Cultivating Identity: A Community Member Shares Her Personal Journey
With an emphasis on structure, silhouette, texture, and detailing, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Fall 2019 Dior Couture Collection posed the question, “are clothes your home?”. By examining the relationship between our concept of safety and self, Chiuri’s monochromatic collection sparked an inner examination of comfort and identity. What defines “home”? What is your “home’s” foundation built of? Is your outer identity directly correlated to that of your clothing? Is your inner concept of self expressed in your choice of apparel?
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Growing up, we are told to never judge a book by its cover. We are told to look beyond the surface to find the truth in those around us. While at an elementary level, these statements are meant to be productive rather than harmful, fashion is a window in our concept of self. Fluidity is a facet of our daily lives, from the way we refer to our gender performances to the way we style our wardrobes. Too often do legislative and fiscal hurdles prevent those who do not relate to their physical bodies from altering their anatomy. On the other hand, fashion provides a space for those to properly represent and explore their identity to the world, despite the confines of one’s normative reality. Culturally significant moments within fashion often are centered on the intersection between masculine and feminine dress. From the 1989 Armani power suit debuting in Paris fashion week, Katherine Hepburn’s relaxed tailored look in 1981 with Barbara Walters, Bianca’s Jagger’s revolutionary two-piece, all-white pantsuit, to the YSL “Le Smoking” tuxedo shot by Helmut Newton, some of the most revolutionary choices of dress have been a result of pushing the “gendered” boundaries. Despite the legalities and sex binary assignments at birth, gender is a reflection of our inner identities. What we choose to wear is an expression of our gender performance, a balancing act of culturally categorical masculine and feminine articles of clothing.
While I cannot speak on anyone else’s relationship with their identity and dress, I can, however, tell you mine.
As a young girl, my mother taught me to follow my dreams and never settle for anything less. Coming into adulthood, my identity as an independent and strong-willed female is directly correlated to the woman my mother once was: a New Yorker working within a creative field, for her–graphic design–and for me, fashion. This is not to say my mother is no longer resilient. In fact, she’s one of the most courageous and fierce individuals I have the privilege of knowing; exemplifying typical “masculine” qualities within a marriage. She has often been the glue that has preserved our family’s bonds. She has sacrificed many things for my family. Most notably, her dreams of living as a creative in New York City. I’ve grown up with her as a source of inspiration, determined to establish the metropolitan life for myself, a life that she relinquished at an early age. The fear of my own loss of autonomy and individuality act as driving forces and cornerstones of my own identity. Her sacrifices have fueled my ambition
With my identity so familial-centric, I stand in front of my closet, full of my mother’s power suits from her time in New York, embodying her confidence. I find comfort and strength in the worn shoulder pads of the past, the aged pleats of her trousers, and the tarnished shine on her vintage earrings. One sport coat, in particular, provides a sense of authority and humor that carries me through my most uncertain moments; a patchwork of houndstooth, checks, plaids, and window-panes. The menswear-inspired, highly masculine sportcoat has become a safe uniform of sorts for me, my vision of home. The integral darting of the blazer provides me with the structure that I often feel I personally lack, motivating me to stand my ground against the male dominance felt within the office space. I feel the most feminine in traditionally “masculine” pieces. Demanding the respect I deserve, my mother’s wardrobe lives-on in the streets of Midtown Manhattan.
While I have always been in touch with my inner strength, I have begun to discover my innate femininity, a trait of my identity that I have too often kept hidden, a foundation to my sense of self. As I continue to grow personally and professionally, I’ve discovered the value of vulnerability, an attribute that I am cultivating outside of my professional life. I have begun to embrace my love for women, my pride in the appreciation for the female form, and my inner curiosity of repressed expressions of desire. Consciously, I have been working to appreciate my own form. Accentuating my curves and athletic build, my wardrobe has grown to include an array of typically “feminine” pieces of dress. From frothy white blouses to silk slip skirts, I am exposing new parts of my body that I often hide, previously afraid to be seen as “too” feminine or weak. Through an array of abuse and rejection, I’ve been trained to believe my feminine side was something to be ashamed of and weak. I’ve been taught to hide my curves, weaponizing oversized tailoring to disguise myself rather than celebrate the body that is my permanent home, beautiful, and entirely mine.
I recognize that I am privileged to have been born with a cover that is ultimately parallel to the contents of my pages, an outer appearance that accurately reflects my inner identity. As my sense of self evolves, and as I begin to accept more parts of myself–such as my sexuality, my femininity, and my strength–I understand that the way in which I present the world through my apparel will continue to reflect those changes. Exploring the balance of masculine and feminine within my wardrobe, I will continue to work towards universal acceptance of all parts of me, all the while redefining what it means to be “masculine” or “feminine.”
For me, “home” can be defined by my sense of security. While comfort often infers a lack of style, I would argue that comfort, a sense of freedom and self-awareness, is most predominantly visible when I feel safe in my outer appearance. This does not mean sacrificing my fashion choices, but rather, it means a direct correlation to my inner expressions reflected in my outer presentation. My hopelessly romantic lense on life expresses itself through my highly “feminine” dresses. My hunger for new possibilities can be linked to my use of color throughout my accessories. My connection to family-life can be found in the layered chains on my neck, jewelry passed down through generations of Italians. My foundation has been formulated around my heritage, my desire to succeed, my creative upbringing, and my yearning for happiness.
For me, I feel strongest in my patchwork sport coat, mixed with a dainty black slip dress on underneath, an outer shell of “masculine” grace with a hidden layer of “feminine” strength. I am beginning to allow myself to expose my vulnerabilities, understanding that beauty can come in all shapes and sizes–my body is my home.