Seven Days on the Bright Side (a personal experience)

From all black to pink and flowers

I haven’t worn color in eight years. No yellows, purples or greens. No chartreuse, honeydew or periwinkle pink. I’m a walking black and white photo – except for the pink that flushes my face. I was 13 when I discovered Goth and decided flowers and the colors the other girls were wearing weren’t for me. It was the first time I took an interest in fashion and music. Before then, I just tried to look like everyone else. So I slowly started to add black and strip the color from my wardrobe, one retina-burning shirt at a time.

Of course my mom and dad noticed the change quickly. My mom, whose best friend is the TV, compared my change to that of Darlene’s from Roseanne – I must be depressed. I must be an outcast. I must have something wrong with me, something soul-shredding that turned her daughter from one of the Olsen twins into a mini-Vampira.

Family and friends reassured my parents that this was just a phase teenagers go through. “Not to worry, she’ll trade her Living Dead Dolls for Barbies once the rebellion wears off.” That never happened. I sunk further into the undead world of Goth and horror. Peter Murphy became my new life coach; the Frankenstein monster became my new best friend. I was, ironically, happier than I’d ever been. And as time went by, my parents began to see that. They realized I wasn’t a TV show and life – besides being a little spookier – went back to normal.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped the rest of the world from noticing I take my fashion cues from Wednesday Addams. Strangers stare at me. Teachers become confused when I turn out to be a well-behaved student. Peers gawk and ask “Why don’t you like colors?” followed by “I’d love to see what you’d look like in sky blue!” It’s like the world is demanding that I don’t be myself. That I should dress in what’s considered “socially acceptable” to make everyone else happy. But people don’t function in just one cookie-cutter way.

Luckily for my peers, their curiosity was filled when I decided to closet my black clothing for a week and step into the unfamiliar world of color. I wanted to know how much changing my appearance would change who I am and how I feel.

My journey started with a frantic phone call to my parents begging them to send me clothes. “I need colorful clothes,” I told my mom. She laughed. This experience was going to be entertaining to everyone but me. A box arrived the next day. I grabbed a pair of scissors and slowly cut through the tape, being careful not to tear my new wardrobe. One look into the box and I knew I was doomed.

My mom and little sister appeared to have sent me a strange array of reject clothing that didn’t match. Wait, did I even know how to match anymore? My idea of matching is wearing black – all black. This box looked like Crayola vomit. Determined to find a wearable outfit in this box, I pulled out the only clothing items that seemed to match – a purple sweater, a purple and grey skirt, and purple flower tights. When I put them on, I looked like a giant bruise. This wasn’t going to work.

But when in doubt, go shopping. I convinced my boyfriend to take a trip to Wal-Mart with me. “Wal-Mart is the place where souls go to die,” he said. He didn’t know he was being prophetic.

Usually I beeline towards any black clothing I see. This time I took it all in – the blues, yellows, oranges and even the dreaded pinks. My eyes started to burn. I became overwhelmed with all of the options in front of me. What should I get? A sweater? Tank top? Jeans? Should I get them all in one color? WHAT DO I DO? My boyfriend was right. Wal-Mart is the place where souls go to die. And my soul was dying right here in the middle of the women’s clothing section – and it was all color’s fault.

At that point, I knew I wasn’t capable of putting colorful outfits together on my own. I needed reinforcement – lip-gloss wearing, pink-clad reinforcement. Luckily, a classmate came to my rescue. She brought me clothes. Lots and lots of clothes. She laid them out and started putting outfits together. I now had a wide array of colorful dresses, tops and scarves. And, hey, a lot of them even matched! I could feel my face turn hot as more classmates walked by and noticed what we were doing.

I couldn’t tell if I felt better or worse about my wardrobe. It wasn’t even day one, and I was already embarrassed. Part of me was secretly hoping I wouldn’t be able to do this whole thing because of a lack of things to wear. But the other part of me was glad I wouldn’t look like a total loser while doing this. (Flash-forward: I did look like a total loser.)

Day one was rough. I was wearing a white sweatshirt, a purple and grey skirt, and purple flower tights. This time only my lower half looked like a bruise. I almost didn’t go to class that day. And I always go to class. So I sucked it up. I made the humiliating walk. It felt like everyone was staring at me – even people I didn’t know. When I arrived to my first class, all eyes were on me. I got confused looks and stares throughout the entire 75 minutes. No one said a word, which was almost worse because I couldn’t explain myself.

I felt ugly. I felt awkward. I felt uncomfortable. But worst of all, I felt like a completely different person, and I didn’t like how other people were seeing me. My paranoia was exploding. I felt more like an outcast in regular clothes than in my usual garb.

When day one of wearing color finally ended I came down with a cold. I’m convinced it was my body’s way of shutting down from the “color virus” that attacked me. Now I had to drag my colorful, sick self off to another day in the torture chamber – I mean school.

Day two was no different than day one. Neither were days three, four or five. My routine had become: Force myself out of bed, get dressed (but don’t look in the mirror), go to class, avoid everyone I don’t have to see, quickly walk home and don’t leave my room again until the next day. Until day four, I couldn’t muster the courage to wear pink, so I settled for white and purple most days to make it through. It had gotten to the point where I hid behind cars in the parking lot when I saw someone I knew.

Besides hiding in my room, the only other time that was semi-bearable was when I went grocery shopping. Usually, people stare at me or comment on something I was wearing. But no one even looked at me. I still felt terrible for not expressing to the world who I am, but at least there was no one around that I knew.

It was the black van that ironically offered me protection that made me realize how important my identity is to me. I always found it strange when people would judge others completely on their clothing style because I’ve never considered myself to be your stereotypical “Goth girl.” But now, even though I was still me, I didn’t feel like me because of my clothes.

Why is how other people perceive me so important? I thought I was above that. I thought I didn’t care what people thought. But I was wrong. According to Julia Twigg in her study titled “Clothing, Identity and the Embodiment of Age,” identity and dress are linked together. “Clothes display, express and shape identity … Clothing and body styling is seen markers of the boundaries of the group, a means of stabilizing identity and registering belonging.” It’s how we send messages about ourselves.

What messages do my black clothes send? That I’m scary or strange? That I have an obsessive need to match? That I’m color blind? According to Color Wheel Pro, “black is associated with power, elegance, formality, death, evil, and mystery.” I’m not sure how much stock I take in this considering that I don’t feel particularly powerful, elegant, formal, evil, mysterious, or well… dead. Colors such as yellow are associated with happiness, but I sure didn’t feel happy having to wear them.

Wearing black is what makes me happy. It doesn’t just reflect the spooky things I’m into, but also my simple-ness and obsessive need to match. Without my black clothing, I wasn’t a whole person anymore.

I had to discover little miracles to get me through the week – my black socks and boots, the haunted house sticker on the back of my phone, and the Christian Death patch on my backpack. Reminders that my former self would be back soon.

Once day seven approached, I was all too anxious to get rid of the color. If any black clothes hating family member was hoping this experience would “lighten” me, it didn’t. If anything, it made me realize how important they are. I am back in black. For good.

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