Growing up, I always paid attention to what people wore. I loved seeing the way they carried their personality through their clothing, and I’d try to guess what they were like as a person from what I could see. I’d take mental pictures of their outfits and draw them in a sketchbook to later create avatars of the people I encountered.
This is how I knew I was into fashion early on.
I never thought fashion was a viable career option, however. On one hand, my parents never encouraged me to pursue it (they loved my sketches but just considered that a hobby). On the other, if I could sum up the way fashion was perceived around me, I’d reference Andy’s initial impression of the industry in The Devil Wears Prada: shallow and insignificant. Whenever I mentioned the possibility of making it a career (I imagined I might be a designer or a model), I was told I could do better. I could be a teacher or a doctor. Eventually, I moved to the United States to study behavioral psychology.
Fashion, as those in my home country of Haiti tried to make me understand, was beneath me. But when I moved to New York for school, I also launched a fashion and lifestyle blog with my sister—seeking out those who, like me, thought differently. I loved styling clothes, and this outlet was a way for me to follow that passion. My sister and I were determined to make it work, so we dedicated our free time to shooting our looks, creating content, engaging with our online community, and building relationships with brands, until we’d grown to micro-influencer status. And after all this, I came to realize that fashion is still commonly looked down upon, even in New York.
I can recall many instances where people belittled and ridiculed the work that goes into my side hustle. Once at a networking party, someone asked me if the job just consists of wearing clothes and looking pretty. Another time I was told, “I wish I could get paid to just take photos.” And it was icing on the cake that time I overheard a group of people laughing at bloggers, saying, “Must be nice to make money by doing practically nothing.”
But blogger criticism aside, the haters can’t deny the facts: Fashion isn’t just a multibillion-dollar business. At its core, it’s a means of self-expression that everyone has adopted, even if just subconsciously. We wear our best outfit to interviews because we want to impress the hiring manager. We shop for clothes before starting a job to fit into the company culture. We run to stores on Black Friday to get the best deals. We form an impression of people based on how they present themselves. Whether you spend your free time reading style sites and scouring eBay for vintage finds or not, fashion plays a role in the way everyone relates to others and in what they tell the world about themselves. Science can prove it, too.
In a study conducted by professors at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, participants’ behaviors and characteristics were altered based on what they wore. If they were told they were wearing a doctor’s lab coat, their energy was focused. If told they were wearing a painter’s coat (mind you, both perceived types of coats were identical) or no coat at all, the results changed. It’s a phenomenon called unclothed cognition, and it refers to the symbolic meaning of the clothes and the physical experience of wearing them.
Furthermore, in a 2014 survey of what makes people confident, women listed high heels, a little black dress, and designer perfume, among other items. For men, the list included a fresh shave and a new suit. Considering this, fashion isn’t a superficial, insignificant thing, as I was once made to believe. It’s a creative outlet through which we can find confidence, express our personality, and in my case make a career.
What also makes me love fashion today is that it’s accessible to everyone as a tool. This is especially important as members of marginalized communities regularly use it to spread a message, take a stand, and start a movement. Think pink pussy hats at the Women’s March and a Hollywood blackout at this year’s Golden Globe Awards in support of #TimesUp and to protest widespread sexual misconduct in and out of the entertainment industry. This comes to illustrate the depth of something we so often take for granted: clothes. They can be a visible marker used to stand for your rights and share your beliefs.
Interestingly enough, in The Devil Wears Prada, Andy later realizes that fashion isn’t just high heels and makeovers (before she quits her job altogether—hey, Runway was a toxic work environment). And my hope is that everyone else comes to this conclusion, too. Being a fashion lover today isn’t just about wearing clothes, but being able to embrace who I am, empower myself, and connect with those around me. What else could be as powerful?