When I was little, my sister would dress me and my other sister up. We would wear beautiful over-sized dresses that were pinned back with safety pins, high heels too big for us, and clip-on earrings. We had countless photo shoots for anytime of the season, even the winter.
As we got older, my sisters lost interest in pinning fabric and putting an outfit together. They would dress up for a photo shoot from time to time but it became less frequent. I on the other hand, grew more interested. Over the course of years, I searched and collected clothes from my basement and from my mother who did all the shopping. That’s how my wardrobe came to be. It initially started out as a small square bucket and then it expanded to a large rectangular bucket, a traveling bag, the corner of my room, and four plastic trash bags. My clothes in the rectangular bucket would be folded neatly and extend all the way up to the highest record of about six feet. I had to rely on these choices because the closet was full of my mother’s fancy and cherished dresses. Sometimes I think I inherited this fun hobby from her. Anyway, my obsession with clothes granted me the one in the family who had the most clothes, besides my mother. Not just pants and shirts but hats, sweaters, scarves, tank tops, cardigans, belts, and shoes. I just couldn’t help it.
My family members would complain about my clothes and tell me to get rid of them because I didn't even wear most of them. I have to admit that I didn't wear all of them but to someone like me who saw every piece in my wardrobe as their own special and unique piece in which I would picture what other pieces in my wardrobe it would look great with, I just couldn't let any one of them go. Even if I did, it didn’t make a difference.That’s because my collection of clothes was so much that if I took out an armful of clothes, the amount of clothes I ended having looked the same so sometimes I would just put the supposed to be discarded clothes back into my pile of clothes. Besides, the clothes that we didn’t want to wear anymore, we had to bring it back down to the basement. Why not just keep it then, right?
You’ll probably wonder how I can have so much money to buy all this. My friends and cousins have told me that my family is rich. They compliment my outfits and ask me where I got my clothes from. I would be so confused to what they were saying. I would tell them that I’m not rich and that I don’t know the place where my mother got the clothes from is called. I just wear whatever she gets that looks good to me. I didn’t understand why they said that to me. My cousins were living in larger houses than my family. I was living with a family of thirteen in a small duplex. They had parents who worked. My parents were both unemployed and lived off of food stamps and welfare. I didn’t see how I was rich at all. It made me think though. If I wasn’t rich, what was I then? What about my family? We were middle-class. We weren’t poor, living on the streets. We didn’t have to wait on the corner with a sign asking for money. We had a home for shelter, car for transportation, and food to fill our stomachs.
It didn’t occur to me that we were actually living below the poverty line until my senior year in high school. Food stamps were for people who couldn’t support themselves. It was for the poor, the disabled, and the unemployed. It took me a long time to realize that. I was disheartened but it made sense to me. My mother didn’t work but she would go out in the morning to food pantries and come back in the evening with food. That’s how we got a portion of our food. She would also go to this shelter place near our house where they provided free stuff that were donated to the homeless. That’s where my clothes and toys came from. Even though I was living below the poverty line, I never once saw myself different from others. Maybe it was because my mother made sure that we lived a “normal” life as much as possible. That as long as we had clothes, food, and a shelter, it was all that mattered.
I had little thinking about my poverty because I was too busy thinking about fashion. Since middle school when I started building my wardrobe, I became more aware of my fashion sense and choice. I loved looking fashionable and well put together but was limited because my middle school had a dress code of white/green collared tops and navy blue or khaki bottoms. The school was pretty lenient on the dress code so I played with different types of tops and layers with the coded colors. I also did my hair a lot too. From pigtails to braiding to tying my hair in various ways. In high school, I said goodbye to uniforms and got to wear my clothes that I dearly loved.
I never thought of wearing clothes to impress boys or to make girls jealous. I wore it because it made me happy and I could be creative with my looks which I hope would inspire others. I would spend long hours at night finding my outfit for school because I went to school five days a week and I could really show and hopefully inspire others through my looks. Sometimes and most of the time, I would get carried away and try a whole bunch of stuff on for the right look that pleased me. I would be having so much fun and sometimes even frustration that I didn’t even noticed it was two in the morning already. I had school the next day. Some days, my outfit works. Some days, I have to change my entire planned outfit due to the weather or my change of feelings. I think its totally worth it even though I’m going to school with lack of sleep because I didn’t feel tired at all. Wearing my outfit gave me energy and made me happy.
Clothes defines my mood, my life, and is symbolic of me. It distracted me from my poverty. I could construct my identity from clothes. It was an outlet for me to express myself and communicate to people without actually speaking because I don’t like talking. I am able to literally spend an entire day cleaning and organizing my clothes without taking any water or meal breaks unless I finish. It’s crazy because clothes have that kind of power.
Since clothes is symbolic of me, I wanted to do a look that mostly resonated with me and I chose my name to base it off of. My name is Lunting. In English, it rhymes with hunting. People often tell me it sounds Chinese and so I’m often misunderstood as a Chinese person. I’m actually Hmong, an uncommon Asian ethnic group who has residents in Laos, China, Australia, U.S, and France. When I was born, my father named me Lunting which in my native language, means wings. I’ve never heard of anyone in my ethnic group named Lunting so I really found it interesting and unique. It got even better when my father told me what it meant! I love wings!
In this outfit, the fur piece is to be looked like wings and is the central piece of this outfit. It represents me and a reminder of who I am. I love experimenting with fashion even when I come up with ridiculous outfits that I later regret wearing and wonder what I was thinking. I think that’s what fashion is all about though, taking risks and letting your creative juices flow. Even if you have to have buckets full of clothes or have to pin scarves together. Even if people criticize you or think you’re crazy. Stick to your passion and interest and you’ll eventually learn how to evolve from that. Today I don’t have a six foot tall pile of clothes in a rectangular bucket. It does seem silly to me now but I didn’t regret having it because I needed it. It helped me continue my interest in fashion and has helped increase my knowledge and perception in fashion. I don’t know how my journey to fashion will fit in the scheme of things but I’m spreading my wings and flying towards my future. Everyone has potential and I want to reach my potential. I know that I’ll fall and stumble but my wings will never break.
My story is not of success or accomplishments. It is simply a story telling of how I came to love fashion and have come to discover the power of fashion. It can make a big difference in your life and could be the wings to your future.