If you read my personal style journey, How I Learned to Expand My Personal Style, then you know it began with my oldest sister and her friends wearing floral midi skirts for the sake of expressing the feminine genius (not to mention skirts were far more comfortable than the early 2000’s pants and shorts). I was drawn to the intentionality in this expression of femininity.
What I did not realize was how quickly this expression became my definition. From ages twelve to eighteen, I sincerely believed I could not be feminine, beautiful, or myself in anything that was not a skirt or dress. “The girl who only wears skirts and dresses” became my identity. I was proud of my ability to successfully wear a skirt while doing anything—running a 5K, hiking through a creek that went to my waist and then up a mudslide hill, waterpark slides, ultimate frisbee—just to name a few. I thrived on the surprised affirmations of others. My classmates were impressed with my preference for skirts, arguing they did not have the tolerance for them.
Clarification: I never held the belief that every woman should wear only skirts and dresses. If anything, that belief would take away some of the appeal. I enjoyed not wearing the typical outfit of my peers.
Fast-forward to freshman year of college.
Attending a Catholic university means I was not the only one who wore just skirts. The women whose style I was drawn to, seamlessly dressed elegantly in all environments, even when incorporating trousers or shorts in their look. These God-fearing women who loved zealously with the most inviting presence embodied the feminine genius.
And yet—they did not feel the same urge as I did to only wear skirts.
I had a longing and a restlessness to be able to style outfits with jeans and shorts the way they did. But I reminded myself, “No, you are the girl who only wears skirts. You can’t just stop now.” It might sound silly, but a part of me felt that if I were to start incorporating jeans into my wardrobe, I would become less feminine and be deemed as compromising for worldliness.
It was not until an encounter with a group of women who were discussing the Marian virtues that I would come to face the reality I had become a slave to an expression of femininity. This group of women were going to reflect on different Marian virtues each day for a week. We would not only pray with it but also wear something to remind us of that virtue for the day. Well, on the day chosen to reflect on profound humility, the group decided we would all wear a black shirt, *jeans*, no makeup, and our hair in a messy bun.
The mere suggestion of being in a situation that might require me to wear jeans in public terrified me. I feared my identity would be shattered. I called my sister, telling her how I felt the compulsion to “warn” all my friends that I would be wearing jeans the next day. Her excellent advice was this: “Do not give a disclaimer or explain yourself to anyone unless someone point blank asks ‘Mary, why are you wearing jeans?’” This conversation is what slowly unraveled the lie I had been bound to.
I wanted out. I wanted freedom from my own definition. I wore jeans that day and some people did ask about it. I slowly let my pride die. I’ll never forget that summer when I bought my favorite hunter-green, 100% cotton J.Crew boardwalk shorts and found myself styling them in countless ways each week. Friends asked about the change—my openness to newness. They noticed the transformation, both internally and externally. The beauty of woman bubbles over, radiating in her body [and clothing] when she knows the Source of her identity and that society’s fashion rules cannot contain her.
I slowly learned that garments do not define us. Our clothing is to serve us and express our intent, not the other way around. The feminine genius when creating, styling, cultivating an outfit expresses the heart of woman. Her dignity does not change or fluctuate between certain kinds of garments.