Students use fashion to express identity

Ikram Mohamed

Forced to adopt a persona that didn’t align with her identity, Marnie Matthews said not being able to dress the way she wanted during high school left her feeling trapped. Before transitioning, she always felt expected to present herself in a masculine way. 

“There was always a danger of fully expressing myself the way I wanted,” said Matthews, a textiles and apparel senior. “I could express myself a bit, but only enough that was digestible to people, … so I (wore) basic clothing … (and) definitely more toned down before college.”

For many students, fashion forms a bigger picture, helping them express their identity and confidence. Although harder for others, in the end, some are able to push through social obstacles and plant seeds of happiness.

Once she came to Austin and found the freedom to explore her own personal style, Matthews faced a different problem: figuring out what worked for her.

“After I transitioned, I hadn’t figured out what my style was and what I wanted to go for,” Matthews said. “What a lot of cisgender people don’t realize is once you transition, you don’t get those grace periods of middle school and high school, where your makeup and your outfits look ‘crunchy.’ You have to get a whole new wardrobe (and) figure out makeup. There isn’t really a guide.”

Economics sophomore Bibi Macias experiments with clothing, and finding her own personal style brings her joy in her everyday life. 

“Every night, I’m always like, ‘What am I going to wear the next day?’” Macias said. “It gives me something to look forward to each day. There’s definitely a therapeutic element to (fashion).”

Macias said when she initially got into fashion, she thrifted most of her clothing pieces due to financial reasons. Now, thrifting continues to hold her attention. 

“I fell in love with (thrifting),” Macias said. “It felt like an adventure each time going in and trying to find a cool piece. Knowing the pieces were unique made it more special.”

Arleth Amaya, a government and Mexican American studies junior, shows off her personal style by thrifting and hand-making all of her clothes.

“I like mixing different types of styles and making it my own,” Amaya said. “(How I’m dressed) depends on how I’m feeling. Sometimes I’ll wake up and feel more feminine and other times more masculine, and I consider that into my style.”

Amaya said fashion allows her to come to terms with her identity and has caused her to realize she only needs to impress herself.

“I really like seeing what I’m capable of putting together,” Amaya said. “Each day I’m like, ‘How can I surprise myself?’ Because even though I have an idea of what I want to wear, what I start off with isn’t what I ended up leaving with.”

As for Matthews, years of experimenting led her to be confident in herself and style.

“(My style) is still growing and it’s still evolving. …  I think it always will be,” Matthews said. “The moment (I began) wearing whatever I wanted is when I became the happiest I’ve ever been.”