"The world is your runway”

by Victoria Iiparraguirre, Manhatten College of Music ‘22

When I was in middle school, like most girls that age I struggled to find my group of people and fit in. A short, awkward 11 year old still wearing sneakers and old t-shirts (the same attire I was used to wearing in elementary school) - I could care less about how I dressed. The first few weeks of school I hung close to the group of friends I was familiar with from the previous year, but once the bell would ring for lunch, I would find myself feeling left out of all the conversations at the table. The occasional glances followed by whispers and laughter confused me for those few first weeks until I started noticing that these “friends” had changed their attire completely. Gone were the days of picking out what to wear from the top of the drawer. Now, everywhere I looked all I could see was an endless sea of Abercrombie and fitch sweatshirts paired with skinny jeans and ugg boots. Then, something clicked. Everyone who dressed that way seemed to have the most popularity. Maybe if I dressed the same way everyone else did, then I would be noticed at table 6 during lunch instead of feeling ignored. For those next few months of school following this epiphany, I would don on spaghetti strap undershirts layered beneath off-the-shoulder tops which would scoop down way too low around the neck line for my comfort. And of course, after begging my mother I eventually owned my very first Abercrombie hoodie. Almost immediately after I updated my wardrobe, I began receiving compliments and looks of approval – even invitations to sit at the prestigious table 6. I reveled in this small victory; “Aha! This disguise is excellent, I have them fully convinced that I fit in with their crowd!” But as stated, the way I was acting and dressing was alas, nothing more than a disguise. I soon found myself playing the role of someone I wasn’t, and the act was exhausting. Every night I would come home and find myself feeling tired and uncomfortable with how I dressed. All of the brand names, the low-cut tops, the spaghetti straps - though everyone else was wearing that it just wasn’t me. So I cut up the shirts and gave away all of my brand name clothes including the once coveted hoodie, and started building my wardrobe once again from ground zero. That was the moment that I first started expressing my individuality through my clothing. I had always found it so much fun to make my own designs for shirts and piece together unconventional outfits. Whether it be DIY styled studded skirts with lacy button down shirts, or ripped jeans with a graphic t-shirt designed by me, I began wearing my designs and creations to school. The first day I decided to be myself through my clothing, I’ll admit I was terrified. What would people think? What would my friends say? Yet despite how anxious I felt, it paled in comparison to how unbelievably uncomfortable I felt dressing like someone I was not. I suddenly felt free, like a gigantic weight was lifted off of my shoulders. No longer did I have to pretend any more, I could finally be myself and not care what others thought. However, even though I proudly wore my true colors, others soon began to point fingers and snicker about my choice of clothing. As I labeled my style of clothing as gothic, I soon had many nicknames, some of my favorites being “the girl from the Adams Family,” or “witch.” Kids would shout, spread rumors and even physically pull on my clothing to make me feel intimidated. Through the constant teasing and bullying, I began occasionally considering going back to dressing the way I used to just to avoid everything. But I soon realized that giving in would be taking the easy way out and in turn, I would be robbing myself of being 100% authentic. As many know I am not one to back down from a challenge, so as one would guess, I spent the rest of my time in middle school dressing however I pleased while of course making sure I met both the parental and school dress codes. While I never received another invitation to sit at table six, it didn’t matter. I learned the valuable lesson that friends should love you for who you are, not for who’s brand you’re wearing. Aside from that, being myself made me a staple of the school. Everyday I would show up in a different hat from various time periods which earned me the title of “The Hat Lady” – something many of my old middle school teachers still remember years after I left. Since that time, I’ve never stopped being unapologetically myself, but a few thing have changed. Aforementioned, during my preliminary years of self expression I was quick to put labels on my style yet as I progressed in expanding my tastes in clothing, I no longer feel the need to limit myself to one style of dress. Nowadays, I dress in attire and colors that make me feel comfortable and most importantly, happy. Whether it be big obnoxious rococo style dresses one day, glitter and pastel colors the next, followed by star-spangled prints, I always make it a point to convey the elements of who I am through my style while at the same time, being mindful of what is appropriate to wear for certain occasions as well as respecting my body. Many people have asked me why I decided to take the road less traveled by sticking out in the crowd, and to that I say is because I would much rather prefer to be entirely myself and feel happy than try to be someone I’m not and feel trapped. Young girls don’t realize how important it is to be unapologetically themselves. Their creativity and individuality makes the world that much more exciting, not to mention builds strong character and confidence. Your wackiness and imperfections are what make you timeless, and if that just so happens to be considered the way you dress, then continue on just the way you are. The world is your runway.