Sometimes, people are surprised to learn that I haven't been super-feminine my whole life. Usually this comes up when someone sees me wearing jeans for the first time. Although I do own a couple of pairs of pants, they rarely come out of the dresser, emerging only for things like moving days or an extremely long flight (I hate flying, and tend to contort myself to try and get comfortable, which is difficult in a skirt and a tiny space). But the truth is that I used to wear pants almost exclusively. I've always loved getting dressed up, but pants were my first choice when it came to workaday clothes.
I think a lot of this has to do with my mother's influence. My mom has always been heavy, and her long, nondescript denim or twill skirts are her way of hiding her legs. She owns very little makeup, has kept her hair the same way for as long as I've been alive, and doesn't care for manicures, pedicures or facials. All of her clothing is functional, practical. Growing up, she was my example, and like most parents, tended to dress me and my sisters the same way she dressed herself, usually with very little in the way of frills or accessories. When I wanted to pick out my own clothes to wear and sought guidance about how to know what colors go with each other, she directed me to my older sister. She hedged when I wanted to learn how to shave my legs, and finally taught me only when I came home from camp one summer, having been mercilessly teased for being the only girl there who didn't shave. Not to be too cliché, but my parents never told me I was pretty or complimented anything about my appearance--a habit I may have picked up, with my man now pointing out to me that I never say anything about how he looks.
My resources became magazines like Seventeen, my older sister, my friends and people I saw on the street. To this day, I look at other women for the purpose of picking up style ideas and inspiration. However, let's be honest; I grew up in the Midwestern suburbs where Abercrombie & Fitch and Express were considered high fashion. By the time I graduated high school, I had learned enough about myself to know what looked good on me and what didn't. I was handy with makeup though I didn't wear much of it. My style then was kind of punky, which worked at eighteen. I went to college, studied theatre and joined a sorority, so I had my foot in the doors of both creativity and plastic preppiness, but I was still living in the middle of a prairie so clothes weren't too adventurous. In terms of style, neither were the people. My look grew up, but wasn't anything special.
Then, I moved to New York for graduate school, right after finishing college, and a floodgate was opened. In New York, it's somewhat easy to be anonymous, so if you try something and it doesn't work, no one will remember or notice it. Besides, there's probably someone walking ten steps behind you who is wearing something stranger. Nobody in New York had any ideas or preconceptions about who I was, so I could reinvent myself entirely if I wanted. Being a graduate student, I didn't have a lot of many to spend on clothes, but the freedom itself was exhilarating.
I met my man about six months after I moved to the city. He looked at me with fresh eyes, and could see someone who liked to play with clothes and makeup, but whose girliness remained closeted. He constantly made me feel like the most beautiful person in the room no matter what I was wearing, which gave me the confidence to branch out and adopt the nostalgic pin-up style I had always admired. I learned that being a woman is great, and it's okay to have fun with it. Looking my best suddenly equated with adding beauty to the world, a noble endeavor not only for the people around me but also for myself.
So here I am now, with no holds barred on dressing the way I want. When I was young, I was taught that Elvgren- and Vargas-type paintings were porn, but inside I always loved them and thought they were much more. Finally, I'm having as much fun as the woman with the wind up her skirt, proud to give us a glimpse at what's underneath.