Packing and Unpacking My Personal Style Throughout the Major Moves of My Life
As I stare into what I consider to be my decently-sized NYC closet, I can’t help but think, “Wow, I have so much crap.” From my mountain of shoes, to my failed attempt to color coordinate my clothing, to my collection of quintessential NYC tote bags — I’ll leave it to you to imagine if it’s the size of my closet that makes everything look cramped, or if I indeed have too many things. However, I’ll also share that when I moved two years ago, I came to New York with only the amount of shoes and clothing that I could fit into two large suitcases. Disclaimer: it’s not as much as you naively think you can fit when you first start packing. Before this move, though, I’d only had three other major moves in my life. And now, as I go through my fourth big move and I compare what has stayed in my closet through each one and what I no longer own, I’m beginning to decipher the importance of packing and unpacking my personal style through these changes.
My first experience with boxes and suitcases holding what was dear to me (AKA my toys) was when I moved from Texas to Puerto Rico at the tender age of 3. Back then, I didn’t know what was happening, so my hair started to fall out from stress. Since then, though, my experiences with moving have been less traumatizing, though significant all the same. Though my clothing has never held too much sentimental value, the role it has played in my life has been crucial. My clothes are an extension of who I am at the moment. They dictate the evolution of my personal style (and myself). They help me see who I was and who I would decide to be and allow me to carefully curate what continues to define me no matter my geographical position.
When I graduated from my high school in PR in 2012 and went to study on the other side of the island, my determined 18-year-old self had everything planned out: To finish my Bachelors in 4 years all while landing internships every summer, and never wearing flip-flops to class. I’m proud to say that I achieved all of those things and learned a few more lessons along the way. In college, my high school closet was 1 hour and 45 minutes away from my new apartment where I had a closet perfect for #OOTD pictures. Yet if I stared at the reflection of my outfits hanging there for too long, I would begin to hate them. And that’s an accurate description of how I approached my personal style during those years. I was constantly growing, experimenting, aspiring towards more, learning — and my personal style reflected that. I had the reassurance of my high school closet back home, which served as a buffer during those college years when I moved clothing to and fro every weekend. The relationship between the two closets revolved around my need for wanting something ‘new’ without actually spending money. It was a part of me still deciphering who I was, bringing bits and pieces of high school Bianca in and mixing them with the collegiate Bianca who had mastered her commute down to the minute so she could sleep in. Therefore, my clothes traveled with me 1 hour and 45 minutes every time I wanted to reintroduce clothing from back home, allowing me to meld the comfort of my past and the unknown of my present while getting ready each day.
Despite all the times I hit snooze during my college years (it was a lot), I managed to avoid flip flops because I married my feet to a pair of Converse that walked me through my days, all the way to my degree. I wore hot pink trousers to announce my new title of freshman, navy chino pants my second year as college felt more like my home, ripped boyfriend jeans as a junior to reflect my mental state during that chaotic year, and dresses during my fourth year once senioritis had set in because who needs pants when you have easy, breezy silhouettes that also have pockets? Those were the various stages of my uniform in college.
I no longer have those Converse or any of those pants (though I wish I’d kept the hot pink pair). But I remember every outfit with fondness. During that time, my personal style was a mix of comfort infused with a few out-of-the-box elements, and while I would still describe my style the same way, it is now vastly different. Instead of trying things on for size (literally and figuratively), I now know what makes me feel comfortable from the get-go. Thus, when I merged my college and high school closets as I was packing for NYC after my graduation, I knew I was once again faced with letting go and literally moving on.
In NYC, new trends are spotted on every corner, which I knew might cause me to constantly question whether my style was enough. Instead of letting myself get caught in the trap of comparing myself to others, I opted to be more judicious with my wardrobe and I only brought what I thought was already my second skin. I would enter the city as authentically me as I could be, and I would welcome change gracefully. That means I stuck to my basics: My trusty white button-down shirts, my black trousers, my Canadian tuxes, etc. Basically, the bones of a standard wardrobe. So, now even if my closet has evolved a bit and I have more shoes, a pair of green pants instead of pink, and I use my suitcases to store seasonal clothing, I have found the perfect mix of clothes that remind me of the Bianca of yesteryear with new (and thrifted) finds that I love.
And as I’m met with boxes once again (amazed my hair isn’t falling off because moving within NYC is traumatizing in and of itself) and purging because I will not have a closet all to myself anymore (see my story about long-distance relationships), it’s like I’m looking at old photographs. The shoes that made the final cut, the clothing I’ve stored in trash bags thanks to some hack I discovered on BuzzFeed, and the mountain of stuff I’m going to donate. I can visually see my layers; the ones I purposely pulled off; the ones I feel guilty about adding (read: buying); the ones that have fallen by the wayside naturally; the ones I’ve tried to keep on for as long as possible. Each layer of clothing serves, and has served, as the link between me and the world. I’ve learned with each of my garments and accessories to deconstruct and embrace different parts of myself, whether it’s my heritage via my gold hoops or my insecurities via strapless tops and dresses. I used to refuse to wear my now-favorite jewelry piece — because I was too caught up on the negative stigma society had given them — and now I won’t leave my apartment without them. I also no longer avoid showing my arms to the world because they aren’t ‘fit’ enough. My clothing and the way I dress have become a friendly reminder of what I’ve done and how I’ve grown to get here today.
As I sat in my room preparing for my next chapter, with clothes strewn all over, I realized that I had developed few self-imposed rules when it comes to packing: 1) If it doesn’t make me do a happy dance when I first face myself in a mirror, it never will. 2) If it lost the ability to make me smile, why bother holding on to it, and 3) If I only liked the idea of a garment or accessory, but can never envision an outfit that will satisfy the first two tips, adiós.
Now that I’m in my new place and working to get my closet finally unpacked once more, I pay close attention to the silhouettes, colors, and fabrics that portray the best version of myself while still giving me room to play. No doubt, I’m still figuring it all out. But isn’t that what personal style is always about? A physical measure of (re) defining yourself each day.