By Sian Wilson - Fashion Editor
For as long as I can remember, I have grappled with my identity. I believed that what you think of yourself is always second-best to what others think of you. Until now, this has been the most difficult belief for me to overcome.
Gradually, though, I started to realise that what people think of me is only as important insofar as I allow it to be. It is impossible to ensure that every person you will ever know approves of exactly who you are - even more impossible if you aren’t entirely sure of who you are.
I have learned that who you are is up to you. And, if you are like me, and you sometimes struggle to find the right words to tell people who you are, there is another way.
Self-expression is an incredibly beautiful, yet terrifying feat. Putting yourself on display and opening-up the floodgates to scrutinisation and critique is as daunting as it can be liberating. Finding the right way to express yourself is a life-changing discovery, and this year I discovered that I had been expressing myself all along.
It all began in the -‘90s. I don’t remember much from my first four years of life, but, I do remember the ‘90s carrying over into the 2000s, by the skin of its nose, and I remember even more vividly how I thought everybody looked simply horrendous all the time. That being said, so did I. The early 2000s were a stylistic blur for me and I was sure I would very much never like to revisit them.
One day in San Francisco, I noticed a group of people apparently unaware as to what year it was (for context, it was 2016). They were dressed to the nines in patterns that were clashing and confusing, and colours that were screaming. They were shocking against the boring brick of the city’s financial district, definitely out of place, but utterly brilliant. They looked like they would be friends with my mom, if my mom were a character in any of our favourite -‘90s movies. They wore everything so well, though.
The problem: I am pretty sure I was the only person who thought so. In that moment I realised that I wanted to be looked at the same way I was looking at them, completely in awe of how they were able to say so much without saying anything at all. More than ever I wanted to feel how I assumed they felt; comfortable in their own skin, blissfully unaware of how they looked to everyone else around them, including me, wearing their individual personalities from head to toe with confidence and exuberance.
Today, I represent myself through what I wear. I couldn’t do this - not sincerely - if the -‘90s hadn’t made a comeback this year. Growing up, I delved deep into all kinds of trends, doing my utmost to keep up; whether it meant dying my hair the colour of angst or chopping it off in rebellion. Sometimes I thought wearing pink from head to toe would mean I appeared more feminine, and then I thought that there was nothing worse in the world than being considered “too feminine” so I started to “dress like a boy”. And then there was that (far too long) affair with Ed Hardy.
Nevertheless, my style has been a chameleon for as long as I can remember caring about what people thought of my appearance. I thought I would never genuinely be able to express myself until the -‘90s (and, admittedly, the early 2000s) started to re-emerge this year, bringing with them ridiculous platform shoes and plaid. It turns out, as the ‘90s slowly started showing its eccentric face again, I found my sense of self. I have never been more comfortable with my appearance than when I started dressing like the messy lovechild of the -‘90s and 2000s (aka. Hilary Duff’s awkward stage). The eclectic, colourfully quirky style of the -‘90s and the happy disaster of the grungy, mismatching 2000s makes for the best outfit today – in my opinion, anyway.
Whatever I used to wear that kids would make fun of is suddenly stylish, and those high-waisted jeans I thought I could never pull off actually look pretty good on me. Corduroy is hot, and ask your mom where she buys her brown lipstick – she always knew this day would come. Bobs and bangs and moonbags do not make you the butt of all of the jokes anymore. Have lots of hair everywhere, or don’t anywhere, or some somewhere… it’s up to you! Also, remember tekkies? They’re called sneakers now and they look spectacular all of a sudden. By the way, oversized is never unflattering. I mean it. There is no “dressing like a boy”, or vice versa. The -‘90s were androgynous then, and they are now.
The -‘90s making a comeback were not the opportunity that I needed to feel confident in expressing myself. Rather, the ‘90s making a comeback where the mirror that I needed to recognise myself, and the megaphone I needed to tell people who I am without saying a word. I have always been colourful and quirky and kind of a happy disaster (like the 2000s P!nk, and her cropped halter, shredded jeans and bright pink ‘do). The only difference is, now I embrace it with open arms and lots of confusing patterns and screaming colours (you know, kind of like Lil’ Kim’s 2003 BET Awards ensemble) against the boring brick of the Department of What People Think. The same way Britney and Justin totally embraced the magic of denim-on-denim in 2001.
Regardless, the year 2018 has been heart-warming and eye-opening within the realm of fashion. As the unconventional becomes beautiful and the disastrous becomes art, you can almost hear the -‘90s crying out to be here, now. As the newly-appointed Fashion Editor for Activate Online, I can only hope that everybody has a momentous -‘90s (and 2000s) comeback of their own.