so we have the space to become more of who we are.