My closet has grown and evolved over the years as I've sought out a style I could call my own. I now know I don't have to limit myself to just one style. Photo credit: Alex Lambert

I was in the tenth grade, finally coming out of my awkward tween phase of only wearing graphic tees of cutesy animals and black leggings. I wanted to look fashionable. I’d seen a video by Best Dressed recommended to me on YouTube where the host, Ashley, offered tips on how to find the best pieces at the thrift store. As she showed off her finds, I was captivated.

I remember going to my mom, who was getting rid of some clothes at the time, and asking if I could look through them before she gave them away.

I’d never even thought of thrifting my clothes before. It opened my eyes to what fashion could be. It wasn’t all runway models and expensive brands. It was about me. It was about who I was as a person. Besides, the leggings were definitely on their last legs.

I wasn’t alone in my discovery. Some of my friends at the time also shared my interest in thrifting. As we were in high school and transitioning to college with little money, second-hand or handmade clothing was the cheapest option to help figure out who we were. It gave us an option to play around with self discovery without breaking the bank.

Still, there were some bridges I’d have to cross first. I’m a germophobe with sensory issues regarding clothing. It took me a while to get comfortable with the idea of going out and buying clothes strangers had touched, especially that they’ve already worn. I also hated jeans. I could barely last a day without wanting to peel them off myself.

Nevertheless, I figured it was time for a change. I started out shopping in my parents’ closets. My favourite shirt was one I found in a pile of my dad’s clothes. It was a light greyish beige with a camera printed on the front, but it still wasn’t me.

Andrea Emery, a graphic design professor at Algonquin College, says that fashion is a journey of self-discovery.

“I started thrifting and making my own clothes in my late teenage years, early twenties,” Emery said. “Now I’m almost 60 and I still haven’t really changed the way I feel.”

I kept watching Best Dressed and started begging my mom to take me to Value Village. I was confident enough in my dryer’s ability to kill every germ.

My closet grew and evolved over the next four years with tedious trial and error of finding a style I could call my own. I learned I didn’t have to have just one. Between buying flowy Hawaiian style shirts, I’d also pick up edgier graphic tees inspired by rock bands from my dad’s closet.

Em Baker, a hairstyling student at Algonquin College, says not keeping to one strict style lets them feel more in touch with who they are.

“My style, it fluctuates so much that I don’t really have a style,” Baker said. “I guess you could say I have, like, eight styles. I don’t really have one, and I don’t really think anyone should just have one because people are so complex and they’re so different in every scenario.”

“Every person has their own experiences and their own differences, so why would we stick to just one thing all the time? I think I would probably pull my hair out.”

In my case, I started pushing my own limits (and those of my school dress-code). I found comfort in men’s clothes most of all. I like how they fit me, plus men’s pockets are way bigger. At first, I’d mix and match my dad’s jeans with a tank top and an open button-up shirt but later, I pushed myself again into wearing shorter or more interesting tops. Maybe with some shorts and skirts sprinkled in.

Where before, I was missing the self-expression piece in finding my own style, I’d found experimenting brought me closer to, well, me.

“I think if things make you feel comfortable and make you feel good, you should just be wearing them,” Emery said. “I think life is for living. think it’s just part of experimenting, you know? Life is short and we’re not going to get out of it alive. So, why not just try and do stuff?”

I found out I didn’t hate jeans as much as I thought. I just hated sitting on the cold gym floor as a kid with various buttons and gems digging into my butt, as is the way of 2000s fashion.

Ironically, I found myself coming back to the same style. Maybe it was the nostalgia factor, but I really started discovering myself in the form of 2000s fashion. Minus the gems on the back of my jeans.

It helped me find what I liked. It was familiar to me, and I found comfort in it. Now, I always browse the jeans during my trips to the thrift store looking for something in the same style, just more comfortable than when I was a kid.

Throughout my journey, I realized I really just needed to experiment and stop limiting myself. I might have multiple styles, but since all of them are me, I consider them one.