I work at a not-so-conventional boutique in downtown Santa Cruz. Walk in, and you’ll find paper-white walls, a speckled tan linoleum? floor, and black metal racks filled with clothes curated from Oakland to Uruguay. 

It would be boring, if not for the bright clothing and accessories bringing the store to life. All the items are well-made, sustainably sourced, and unique. Every few months, we get an array of eye-catching pieces, and they often last less than a few weeks before being snatched up by fashion forward customers. 

Countless times, women have walked into the store and found themselves completely enamored by a piece. They will rave about it until I inquire if they would like to try it on.

“I’m much too old” is the usual response before putting it down. Keep in mind: in most cases, these women aren’t any older than 50.

Even though I admire our distinct styles, this always puts a sour taste in my mouth — because, who cares?

Who cares if you wear that crop top? Who cares if those pants have a pattern you wouldn’t usually wear? Who cares if that color is brighter than most? 

All that matters is it brings you joy.

For so long, I hated the way clothes looked on me. I never felt comfortable in my own body, my own skin. I felt I had to dress a certain way to be deemed approachable. Being tall, Black, and unwillingly perceived as a woman, if I did not dress how people expected me to, I was “fast” or “promiscuous”. 

This resulted in wearing dull colors, hoodies that were much too big, and always tying my hair up. It felt easier to mute myself in order to be “comfortable”. In reality, I was trying to protect myself from criticism and ended up forcing myself into a box, becoming  the most uncomfortable I’d ever been.

As I grew older, I stepped out of my comfort zone: I experimented with clothing styles, got the stomach piercings that intimidated me, and changed my hair monthly. I stopped caring about approachability and focused solely on what made me feel good. I don’t want to reach a certain point in my life and feel like I have to stop wearing clothes that I like just because it’s not normative to society.

Every time I get dressed I put in the effort to do something different with my style than the previous day. Everyday is an opportunity to discover my true sense of self through style. Although it’s not always easy, wearing the clothes I want is a form of self care. A form that everyone should have the chance to indulge in.

So, here’s to those crop tops, bright colors, chunky boots, and funky patterns. We deserve to feel confident in everything from sweatpants to miniskirts. We are entitled to feel joy when we know we look good. We don’t have to let the clothing wear us — we wear the clothing.
At the end of our lives, I hope we can all reflect and think, even if all else fails, at least I looked  good.

Photo by Audy McAfee.