My birthday is in exactly five days and, right on cue, the annual feelings of melancholy, anxiety and introspection are sinking in. I’m not the kind of person who doesn’t like acknowledging my birthday – lets be honest, I’m a glutton for most any kind of attention – but the event always tends to bring out a bit of unease. And nothing brings this existential angst to the forefront more than the act of finding the perfect birthday outfit.
The outfit that sets the tone for the new year, the one you look back on and immediately remember who you were at that moment in time.
As I scour the internet, malls and thrift stores for that one sublime jumpsuit that will express my truest self, I can’t help but wonder who that is. No matter how good I generally feel about where I am in life, it’s impossible for me to reach the third of September without tumbling into an examination of all the things I could be doing better and more of and differently – and how to dress for the me that I want, not the me that I have.
I’ve never really been one to put much pressure on specific ages or bench marks. There’s never been a five year plan or a “must accomplish by ____” list. But when my birthday comes around, the tiny voice of a stranger makes itself known in the back of my head questioning who I am and what I’ve accomplished, and it manifests itself in my shopping bag. I’m not relaxed enough to be a maxi dress or disciplined enough for a mini skirt. I’m not successful enough to buy couture, and I’ll certainlynever have it together enough to wear all white.
I’ve always been simultaneously happy with where I am in life while never being content with the existing conditions. There are so many things I should and should not be doing. I should be more motivated. I should not be drinking wine from the bottle and eating Target-brand trail mix for dinner as I write this. I should be exercising daily. (Let’s be real – any exercise would be an improvement.) I should not be so hard on myself. I should be harder on myself.
As I sift through vintage stores trying on dresses that hold strangers’ memories, I can’t help but reflect on my own. This last year has been good to me. After the catastrophic monsoons that were twenty-eight and twenty-nine, I found much needed reprieve in thirty, with far fewer devastations and heartbreaks and scares and struggles. I grew a lot, but finally without pain forcing that growth. I feel confident and wiser and more comfortable in myself than I’ve ever been. But even growth can be paradoxical – I know more of what I want, but am unsure how to get there. I have more of what I want, but must find out how to maintain it. And I know more of what I’m doing, but have no clue where I’m going. I do know though, that I’ll be going there in the sequin shoes I just purchased…
Thinking a lot about the difference between gaining wisdom and becoming jaded has been a recent preoccupation. I don’t feel the same levels of physical giddiness or euphoria I did when I was younger, and I’ve become more skeptical, slower to burn, less ardently convinced of things. I’m less bold about putting myself out there, but more proud when I do. There’s less whimsy, but also less nervousness. Less excitability but far more confidence. And perhaps ironically, the darker my outlook has become, my wardrobe has brightened. The rows of black dresses have been replaced with more rainbows and neon and statement pieces. Finding my bottom lines and bandwidth emotionally have allowed me to become more expressive sartorially.
I have always believed that the way I dress is an extension of my personality, so choosing an ensemble for a new year connotes choosing one for a new me. And whoever that is is still deciding. As I wade through this pool of indecision, I’m trying to think of my wish. You know, the birthday cake candle wish. The wish that sets the direction for what I want to result from this new year. But right now the only thing that’s coming to mind is please let me find a cool fucking outfit.