photo: iStock/Marissa Pina, Vivala

The call of fashion has always eluded me. Whenever my friends were squealing about the new dress they nabbed on sale over the weekend, I smiled and shrugged. I just didn’t get all the excitement and since I could rarely fit into any of it — I am beyond petite — I didn't think it was for me. 

I grew up wearing one frilly get-up or another so maybe that’s where my aversion began. Our mother would stuff my siblings and I into pastel-colored dresses and matching socks with lace and ribbons along the edges and white patent leather shoes with the tiniest of heels. We’d run around and play in our outfits, but it only took one glance from Mom to know we’d better not mess up our perfect little dresses. How suffocatingly boring (and itchy) it all felt to me. 

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I ditched those cutesy outfits for jeans, oversized T-shirts, and sneakers as soon as I got the chance. My mom, who always looked put-together even if she was going to spend all day indoors, would criticize my beat-up baggy clothes and asked why I didn’t try to look neater. Meanwhile, my only goal was to throw stuff on just so that I wasn’t running around naked. Who cared that there were holes in my sneakers and stains on my shirts? But honestly, I didn’t know how to make clothes look good on me and while I ran around saying I didn’t care, deep inside I wished I understood fashion.

My fashion sense has been severely lacking not only because I am clueless when it comes to style, but because as a 4'9" woman with a size 5 shoe who barely weighs 85 pounds, it's been tough to find shops with clothes and shoes that actually fit my small frame. Things need to be taken in, hemmed, cut, or otherwise reconfigured so it doesn't look like I'm swimming in my clothes. I know there are stores with "petite" sections, but to me, those clothes still weren’t small enough. When a special event is on the horizon – a business opportunity, a wedding, a big reunion – I fret so much about what to wear. Most women might stress out over not having anything for a big occasion, but do they know how lucky they are that they can walk into any store and find an outfit that will fit them right off the rack? There have been so many times when I’ve gone shopping determined to find the perfect dress no matter how many stores I needed to go into…and returned home hours later, empty-handed, sulking, and absolutely hating my body. Shopping is the least fun thing for me.

Thing is, as much as I tried to run away from it or downplay the role it should have in my life, fashion does have its place. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the need to shell out hundreds of dollars for shoes that still need to walk through the gunk on the street, but I can see how wearing something special can give your confidence a boost. I’d feel so insecure when I noticed how stylish my friends looked when we went out dancing and would want to hide in a corner so no one could notice me. Even though my friends never put me down for the way I dressed, my family and that little voice in my head would make comments on my sloppy appearance. But when I put effort into looking my best, I felt more free and, ironically, cared less about what others thought about me because I already felt beautiful. 

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To this day, fashion still intimidates me (and I’m 34), but I’ve found ways to ease into it as I’ve grown older. Over the years, I’ve collected a small group of go-to stores that are more likely to have pieces that I can wear without completely annihilating them at the tailor’s. H&M and Forever 21 have been good for casual wear and summer dresses. I still shop at Old Navy Kids for jeans and head to DSW to easily scan the piles of boxes for shoe designs that are actually available in my size. I still don't put on heels unless I absolutely need to, but I’ve learned to clean up nicely without sacrificing too much comfort by finding ways to make fashion work for me. I’ll wear my beloved jeans with a cute top or choose comfy flats or wedge boots to give my feet more support. You couldn't pay me to use a purse so I opt for a fun messenger bag with a crossover strap instead. 

Wearing makeup is also a puzzle to me so I don't use eyeshadows, bronzers, and all that jazz, but I’ve recently learned that a bit of eyeliner, mascara, and lip gloss is enough to make feel like a million bucks. Plus, because I'm always sporting the natural look with my hair, face, and clothes, I've found that adding just a little sumthin’ sumthin’ is enough to sparkle, make others take notice, and give my stride an extra bit of oomph!