How one jacket changed my life

A few weeks before my first day of college, I stopped at the mall to buy some new clothes. I was moving from a suburban high school to the cool urban campus of a university in Philadelphia, and I needed a new look. Scouring the racks of Forever 21—still my shopping mecca at the time—I found a cheap leather jacket with a few studs on the shoulders, a cross-body moto-style zip, and the tiniest hint of a collar. It was only $21.80 (let’s just say it was leather “look), and I felt like it belonged to me already.

When I tried it on and looked in the mirror, a little voice inside my head reminded me, “You don’t wear black.” Wait; why not? I asked my mirror self.

Oh, that’s right. I had spent the last four years being told I was too pale to wear any dark colors. It made me look “washed out.” Black contrasted too harshly with my skin tone. Actually, I believe the exact wording was, “Ew, you should just never wear black. Your skin is like, reflective.” For years I was told that I looked transparent and sickly, like a vampire or a ghost. It made me feel ugly and disgusting, and I began to plan my outfits each day by choosing what would make me look the least pale.

The worst part was that all this criticism came from my friends. What they thought was lighthearted teasing was actually doing real damage to my self-image. It wasn’t until recently that I even realized the true word for that is “bullying.”

I felt like I was born without something that I needed to be cool, and I couldn’t change it. Not only was it not possible for me to tan, but it was dangerous for me to try—and believe me, I did. As someone prone to freckles, sunburn, and other sun damage with a family history of skin cancer scares, I repeatedly let my skin burn in the sun in hopes of getting a compliment on my “improvement,” or at least one less critique the next day.

Looking back in that mall fitting room mirror, I realized I liked how that jacket looked, and I wanted to wear it. The color and cut (and the subtle shoulder pads) made me look like a rock star. That jacket made me feel powerful, totally unlike the insecure goody-goody who let others tell her she fell outside their expectations of what was beautiful. (Plus, it was super comfy.)

So I went on an all-black shopping binge. I bought lace-up black boots, black jeans, black sweaters, a black hat, and black glasses. Walking onto campus that first day of college, I realized no one knew me as the ghost girl. I didn’t have to beat them to the punchline and make jokes about my looks. It was so. . . refreshing.

During my first Thanksgiving break home from college, I wore my new jacket to a party at a high school friend’s house. An old friend came up to me and said I looked like Ke$ha (in a good way), and I haven’t taken it off since. (OK, not really, but you know what I mean.) It’s been five years and I still wear that jacket everywhere.

So far, my jacket has taken me to job interviews, on dates, to my first internship in New York City, to Halloween parties, and everywhere in between. I even wore it on my first international flight this summer (in 80 degree heat, mind you), because I am absolutely terrified of flying and I was on my own. Thankfully, I made it through a few adventurous days in France, England, and Belgium, and another terrifying plane ride home, unharmed. I like to think the jacket is pretty lucky. Just the other day, while fixing a rip in the back (like I said, it’s been through a lot), I even discovered it has pockets, so I’d say a whole new adventure is about to begin.

My leather jacket is like a superhero cape and a security blanket all in one. When I want to feel like a total badass, or when I need a confidence boost, I know exactly what I’m wearing.

Aubrey Nagle is a pop culture writer, a city lover, a knitter, a book organizer, and a coffee drinker. She thinks that talking about movies in an academic way is exciting and started a blog to discuss where design & pop culture meet called Thematic. You can usually find her asleep on a commuter train, somewhere.

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