2019 Spring Cahleb Derry Italy Temple Rome Temple Semester

Fashion as Access: The Italian Chapter of my Sartorial Journey

There is a certain consistent level of sartorial rigor in Italy that makes me feel at home—this was completely amplified when I took a trip north this weekend to Milan. The link between fashion and how one feels about/views their body is inextricable— even if one does not identify as someone who is passionate about fashion, how they choose to dress their own body is ultimately intentional and thus contextualizes them in some way.

For a long time throughout my adolescence, I felt uncomfortable in the clothes I wore. For a myriad of reasons, I wasn’t quite wearing what I wanted to. My dress was a mixture of what I liked and what my peers told me was cool, or what I thought would help me read as more masculine. High school brought me some relief, allowing me to experiment with color and layering, but it was not until college that I found my stride. The environment I was situated within, from my a cappella group to my mostly queer, black friend group, equipped me with a unique confidence to sport what I wanted—I stopped asking if I should wear something, and decided that the answer to that question lay solely in my own desire and no other external factors. Whether it was an outlandish one-piece, short-shorts, or a street-wear esque layered look, those around me instilled in me safety and steadfastness in my style.

And this is where Italy comes in. A hub of fashion, the city allows for so much fashion innovation. A few weeks in Italy reveal that the city by no means has escaped pervasive manifestations of hypermasculinity, but refreshingly enough, what is understood as ‘’men’s” clothing is not one of those manifestations. Men often sport skin tight jeans, flamboyant ensembles, and deliberate haircuts, something that in most of the environments I have existed in back in the states garner you some sort of definitive (and covertly negative) masculinity/deviant label, from metrosexual to homosexual. The fragility of masculinity evidently exists here in the same forms it does anywhere else, but a detachment of fashion from that fragility is completely foreign to me.

My visit to Milan this weekend inspired me in an unimaginable ways. My friends and I brought our smartest outfits, unafraid to dress however we wanted each day. All around us, Milanese people who were headed to the bar for a coffee could have been en route to the MET gala. Perhaps it was related to the onset of fashion week, but the looks in Milan were inexplicably invigorating. I derived so much energy from how deliberate folks were about utilizing their clothing to reflect their own creative canvas. A visit to a high-end fashion outlet—which I should mention was a place at which I laughed at every price tag—gave me such creative inspiration and pure bliss. It was such a joy to walk around, comfortable in my own skin, in a place that I knew appreciated my own language of identity–fashion.

Clothing has helped me connect with my own identity and my own fashion evolution my entire life, and it so directly coincides with my own journey to self-acceptance. I am so happy that Italy and Milan have added their own chapter to that journey!

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