I am a reflective, 19 year old girl who often walks around with my mouth wide open, gaping when I see women on the streets of Nairobi fashionable, turned up! Will I ever grow up and look so fashionable, I wonder to myself many a times.
What does my fashion say about me? Do I measure up? Will I ever become the glamorous women I see on the streets of Nairobi?
I spent most of my high school years playing competitive basketball , dribbling balls down courts to championship levels. That makes me more of a Sporty, tomboy type than a Barbie girl or femme fatale!
Now that I find myself in my first year at the University of Nairobi, School of Journalism, I am beginning to pay attention to fashion statements around me. Turning on television exposes me to all round glamorous female news anchors.
A quick search on the net introduces me to the stylish world of our very own Kenyan fashion bloggers who are making money for simply being stylish and taking selfies! Sharon Mundia of the award winning, Thisisess fashion blog caused ripples blogging fashion and made cash as well! Fashion seems to have brought her love and that happily ever after. Joy Kendi is yet another fashion icon with her justjoykendi.com.
So is fashion really tied to a healthier sense of self for women of all ages? Does it shape one’s identity? Does it open the doors to success?
Let me share a story as we consider this!
I recently adorned a pair of Aviator shades! Upon looking at myself in the mirror, I really did like what I saw, which was a first for the usually unsure me! I walked taller that day, posture better and with a spring in my step! I could even hear a lovely soundtrack inside my head all day! I was very happy! What those stunners gave me was a healthy shot of feel good factor!
My mentor gave me copies of NAW. As I read all the interesting features, I noticed how stories were told alongside fashion trends, styles and products. Achieving women were doing great things, yet doing them fashionably!
It hit me like a sack of potatoes that fashion really unifies women. It offers them a sense of kinship across borders, age, status and physical type. It’s a special love language for women, connecting us all across cultures, bridging distances and forging bonds.
From the ancient Egyptians to the various African cultures and their rich embellishments, fashion has always been a celebration of female identity and beauty.
Modern times are no different. What we wear communicates a lot about who we are. Our style of clothing is a way to express our individuality and personality. Whatever one wears will always invite comments, thoughts, judgments and conclusions. Our fashion sense can identify us as friendly, simple, aloof, powerful, wealthy, trashy, sporty, creative, artsy or elegant! Fashion choices convey many messages to those around us, whether we admit it or not.
To dig deeper into fashion views, I caught up with a few Kenyans, who shared fashion identity views. Here goes!
“My choice of fashion does not speak of who I really am,” says Eugene Mugubi, a student at the University of Nairobi. “What we wear should not be what sets us apart from the rest. Wearing clothes from well -known brands doesn’t build my confidence as a guy but the self-esteem in me does,” he continues.
Most men would share his views. For women interviewed, it was obvious that fashion choices helped boost their self- esteem. So I quickly looked for a fellow female.
Phanice Oloo, a student at the Catholic University agreed that fashion did define her as a person. “My style defines me because what I wear says a lot about me, it helps my friends identify with who I am,”she stated, “I rarely wear skirts, I am more of a jeans girl, when I wear trousers it simply means business.”
“We don’t wear clothes just because other people are wearing, we do so since it speaks for us. Our fashion choices can show the world whether we are decent or not,” commented Esther Matolo a saleslady working for Elite Studios.
Fashion is always influenced by those around us! Iconic women help shape identity by their own fashion choices. Lupita Nyongo is one such icon! Lupita has taught me that looking good and having a fashion sense can be used to help build self- esteem among young women.
Lupita after winning her historic Oscar, a first for an African woman, went on to say that in her teen years she used to dream of being light skinned many times!
As a woman of dark chocolate shade myself, many are the times I have seen beauty defined amongst my peers as being only resident in light skin. Lupita’s dazzling red carpet style, her bold fashion alongside her statements inspired me to pay attention to fashion.
Darker girls are now freely adorning brilliant hues of dress and make up, thanks to Lupita’s bold colour choices! The natural hair cut is a major fashion statement these days, too! Self acceptance is now defining fashion identities across the African continent and the diaspora. Yaay!
In order to reap the most out of fashion as a source of confidence and identity, it starts with a healthy attitude towards yourself and self- acceptance. Most Fashion Icons possess confidence.
As a young girl like me, you may be reading this and asking yourself! Okay, where do I get the cash to fashion identify me?
I feel you! Our mothers are not quite ready to provide major fashion splurges! What my friends and I do is go to major shop brands and stare at the mannequins, pop in and window shop. This fuels our creative juices. What follows then is a walk down the cheaper parts of the city to open air markets such as Toi and Gikomba, which are teeming with fashion merchandize on the cheap! High street meets Africa in such places.
The most effective way of doing fashion is accepting you, flaws and all. Be you! Do you!
Rachel Hollis, an American entrepreneur who runs www.chicsite.com shares interesting insights on YouTube on what makes a beautiful or fashionable woman. She gives this anecdote where years back, she went to Cancun Mexico and decided to take a picture on the beach. She wore an orange bikini top and black bikini underwear. Her whole post- baby delivery body was on display with stretch marks, sagging stomach and scowling belly button, which happens to women after child birth!
That picture went viral and has gotten over half a million views. Many women posted similar pictures in support of celebrating a ‘flawed body’ and posting similar pics of themselves and their imperfections.
Rachel Hollis, warns women against using fashion to portray a picture of perfection and hide or banish all body faults! Such facades only make women lonely!
Using fashion and make up trying to be perfect or hide what is going on inside, is sort of like receiving a well wrapped gift only to find nothing inside, concludes Rachel philosophically.
Her advice hits home for women of all ages who struggle to find acceptance through fashion choices and trying to banish all body flaws. Magazines and glossy photo-shopped models over the years have contributed to such insecurities! Having a freckle, a wrinkle, a cross eye, acne, a knock knee, being too short or too tall or any other normal feature has been termed a death sentence in the cut throat fashion world!
This is not the message this article is sending out to women. One can never compete with those images. Fashion was never meant to victimize or make women even more insecure.
Young girls are especially vulnerable. They are being forced to bear it all, dispensing with their moral values at the altar of the current overkill of flesh displays! Remember it’s just not fashion but a message sent out to those around you so dress decently.
I am slowly learning that fashion is truly part of my identity! Fashion can make a positive statement, make me feel a lot better about myself, lift me up and act as a platform for me to inspire younger women as well!
Fashion can be an icebreaker and help me make new friends. Fashion can cross cultures and break barriers. A Maasai beaded necklace from the Maasai woman in her Manyatta in the Kenyan plains can find itself on the runways of New York or Lagos Fashion week, supporting that woman and proving those fashion bonds I spoke of, earlier. It’s not just frivolous and petty!
This year, make your fashion speak about you, who you are, where you are going and what you aspire to be! Wear your fashion of choice, with creative style, heart and confidence! Wear that interesting African statement jewelry piece. It could start a conversation and make you a friend!
While oozing fashion confidence, compliment a woman stranger who looks good! We are all sisters in fashion!
Oh yes! My parting tip! Shades or stunners add that certain je ne sais quoi! Grab yourself a pair!
Finally, never be without your most powerful beauty accessory! Your smile!
Images: Visuals by Githui