My dad was not an oasis of conventional beauty knowledge. He grew up in coal-mining Appalachian West Virginia. Raising his horse and keeping food on the table took priority over how he looked.
If this sounds like the exposition of an eventually heartwarming Hallmark Original Movie, well, actually, I have no rebuttal, and I hope the casting is better than usual?
He managed to get out, though. (Cue uplifting score.) He was the first one in his family to attend college, and he eventually gained his medical license. By the time he retired, he had his own surgical practice and was chief of an Indianapolis hospital.
Along this path, he had to adjust himself to fit in with well-to-do city folk. He quickly learned the particulars of style and menswear and eventually blended flawlessly with the hundreds of other good mannered suits at events and at his hospital. That is, until he opened his mouth.
He never hesitated to open up or make jokes (often off-color ones) about his past experiences, and he maintained a passion for helping those in a similar situation throughout his life. He could have been ashamed of his background, especially around “old money," but since it was so openly a part of his character and identity, he never had to be.
Off the clock, he went straight back to his roots. He loved carpentry, horseback riding, fried okra, hunting, and MacGyver-esque DIY. He retired when we moved to Virginia, spending his days as a gentleman cowboy, dinking around with my horse, a Grand Ole Opr’y CD, and his "toys" (a backhoe and bulldozer).
Cowboy boots and a leather or straw ranch hat were as big a staple to him as a double-breasted suit. Suspenders were mandatory with both, of course. Everyone knew that--along with a penchant for shooting a “warning shot” (so he claimed) at trespassing deer from the comfort of the porch swing--that was “just George.”
He passed away when I was thirteen. This coincided with the height of my goth phase and angst, and my style quickly shifted even more “out there.” I specifically recall a conversation with my mom about personal expression just before I started high school; we were trying to get rid of the shadow around the subject of my father and remember the good things about his life instead. While this retrospectively sounds ridiculously cheesy (there’s that Hallmark score again), she brought up how he believed in fully living and enjoying life while you’re able to. He really did always go on about that, but at that point, I connected it to the idea of visual expression.
I had already shown my classmates that I wasn’t afraid not to match them, sartorially. However, fashion and makeup became a way to really explore myself, rather than just a way to go against the grain. Knowing that my father never compromised himself (or his personal style) was a reminder that I would be happier in the long run if I didn't hide who I was.
Thus, I had the confidence to explore how I wanted to dress and look rather than imitate the perceived University of Virginia stereotypes that were so popular throughout my middle and high school experience. (Hey, we're 10 miles from Grounds: we didn't have much choice on the influence.)
Visual expression has always been my primary outlet, whether it's through art, makeup, or fashion: feeling as though I was allowed to interpret any look the world had to offer helped me find my real one much more quickly. I kept up my Hayley Williams-inspired choppy haircut for years, started trying out a cat eye in eighth grade, and wore my first red lipstick in the ninth. I rocked blazers, shoulder pads, and spike-y heels as soon as I looked old enough to pull it off. I developed a fairly dichotomous style that still waffles between early '80s edgy and '50s Ralph Lauren preppy. Lucky for me, my makeup uniform--red lip, black winged eye, white shimmer on the brow bone and inner corner, and carefully augmented brows--works for both.
I knew it wouldn't win me many friends in high school; being “that chick who’s weirdly overdressed” combined with my super-nerd academic persona pretty much negated any hopes I had of a social life. My mom often asked whether looking how I wanted was worth it while I was suffering through high school, despite her very liberal parenting. To her, it would have been a “means to an end” trade-off for a few years.
It was unquestionably worth it to me, though. I feel very at ease in terms of style and beauty now, since I’ve experimented for so long that I know exactly what my look is. In turn, I also feel more confident in buying expensive clothes and makeup because I can finally pinpoint what I’ll still love a year or more from now. A $20 eyeliner or nail polish isn’t worth it if it dries up before it’s used, but gaining the utility from higher quality products for a look I consistently care about is well worth the price bump to me.
In college, I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by people who genuinely appreciate my look and express themselves in equally excellent ways, just like my dad always did. When I wear something outside my comfort zone to class--a cut-crease eye or a gold snakeskin leather jacket--I wear the class ring that my dad bought his mother as a keepsake when he graduated college (since he was the first one in his family to do so). I use it as a reminder that I’m a lot happier living as openly as he did.
Oh, and my dad was half-Cherokee with blue eyes, which rocks about as much as it was insanely improbable.
Any of you have country boy dads? How did he influence your style?