Carey Mulligan An Education

An Education (2009)

The holidays are often a time for reflection and self-evaluation. Thanksgiving rapidly becomes Christmas and immediately after that, the thrill of the New Year takes over. We look back and wonder at how we’ve grown and changed. We measure our current selves against the ones we remember from this time last year with the hopes that we have become smarter, cooler, more attractive, more successful versions of ourselves. Usually during this reflection I find that my hair looks a little better and maybe I feel a littler wiser but often times there never seems to be any really tangible, easily articulable evidence of growth…until this year.

There are many different ways to track growth and maturation in your life. Perhaps the meals you choose to eat on a daily basis; perhaps going from cereal for every meal to cereal only for breakfast, and maybe a homemade salad with salmon for dinner, is a big change. Or moving from splitting the cost of rent with your parents to being able to pay for our rent and your students loans independently–huge steps up the metaphysical latter of life toward becoming a functioning adult member of society.

For me, how my personal style has evolved over the last year is in many ways a resolute indicator of how I’ve grown and changed, especially for this past year.

Grade school and middle school saw me in a set uniform consisting of a white polo shirt, a red sweater vest and plaid pleated skirt. High school wasn’t all that much better with staunch dress code rules in place that usually allowed for little more than a pair of boot cut jeans and a solid cardigan.

So upon reaching college, I rebelled against any semblance of a uniform as it reminded me of a time in my life that I was fully ready to say goodbye to. I experimented with colors and patterns. I developed a penchant for layering, often creating complicated, over-the-top outfits. I wore lots of dresses and skirts. I changed my style on the daily, not really having any solid understanding of what I really wanted to relay through my sartorial choices other than the fact that I was a completely different person from the girl in the ill-fitting jeans in high school.

Now I find myself wearing a similar iteration of the same three things almost every day; a crew neck cashmere sweater, some slouchy trousers and a pair of ballet flats have become a self-imposed uniform of sorts. Not only do I relish in the simplicity and the ease in which it takes to get dressed, but I love the feeling of having a “look.” I have, in many ways, remedied the need to peacock and overdress with a confidence in the power of these few pieces to articulate my newly fully realized personal style. I no longer need a deluge of layers to feel “stylish.” And wearing this uniform feels immensely more fulfilling than the aforementioned one forced upon me.

Now, having come to terms with that girl I was in middle school and high school, I no longer feel the need to so strongly contradict all that she was – uniformity no longer causing an immense feeling of dread. For the first time in five years I brought only a carry-on home for Thanksgiving break rather than a suitcase weighing more than myself, my so-called “uniform” more than capable of getting me through it.

Beyond finally being able to return to some sense of uniformity, I found that in the past I used fashion to overcompensate for any insecurities. I went through a phase in which I made up for feeling rather plain or unattractive with over-dressing. I took to always wearing skirts and dresses as I imagined they improved my overall aesthetic. I spent an overabundance of time getting dressed, often changing an obscene number of times. It took me forever to leave the house and I often brought along other options. I put a colossal importance on how I dressed, seeing it as a way in which I could make up for an array of issues I was facing. Though I felt I unable to control my face breaking out or the fact that I had gained weight, I could control how I dressed. And if that meant wearing a full length floral dress to class when everyone else was in leggings, then you bet I did. I’ve even been known to show up to late night library study sessions in a skirt more appropriate for a day wedding.

Now having overcome a whole array of insecurities, my clothes no longer have to bear the burden of being my soul source of physical confidence. I now don’t need a dress to feel pretty. I can be just as a confident in pair of jeans as I am in my favorite sequin skirt. Comfort is no longer disregarded by dint of a renewed sense of practicality. And as frigid winter weather does not lend itself well to short, flouncy dresses, I am pleased to report I’m now wearing a whole plethora of trousers. This past trip home even saw me in boots–something I once avoided despite my parents living in a ski resort town.

So maybe this year I haven’t stopped eating cereal for most meals and maybe I am not completely financially independent from my parents, but at least I now know to wear pants when it snows and don’t need to bring two fifty pound suitcases home for a week. And at the end of the year, it’s the little things that are the big things. These small alterations show that I am maturing and that the passing of time is imparting more than just wrinkles.

Realizing my own personal style may not seem all that important, but when you’ve spent years trying to develop it, then it suddenly can be distilled to the contents of a carry-on and articulated in a single sentence, well…that’s about as much as I can wish for out of a set number of days determined thousands of years ago.