• Charmaine Lising

Dressed to the Nines

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

Do you ask your friend “what are you going to wear?” every time you go out?

One of my favorite lines from Freeform’s “The Bold Type” is when Sutton Brady states that we should turn our “walk of shame” into a “stride of pride.” While this phrase refers to one night stands, which is different to my personal context, I resonate with the fact that I’ve been on a stride of pride lately.

After discovering the door to self-love, I’ve reached new heights in being confident in my skin. I’ve been able to visit my closet once more and pull articles of clothing that haven’t seen the light of day in months. Regardless of the occasion or company, I’ve started to choose what makes me feel best.

As vaccines rolled out and it became safer to see others in person, a couple gal pals and myself made dinner plans to catch up with one another. After establishing the time and location, the fun of pre-picking out our outfits for that night began. I had recently bought myself a sheer bell-sleeved top and highwaisted pluot pants that I’ve been wanting to wear out. Although I already had a couple of outfits in mind, there was a lingering thought that made me want to check in to see what everyone else was going to wear.

Before I got the chance to ask the group, someone beat me to it. “What are you guys going to wear on Friday?” All of a sudden, the outfits I picked out no longer seem relevant and I was already anticipating picking something different depending on what my friends say. Not wanting to respond first, I left the chat open. Eventually, I saw the typing ellipses appear. Feeling relieved that someone will set the tone for the evening, I waited to see what my friend would wear, but to my disappointment she said, “I haven’t decided yet, I was just about to ask what you were planning to wear!”

We were all thinking the same thing, but none of us had come to a consensus about the general attire for our outing. Finally, the first friend said that she was just planning to wear jeans and a t-shirt. My other friend also agreed that she was thinking the same thing. Still having not replied, I remember looking at the outfits I had laid out and feeling slightly disheartened that I would have to change them to something more casual. Finally, I gave in and responded, “Same, that’s what I was thinking!”

I lied.

I had completely based my attire for the night on what everyone else was wearing. Although it wasn’t intentional, I wanted to fit in. Rather than fit in, I simply just didn’t want to stand out. I began to wonder why I always instinctively asked the question, “What are you going to wear?”

I believe that question stemmed from my own insecurities. I didn’t want to be over-dressed or under-dressed at the places I went and I wasn’t confident enough to not care. The odd part was that there was more of a negative stigma surrounding those who dress-up for outings rather than dress down. I felt like I shied away even more from dressy clothes because I didn’t want to be shamed for it and feel even more self-conscious than I already was.

During my undergraduate years at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), I received my Bachelor of Science in Cognitive Psychology. In one of my research projects, we tested the way women viewed their self-image and how they rated their self-esteem after comparing their bodies to other women in professional magazines vs. everyday attire. We separated participants in two groups: the first group answered questions about their self-image in correlation to women in the magazines while the second group only answered questions about their self-image without having been directly compared to the models. Our study showed that UCSD women were fairly satisfied with their bodies, but that would change when they would compare themselves to other women. Indeed, existing literature has shown that when participants are asked to compare themselves to ideal standards self-scrutiny is increased and body satisfaction decreases. Although we, as women, don’t always directly compare ourselves to other women, there is evidence that we do it subconsciously.

I also learned in my Psychology courses that the human species uses conformity as a form of survival, so it’s natural to constantly compare ourselves to our peers in order to fit in. The further down the rabbit hole I went into thinking about my tendencies to ask my friends what they would be wearing, I realized I was experiencing my own research experiment.

With this profound realization and my new efforts to showcase a “stride of pride,” I am trying to break this habit of asking, “What are you going to wear?” It may be the safest route to fit in, but it’s not a route I need to feel threatened by should I decide to venture out of it. Clothing is simple but it holds a lot of societal pressure.

Within my circle of friends, I know that they would never discourage me from wearing something that made me feel confident in my own skin. If anything, there would be more hype up than shaming and I believe that empowerment amongst women is more common than discouragement is. Most of my insecurities of dressing up lie within my own head.

It might feel a little awkward at first to appear in an outfit that is slightly more dressed up than my peers, but I say to hell with negative vibes! Confidence is key and it took me a long time to realize that it was never them, but mostly me. Society may have easily played a role in convincing me that I needed to look like them, talk like them, and be like them, but it was my personal choice that allowed me to be unsatisfied with a decision I could easily change. My fear of standing out was always greater than my desire to get dressed up, but lately that spotlight effect has started to dissipate. As tempting as it has been, I have been trying my best to avoid asking what my peers are going to wear in order to challenge myself to a game of outfit-roulette. While not knowing what the group attire will be can be nerve-wrecking, it forces me to stick with the outfit I have on for the night no matter what and I may as well enjoy it.

One of the graphic designers for Mi Voz Media, Jillian Pontanares, is a good friend of mine from college. Jillian is always dressed to the nines and exerts radiance even when she isn’t. She almost never asks what other people are wearing, and appears in the attire she pleases. I find it bold and empowering, yet so simple. She exuberates confidence and beauty and I admire her for it. In my eyes, it felt like she had zero insecurities, and if she did she never let the world know. Even without knowing so, Jillian has empowered me to take steps forward and love my skin. Her confidence is a cloak of strength I want to borrow, and hopefully own a pair of my own one day.

I used to look at other women and wish I could be as confident as they were, or would wish that I could pull off an outfit like they could. I will admit that I still compare myself to other women and hold myself to societal beauty standards. However, on my new journey to building my confidence I will continue to compare myself to women but in a positive light. Instead of comparing myself to tear down my self-esteem, I hope I can use it as a lever to motivate, encourage, and build myself up instead. Let’s wear our confidence loud and proud ladies!

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