An Ode To Dressing For Yourself

By Stella Hertantyo

A few days ago, I was scrolling through Instagram when I saw a U Be You post that read: “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” It’s a Dr. Seuss quote that I’m sure many of us have heard many times before, but somehow, on this day, I stopped for a moment to think about what that means in my own life. The grid post was a shade of pink that drew me right back to my own U Be You dress and the very first time I tried it on when Ulfah and I were about to shoot it.

I remember slipping it on for the first time and immediately feeling at home. It’s a shade of hot pink that immediately sent a boost of serotonin to the brain. So bright that it causes you to smile almost involuntarily, so playful that you can’t help but be reminded of your inner child. But my younger self wouldn’t have been brave enough to step out in a bright pink dress.

Colour has always drawn me in. It’s the first thing that catches my eye when I walk into any clothing store. When I would paint or sit down to draw, it brought me so much delight to know that I could create any colour I wanted and bring an empty page of canvas to life with the tip of my paintbrush. I dreamed of rocking colour blocked suits in every colour imaginable. In reality, I was barely ever brave enough. I spent a lot of time just wanting to “fit in” and wear clothes that “looked good” on me – all through the eyes of others, of course.

And so, what I wore was rooted in a deep-seated desire to be a people-pleaser and to look good in the eyes of others, trying to follow any trend that was necessary to stay in touch with what everyone else was up to.

We are taught that there is a specific way that clothes are meant to be worn. That certain items look good on some people and not on others, that certain combinations of clothing go together and others don’t, that clothing should be flattering – the list goes on. For a long time, I was worried that dressing in bright colours and daring patterns was too childish and that I would come across as immature.

As I have grown up, and slowly returned to myself, the desire to please others with what I wear has started to fade away. There are many challenging things about getting older, but one silver lining is that growing up is often accompanied by a quiet confidence that is not quite present when we are teenagers who just want to be seen as “cool” – you know? Now, I see being playful as something to be embraced. I think we all need to play more and be more in touch with our inner children. The way I dress is no indication of how mature or capable I am. Clothing started to become an extension of my personality, rather another way to please others and lose touch with myself.

I am doing a Postgraduate now, and we have to dress almost entirely for comfort, because we are often moving, working outside, and getting our hands (and clothes) dirty outdoors. This means that I can’t wake up and wear exactly what I feel like wearing on any given day and being in a new environment, with new people, it has sometimes been difficult not being able to express myself in one of the only ways I know how to, when I’m too shy to use my words with confidence.

I’m a seasoned introvert, and so for me, clothing is more than just what I choose to wear on any given day. It’s a ‘hello’ when I’m too shy to introduce myself, it’s a glimpse into who I am when I struggle with first impressions and it’s a conversation starter when I’m not sure where to begin.

So, a big part of my personal style journey has been teaching myself to have the courage to wear whatever colours and whatever silhouettes spark joy – no matter how bright and bold. Dressing for yourself is not about wearing what you think others will think looks good, but rather what makes you feel good. For me, that means wearing an entirely neutral outfit on some days, but only because that is what I feel like, and not because I’m afraid of standing out.

I know this may sound trivial. A whole article about wearing colour? But it’s about more than that. This is my story about coming into my style. This is a story about clothing as self-care. Clothing as confidence. Clothing as a part of me.

This is more than my story. This is a reminder to you that you should wear whatever you want to wear. Don’t let the world make you believe that certain clothing doesn’t look good on you – if it makes you feel good, then it is the right fit. I’m going to be strutting around in my hot pink dress, whenever I am in the mood to, whispering to myself: “Why fit in when you were born to stand put?” There is no right or wrong way to show up as yourself, in this world, and don’t you forget it!