I’ve had my share of embarrassing looks over the years.
There was the costume wearing phase that lasted a little too long when I was a child.
There was the dress-like-a-DDR player phase regaled with long bangs and a sweat band.
There was the dress-like-a boy-band-member phase with haunting hooded, sleeveless shirts accompanied by gelled, spiky hair.
There was my failed attempt to grow corn rows to look like Allen Iverson.
There was my enamored Hip-Hop phase full of velour jumpsuits, A.I. Reebok’s, and hats of teams I have no allegiance to.
There was my forgettable Abercrombie, Hollister, Polo phase sprinkled, every now and then, with remnants of Sean John.
There was my look-like-something-out-of-page-32-of a J. Crew catalogue phase.
There was my return to costumes during my fraternity years.
There was my love of suits when I worked in corporate…
I’ve always used style to experiment with different selves. My family moved around internationally every three years which meant I often experienced new schools, new cultures, new styles.
As a child amidst change the surest way to survive was to assimilate to the norms of my classmates. Among the chaos, I recognized the value of style as a weapon of distinction. To retain some part of me, I had to make it my own. Sometimes that meant being extreme in my choices of haircut, other times that meant using color to unmute myself from the crowd.
Whatever method I used it was all driven by a base desire to fit in while retaining some essence of myself.
My most recent style saga started when I left PwC to start Frable.
I was shedding a corporate identify for something yet undefined. I didn’t have a reason to wear suits everyday anymore and yet they’re what I felt most confident in. I didn’t have a style I could use to activate my confidence, that represented me in the new chapter of starting a company, that represented how I wanted to see myself.
Soon after leaving my job, I started a coach training program.
It was my first time in a learning environment with “adults” and I dressed the way I was conditioned to dress around these ethereal creatures.
I dressed in suits when most people were in business casual. I didn’t think anything of it at the time.
Until a year and a half later.
I’d finished the program and was attending a workshop where I happened to run into a few of my former classmates.
(At this point, I had been working on my uniform for some time but it was still a work in progress.)
In an exercise about honest feedback, I had a few people tell me how when we had met during our first training I had seemed uncomfortable in my own body, how the suits had made me difficult to approach. Someone told me she perceived the suits to be an armor against the judgment of my peers for being younger, like a kid playing dress up.
I was taken aback.
How does style impact how we connect with each other, I wondered.
As I reflected on their feedback I realized it wasn’t the suits themselves that had given them their particular impression but rather how the clothes made me feel, how the clothes activated me when I was wearing them.
I’d never given much thought to the implications of being a lifelong chameleon to my environment.
Like an actor in between scenes of a play, I changed my wardrobe often but always for the sake of taking the stage, for a character.
Who was if I wasn’t performing for anyone?
If there’s no culture around me (like school or work) to define the norms, how am I to define myself?
I realized then my learned, childhood strategy for survival wasn’t adequate for thriving.
I had to prune parts of my identity that had helped me grow to make room for new flowers.
As I started to define my new wardrobe, I decided I wanted to create a uniform I could wear every day. One that would be versatile, comfortable, and well designed.
After 2 years of experimentation, it finally came together.
My hair is long. Simultaneously a rebellion of traditional corporate cultures, and a reminder that good things take time and patience to grow.
I’ve shed the suits for soft chambray shirts draped over quality basic tees.
Classic, dark jeans to resist the urge to “innovate” what doesn’t need to be innovated upon.
A limited color palette to reduce decision fatigue.
Craftsmen shoes, a constant reminder that quality is always in the details, often understated, and always worth investing in.
I joke that I call my style now my “employed artist” look but it really does hit at where I am in my life today and how I strive to do my work.
Quality over quantity.
Depth over distance.
Less over more.
A non-conformist who cares about his responsibilities, a creative who is also pragmatic. Someone open to the randomness of the universe but who also has expressed purpose.
My style, my uniform embraces my contradictions.
The search for a new look helped me find my new identity.
Digging through the geological layers of my own style evolution I discovered my previous phases were like fossils that when analyzed told stories of time past.
These stories reveal the cast of characters we’ve once played.
Some played a part in a comedy, others in tragedies.
Whether they didn’t sell enough seats, or whether they had a good run each act represents a worthy attempt at living.
In the end, isn’t that what matters? That we were willing to risk looking like fools in search of who we want to be?
As I sit here enjoying my employed artist uniform until it serves me no longer, I’m reminded how style like purpose can be a choice: whether to be swayed by the winds of expectations, or to struggle to plant seeds amidst ever changing conditions in hopes of nurturing something that will outlive our own brief existence.
Some seeds will take better than others. Some won’t take at all. Yet with each attempt we get better at wringing out remnants, retaining the essence of our fibers, weaving them into the tapestry of our lives.
Originally published at medium.com