By Doreen Pierre
When I was a young child, you could probably find me running around my grassy backyard, shirt off, just like the boys did. I didn’t know the concept of sex and gender then. I mean, how could I? My main priorities were playing hard and learning my ABC’s. I was carefree. So nothing prepared me for the day that I was told I would have to keep my shirt on from now on: You’re a girl. You just can’t do what boys do.
Just like that, I was boxed up, a pill easier to swallow. For years after, I found myself trying to fit my fat foot into society’s cookie cutter slipper. I wore what was expected of me as a girl—dresses and heels—but it just wasn’t for me. I found myself identifying more with the men in suits when I looked at JCPenney catalogues, yet none of them were me—a queer girl of color.
Of course I wasn’t able to buy my own clothes at that time, so I took pride in making myself suspenders out of construction paper to emulate Chris Brown’s dapper look in his “Gimme That” video. I was a “rebel” with a cause! So later on in college, I bought my first bowtie for our Queer Ball, in none other than the color rainbow. (I realize now that I might have gone a bit overboard with that one.) But it was times like these that I could really appreciate being able to truly express myself and make my own small choices.
Finding my style was finding a piece of myself. When I walk out the door, I know my clothing represents my confidence and individuality — a testament to the commitment I made to love myself.
I grew up in a religious household where God and family came first. I spent so much time at church that I started to look like the altar. My church family had as much say in the decisions in my life as my mother, even at the expense of my own happiness. So when I officially came out earlier this year, a decision I’d made with no input, they were shocked and unaccepting. A lot of them are probably still waiting for me to grow out of this “phase.” They should stop waiting. I realized that I needed to build a life with people who fully accepted me. I found this in New York City. Living here has allowed me to appreciate diversity, build relationships with other like-minded folk and express my creativity. I have a loving and supportive girlfriend, chosen family and friends helping me to navigate this new chapter of my life. Everyday is another lesson but I’m grateful.
I remember when I used to be anxious about what to wear to interviews — it was a pull between going back into a box or just being Doreen. I went with the latter because part of this new life simply means doing things differently. I’m different and that’s okay. I landed my job in the higher education sector, where people focus more on my skills than what I look like. I started my blog, DapperPenniless, to showcase what I like to wear and how I get them on a budget that works for me. It’s not easy when I shop, especially in a fashion industry that is extremely polarized. I still cringe when I am turned away from a fitting room just because I don’t look like who should be inside.
The world is still catching up to those of us who want to break the rules of fashion. I know in the end that finding my style was finding a piece of myself. When I walk out the door, I know my clothing represents my confidence and individuality — a testament to the commitment I made to love myself. I never thought I would find the confidence to create my own image, I just wanted to fit in. Now here I am, feeling comfortable enough in my own skin to proudly shop in the men’s section no matter who’s watching. As I lace up my brogues and keep moving forward in authenticity, I hope that you’ll lace up yours and see where they take you.
Doreen Pierre is a fashion blogger and photographer from Elizabeth, New Jersey, now residing in Harlem, New York. You can read Doreen’s blog and view their photos at www.dapperpenniless.com. You can also follow their daily journey on Instagram and Twitter @DapperPenniless.