I recently moved 3000 miles, from rural New Hampshire to San Francisco, to attend fashion school (a lifelong dream of mine). This move was absolutely thrilling for me, but I knew that it would also be very challenging to leave behind my family, friends, and long-term boyfriend. But one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced so far was one I didn’t expect at all — a fashion identity crisis.

Back in New Hampshire, not many people that I knew cared at all about the world of fashion. My well put-together, and sometimes risky outfits called a lot of attention because they were so different from the basic, warm clothing that most people wore. I knew I wanted to work in fashion, and I was used to being noticed for and complimented on my sense of style. Moving to San Francisco was a complete culture shock in that regard — I quickly went from feeling cute and stylish to being utterly convinced I was a Plain Jane.

In San Francisco, I saw so many amazing outfits, and I felt even more intimidated by my fellow fashion students, many of them sporting wardrobes that must have been worth tens of thousands of dollars. These girls were wearing Chanel and Dior, designer labels way outside my price range. I felt so far out of my league that my head was spinning. I even found myself worrying that somehow, because they could afford designer brands, these girls had an inherently better sense of style than I did. I began to doubt my abilities for the first time, and let thoughts of failure creep in.

This feeling built up during my first week in the city, and eventually culminated in me publicly crying in the middle of Macy’s — not one of my proudest moments. I had gone shopping to try to find a few pieces to revitalize the wardrobe that I now saw as boring and embarrassing, and also to check out the store (it’s a six-story Macy’s with a Cheesecake Factory INSIDE of it— basically heaven). I was despairing over the fact that I didn’t have thousands of dollars to spend on a new wardrobe, and worrying that this would affect how my teachers and classmates viewed me. Nothing I tried on fit quite the way I wanted it to, and, eventually, I broke down in tears. Insecurities I thought I had conquered were bubbling to the surface as I compared myself to others in a way I hadn’t done in years. The trickiest thing about personal fashion, for me at least, is that it is very closely linked to body image — feeling unstylish is a slippery slope that leads to feeling ugly. My confidence had shattered.

The next day, after a long sleep, I was able to look back at the situation a little more logically. I reassured myself that my teachers weren’t going to grade me on how I looked or what I wore, and that I knew how to adapt to a new environment. During my first few weeks of classes, I began to see that the students with the best wardrobes didn’t necessarily have the best grades. In fact, my years of thrift store shopping and creating hand-crafted looks gave me a unique creative edge. I felt more sure of myself with each passing day, and quickly found my groove in an amazing new city. My daily style began to fall into place as well: I found a more urban edge to add to my casual boho style, and also let go of the idea that I had to look a certain way at all times. I still have to remind myself that going to the library in sweat pants doesn’t make me any less of a fashion student.

Now, I am able to look back and see that my initial worries were uncalled for. No matter where I live or who I am surrounded by, I am still me — a stylish, spunky, and confident young woman. Yes, some people have more money to spend on clothes, but that doesn’t mean that their outfits are better constructed than mine, and it certainly doesn’t make me inferior to them. I have the same flair for fashion and extremely strong work ethic that I’ve always had, which got me into school and will kickstart my career.

The basic lesson that I learned from this experience is one that I’ve learned many times throughout my life: Comparing yourself to others is never worthwhile. Focusing your energy on yourself is the only way to be happy and successful in this hyper-competitive industry/world. What a person wears (or what size it is) can never define their beauty, and neither can another person’s opinion of it (though I’ll admit that I do feel somewhat accomplished whenever someone else in the Fashion Department compliments an outfit of mine).

Style changes and evolves over time, globally and personally. That’s part of what makes it so intriguing to me; how a person dresses tells you something about who they are. The recent changes in my personal style reflect the journey I went through in moving cross-country, as well as the fierce independence that a young woman living in the city needs. Over time it will change again, and there will be insecurities that go along with that, but I’ll never lose myself in those changes again.

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