Robert Pattinson, Austin Butler, and Harry Styles. If you asked me who my style icons are, they’re the first people I think of. Their lack of curves allows their clothing to hang in a way that would never be possible for me. They look like they’ve thought about their outfits even though they probably just pulled on what was lying on the floor. They look great in leather jackets over a hoodie; flawless in a pair of fitted jeans and a dirty T-shirt; and even better in a baseball cap with a pair of sunglasses. I drool over Rob’s collection of vintage T-shirts, envy Austin’s endless collection of jackets, and would kill to look half as good as Harry Styles does in a pair of Chelsea boots. Not to mention I’m pretty sure that Robert Pattinson does literally nothing to his hair. I mean, that’s a freakin’ dream.
Their style is slightly hipster, mostly colorless, and evocative of an “I don’t really care” attitude. They make casual look put-together. When I dress casual, I look like a slob. I recently mentioned to someone how much I coveted their style, and was told, “But…they’re boys.” This is true. I, on the other hand, am not. And yet, for as long as I can remember, I’ve felt a connection to sneakers and plaid instead of ruffles and miniskirts.
In fourth grade, a boy named Charlie and I bonded over wearing the same pair of boy’s sneakers. In sixth grade I wore a selection of lacrosse shorts (man, were they ugly) and my mom cut my hair short because I didn’t want to take care of it. In high school, I owned a collection of ill-fitting men’s shorts from J. Crew. I didn’t wear makeup to prom. On the outside I am, what society would probably call, a tomboy: “a girl who exhibits characteristics or behaviors considered typical of a boy, including wearing masculine clothing and engaging in games and activities that are physical in nature and are considered in many cultures to be the domain of boys.” Yet that’s not how I identify.
What I am is a girl who happens to dress outside of the confines of a stereotypical feminine style — and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it hasn’t always felt that way. I come from a family of girls, and my two sisters have developed looks that are distinctly feminine. They happily slap on makeup, and could probably out-walk Victoria Beckham in a high-heel race. For a long time I wore whatever they told me to wear, hoping that at some point it would just click, that I’d start taking their fashion cues to heart. OK, they picked this out, I’d think, so I’ll pick out something similar because if they like it then it must be good. But then I’d wander over to the men’s section and pull out oxfords and army jackets. I’d usually have to fight them to buy it. “Boys don’t like girls that dress like boys,” my sister would scold.
Which is how I ended up with a closet of beautiful dresses, never worn. They sit there waiting for a day that will never come, a day when I’ll feel comfortable in them. Every once in a while I try. The result? I spend the evening emotionally uncomfortable and feeling like a fraud. I constantly worry my ass is showing and bitch to myself about my inability to sit however I want. How can I act like me when I don’t feel like me? At my older sister’s wedding I wore flip-flops for all but the shortest walk from the edge of the aisle to the pulpit. I was so bad at walking down the aisle that my best friend, who was there as my date, laughed at me. When the ceremony was over, I changed back into my flip-flops. The heels have sat in their box ever since.
For years, I’ve been fighting against what feels natural to me because I’ve felt pressure to. When I used to get dressed to go out I would put on a T-shirt and sneakers and feel great, but when I would walk into a bar and every girl around me was in heels and a mini dress, I often felt like the odd girl out. Anytime I was “dressed down” I would be told that I’d look better if I had makeup on, or was asked, “Is that really what you’re wearing?” So I learned to qualify it. “Oh, I didn’t bring anything nicer with me.” “Sorry I’m not really dressed. I came straight from work.” The truth is that I feel comfortable in jeans and I don’t like to change before I go out. There’s nothing wrong with that. So why did I feel like there was?
Part of it, I think, has to do with how clothing options are even marketed to women and girls. Recently I found a pair of totally badass limited-edition gum sole sneakers from Vans. I fell in love with them and dreamed of wearing them with a pair of blue jeans and a gray T-shirt. But they weren’t available for girls. What was available “for just us girls”? These Hello Kitty sneakers.
Now, lots of girls love Hello Kitty, and that’s totally cool. But I am not one of them. This isn’t the first time that I’ve not connected to a line’s “girl option.” I often can’t find the men’s sneakers that I’m looking for and am instead directed to things that are “made for girls.” What does it mean if something’s “made for girls”? Usually that it’s pink, frilly, or hyper-feminine. But I never felt like those things were made for me or appealed to what I actually liked. For a long time, it made me feel like there was something wrong with me, until one day, I decided to stop letting it get to me. One day it clicked. So what changed? Kristen Stewart.
The first time that I saw candid photos of Kristen Stewart, my jaw dropped. I knew a bit about her. She was in Twilight and didn’t really give a shit. She was often pulled apart by the public for not smiling. And I sure as hell knew that she was dating a guy that I often drooled over. But I saw something different from most people. Instead of having a visceral negative reaction to her anti-Hollywood attitude, I saw a bright light in a pair of skintight jeans and a quilted leather jacket. Even when Kristen has to dress up for red-carpet appearances, she is distinctly herself. She’s a girl that has dared to say no even if it meant that the public would call her names. And they did and continue to. One of the comments that I see over and over again on photos of her is that Kristen is obviously a lesbian because of how she dresses.
These comments are the perfect example of why I’ve had such a hard time letting go of the feminine dresses that hang in my closet. Is it possible that Kristen Stewart has feelings toward girls? Yes. It it possible that any other girl in the world does? Yes. Does any of this matter in fashion? No. The idea that jeans, hats, and sweatshirts are only acceptable for lesbians is something that we need to stop saying. We need to start telling girls that it’s okay to like Jay Z’s outfit more than Beyoncé’s and that you can do that without it having any bearing on your sexuality or sexual preference. That you absolutely don’t have to wear what everyone else is wearing. It’s all right if you don’t like the color pink. Fashion designers need to stop making “girl” options not as cool as guys’ options.
Is this change easy? No. But it is necessary. It’s the reason why it’s still hard for many girls to comfortably go against the grain. In the past when I would get dressed for a date, I would try on multiple outfits. The first was what I wanted to wear on my date. The second was what my friends would tell me to wear. As I stood in front of the mirror, I would feel the frustration well up. I never want a guy that would want me in heels all the time. So I’d take off the dress that I had on — the one I thought I should wear — and put on what I was actually most comfortable wearing. And you know what? As soon as I did, I realized how great I looked. Because girls who wear vintage T-shirts are beautiful. And girls who wear sequins are beautiful. And girls who wear T-shirts with sequin skirts are beautiful too. Girls who look unapologetically themselves are the best type of girls. And it’s time we celebrate that.