Style is the Best Revenge
It's Always Better to Care About Looking Good Than Not To Care
Dressing For Battle By Dressing Defensively
I've always had a secret fantasy, to be chosen for the best and worst-dressed list at the same time. Why? I want my personal style to please some, confound others, yet always make people think about my own interpretation. To me fashion should be about communication, not just blind trend worship, and the only way to achieve that is to dress to please oneself and express who you really are. I didn't realize how important this was until I started my battle with breast cancer in 2010. Now that I've discovered the best way for me to deal with my health issues is with creativity, whether it''s writing, drawing, dancing or fashion coordination, I've become a style convert. I now understand how if dressing well has helped me thus far to deal with my negative body issues brought on by cancer it can also help me get through the rest of my journey.
Style-wise I'm a late bloomer. I didn't even know what having "fashion sense" or "an eye" meant until I began attending "Westchester High School" and realized that I didn't have either at the time. It didn't help that "Westchester" was nicknamed "the fashion school" and I was surrounded by more gorgeous and chic people than I'd ever seen in my life. When I look at photos of myself back then I see a tall, skinny girl with frizzy shoulder-length hair, boring clothes, eyeglasses and acne. That's right I was an ugly duckling! To add insult to injury I went to high school in the 1970s, from 1976 to 1979, when cheesy outrageousness ruled the day. You could easily look totally wrong and tacky if you didn't know how to wear polyester, bellbottoms, mini skirts, platforms, Aftros, halter tops, hot pants, Earth shoes or granny dresses. No matter how many times I read "Young Miss" and " 'Teen" magazines I just couldn't get it right.
Finally, right after I graduated in 1979, I decided to get on the fashion track and learn how to dress before I started attending "Holy Names College" in the fall.I'd just finished reading a biography about one of my favorite actors, Montgomery Clift. The author mentioned that he'd modeled for "John Robert Powers" modeling agency and I was very impressed because he looked so perfect in all of his pictures in the book. I didn't think anything more about it, or even think it could help me with my style challenges, until I saw an ad for "John Robert Powers" moideling school in the "T.V. Guide" one day. Then it hit me. If I could convince my parents and grandparents to chip in the $150 a piece for the $300 tuition I could go there and learn how to put myself together. When they asked me what I wanted for my graduation present I immediately said I wanted to attend "J.R.P.'s" special summer session before I went to Oakland for school.
After convincing them that the three month "Personality Development" course would give me confidence and help me do better in college I enrolled into the school and unleashed a lifelong love for fashion. All of those years of watching others from the sidelines fell away and I started to develop my own look and become watched for the first time in my life. To this day going to "J.R.P." was one of the best decisions I've ever made, and despite derision by haters I met later in my life, a valuable investment too. Lately the lessons I've learned there have come in handy as I try to adjust to my new "body" and come to terms with some of the times in my life when others tried to make me feel bad for using fashion to adapt.
Throughout the whole time I worked in Santa Monica, California-at the Santa Monica Public Library as a Circulation Page for five years, at Santa Monica College as an Admissions/Registration Clerk for seven months and as a Special Education Instructional Assistant for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District for two years-I heard the same mantra from my supervisors about "dressing down". "We don't dress up here, as you can see, because of the kind of work we do," I was told at the beginning of each job. Although I tried to "dress down" at first to fit in I eventually became so depressed and insecure the only way I could bring myself out of it was to inject a bit of style into my wardrobe a little bit at a time. It didn't matter if it was just inexpensive slogan pins, black rubber bracelets and blue eyeshadow from "Hot Topics" I had to do it to keep my sanity, perspective and fashion skills sharp. This often caused conflict because I wasn't conforming and was reverting back to my old ways, but I didn't care, and continued to dress like I wanted to.
What those people didn't understand is that clothes help me keep my equilibrium. I don't smoke, drink or do drugs, so I need to find my own balance with life, and clothes help me find it. Once I coordinate an outfit, whether it's just a funky vintage tee, my favorite hole-y Levi's and my yellow paisley 1970s blazer or a white button-down shirt, vintage white skirt and 1960s orange floral cardigan, I have to work it out until I feel at peace within. Since I'm not a conformist either, I also have to make sure my interpretations of a trend are a representation of the story I want my clothes to tell that day.
On January 13, at the "Cancer Support Community" I attended a workshop called "The Pencil and String" that "combined the healing power of art, with harp music, to help me reconnect with myself and adjust to all of my losses" I'd experienced through breast cancer. The main things I've lost, besides my left breast and hair following my mastectomy and chemotherapy, was my old life from those toxic job environments I'd worked in in Santa Monica. To me that's one of the best things cancer's given me because now that I'm away from all of that negativity and abuse I've had the chance to reclaim my old love for fashion and express myself with renewed self-confidence.