In the middle of summer, after hours of wandering around Asheville, North Carolina, my aunt and I went to the restaurant “Early Girl Eatery” for lunch. Our table sat in the corner making it convenient for us to take a look at all the people around us. Some first dates, large families with messy kids, and a group of friends having lunch. When we sat down, my Aunt Hildy continued staring at the group of women, “I love her look,” she said, gesturing to one of the women with a shaved, spiked hairstyle wearing an ankle length, blue and white gingham dress and black combat boots. “In my time, that dress meant something very different.” She leaned back in her chair and reminisced about the meaning of that dress during her childhood.
Having grown up in the south, this crisp summer dress was the uniform for the affluent women, making it their life’s mission to achieve a very high social standing she said. “They made your affluent background very clear to others, including being “presented” as a debutante and spending days “doing” lunch at the elite country clubs.” It was a uniform promoting an elitist stereotype with pride. My aunts face shriveled with disgust because the memory and thought of the old status concerned society made us all feel disappointed with the way things used to be.
I looked back at the table of friends and saw this woman in a different light. We all saw the impact she was making with her ensemble without even knowing it. Growing up we cultivate our style to express ourselves. This opportunity simultaneously gives us freedom of expression and forces us to conform, by having to pick a box we want to fit into. What of the non-conformists? My aunt saw how the world was changing. Style no longer conforms or validates our identity, it shows our rebellion against it. Clothes were no longer trophies or symbols of status. Just as much as they can be used to put ourselves into a strict, single mold of who we are, they can show our rebellion against conforming to any mold at all.