Communication through fashion: the way we wear

Art courtesy of  @natashar0se

Art courtesy of @natashar0se

The moment we step out the door, we are letting the world know who we are and what we stand for – all without saying a word.

No matter how you wear your clothes, the fact that lies beneath your choice of outfit is that fashion is more than a means to look good – it’s a form of identity.

When people looked at me, was the confidence within me reflected in my style?

I first noticed the powers of fashion when I started university. The second I set foot on campus, I was surrounded by Grecian deities who all differed in style - and with one quick glance, I could see exactly who they were. Approachable. Fashionable. And the twist of the knife was their striking self-confidence. Gone were the days of boring high-school uniformity. Here I was, in a kaleidoscope of chic, wearing my loose hoodie and casual jeans, just wishing I was as effortlessly cool and attractive as those around me. The need to glow up, and glow up fast, became increasingly more important to me as days went by. When people looked at me, was the confidence within me reflected in my style?

Since time immemorial, fashion has been used to make bold statements about the self. Iris Apfel, Solange, Zendaya, Rihanna, Harry Styles – only some of the fashion icons of today. They don’t dress to impress or to follow the trends. They are style makers, because they reflect their personal identity with everything that they wear. They have mastered the art of the perfect look. Finding your own sense of style isn’t exactly an easy journey. You not only have to find yourself, but then find the perfect look to represent that. And it also has to fit. As tempting as it was to walk around in a giant Snuggie, with a beanie and ugg boots for good measure, I knew deep down that my preference of comfort would have to have an element of sophistication to it as well.

Throughout my university experience, my style has continuously evolved. What matters the most is that I can look in the mirror and absolutely love myself both inside and out, before I walk out into the world. Serving lewks is like serving a plate of food at a restaurant – you have to ask three questions before it goes out. Is it hot? Does it look good? Are you proud to serve it? Once I got the knack of what I liked wearing, I started to experiment and mix and match, and then decided to go one step further – blonde. Going blonde was the apex of my self-expression. There was something totally freeing in changing my look completely, almost like I had levelled up.

Self-expression and identity are two things that we all play with on the daily. Depending on what we wear, we can reveal as little or as much about ourselves as we desire, which is truly magical. It’s truly a double-edged sword. The clothes we wear can often set us free, but they can also make us walking targets out in the world in the same instance. Most of the time, there is no room to experiment in fashion without consequences, because our forms of expression instantaneously become battlegrounds of commentary.

Since the inception of style, clothes have been used to drive social, political and economic discussions globally – look at Elizabeth Smith Miller, a suffragette who is often credited as the first woman to wear pants in the 1800s, with the goal of driving gender equality. One can also look to Serena Williams for a more recent example of activism through fashion – after the French Open issued a ban on her (medically necessary) black catsuit for not respecting the game and the place, Williams rocked a tennis tutu at the US Open in retaliation.

Whether we intend it or not, the eyes and attitude of the world are always waiting for us. In England, the enforcement of the Royal Dress Code aims to prevent any scrutiny of the British monarchy. For the ladies, nude nail polish must always be worn, yet outfits must always be colourful and classy enough to stand out from the crowd. For the men, facial hair is acceptable as long as it’s “neat and tidy.” One look at Meghan Markle’s style evolution says it all – the Duchess of Sussex went from ripped jeans and black nail polish, to knee-length designer dresses with pantyhose to signify that she was officially part of The Royal Family. The 4.8-metre veil she wore on her wedding day featured embroidery of the signature flowers from all the countries in the British Commonwealth, a not-so-subtle not to her husband-to-be’s family history, and current empire. Even better, on her trip Down Under - her first on official duties - the Duchess of Sussex showcased the power of fashion through her deliberate selection of Australian designers to fill her wardrobe across the 74-engagement-tour, winning the hearts of all remaining Aussies who had not been won over already.

For queer people like myself, however, dressing to the nines can feel like a strange affair. There’s an unspoken pressure that queer individuals place upon themselves, wondering if they are dressing too gay or not gay enough. It’s been 20 long years, but I’ve finally come to a realisation – just dress. As long as you are existing, and loving how you are looking, then you are powerful. It takes some time to understand this, but there is equal beauty in vibrant colours and monotone greys. There is no one type of gorgeous, and nobody has to approve of your dress style but yourself. Only you can pull off your signature style.

Don’t be afraid of all the ways of the world – there is a sense of solidarity in the way we wear, and in knowing that the clothes you wear can immediately create a connection between you and a perfect stranger. There are so many layers to presentation, most of which are deeply- rooted in personal beliefs, values, and cultural and familial heritage. It can feel like you are wearing so much more than yourself, and that you aren’t alone out in the world. This, in itself, is power.

As long as you are existing, and loving how you are looking, then you are powerful.

It may feel like what you wear exposes your identity to the world, but there’s a lot to be said about rocking that outfit regardless of the naysayers. The world is your oyster, and you are the pearl – it just takes some time to realise how much you really shine.

This article appeared in The Comma’s 2018 Annual Edition. Read more here.

Michael Di Iorio is a third-year Journalism student. He has a passion for human rights, local drama and avoiding responsibility by looking at pictures of cute dogs all day.