Last year I turned 30, just weeks after New York City came to a complete standstill due to a citywide lockdown. As I entered my third decade during an unprecedented time, when the city had become haunted by the sounds of sirens, I was consumed by thoughts of the preciousness of life and how the past 20 years of my own had been surrendered to the judgment and scrutiny of others.
It was also the year I married someone I loved, from outside of my culture and of my own choosing. I became one of the first women in my family to do so, and in the process shed the weight of generations of expectations and confronting many of my fears. Turning 30 under these circumstances was the beginning of my unlearning of the shame and guilt in taking pleasure in the way that I dressed and the way I conducted my life. For more than half my life, my body and how I adorned it served to please and be deemed acceptable by others. What I didn’t realize was that the shame I experienced wasn’t my own, but rather that of insecure adults and unhappy peers who were using me to feel good about their own repression, self-induced or otherwise.
My entrance into my 30s has been the most illuminating experience of my life. Over the past year and a half, I have given myself permission to be seen. While before I dressed in an inhibited manner, never fully enjoying the extent of pleasure fashion has to offer, I am now beginning to take up space, express unabashed joy, and honor my body in the way I clothe myself. In some ways it is a return to my childhood ideations of personal style, wanting to look “different” and a bit unusual. Now when I buy and wear clothes, I look for pieces that can tell their own stories but also seamlessly fit into my own, like a missing puzzle piece. Secondhand designer and unique, one-of-a-kind pieces are treasures to me, not only for withstanding the test of time but also because of their accessibility, forging a reality for the girl who once only dreamed of what she saw in fashion magazines. One such piece is a green and gray matelassé secondhand Prada coat that should belong in a museum. It feels like armor when I put it on, but also in it I feel most like myself. Each time I wear this coat it provokes a conversation with a stranger who can either recall it coming down the runway nearly 15 years ago or who is enamored by the skill involved in its creation or that brilliant shade of green. This is what I love most about fashion: its ability to elicit connection and communicate a culture, a feeling or a thought without the use of words and purely through its form.
If you are of the opinion that fashion is a medium of expression, as I am, embracing my personal style in my 30s has reflected a coming into myself: it is wearing a lime green silk-satin cape dress to take a walk and working in a crunchy and expansive Chopova Lowena skirt of my teenage punk dreams. Audacious, joyful, and not always practical, as the beginning of this decade has been. One year ago I got married in a bright red sari, not an uncharacteristic color for many South Asian brides, but one I had never imagined for myself. It wasn’t an attempt to revive tradition but rather to finally give color to myself, the beginning of an era lived on my own terms.