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Embrace Your Awkward

by Taru Anniina Liikanen 14 days ago in women

A story of many looks, from someone who never fit in.

Embrace Your Awkward
Photo by Keegan Houser on Unsplash

My teenage awkward stage lasted a decade.

At age 10, I made my Mom make me a turquoise poncho, which I wore with a beret. I started dyeing my golden blond hair red with henna.

At 12, I was shopping with my Mom when I saw some fun, yellow fabric. I asked her to make a pair of wide-legged pants, which I wore to school the next day. With a bright green cropped t-shirt and red suspenders with elephants on them.

In 8th grade, I dyed my hair black and cropped it to about two inches long. I wore only miniskirts to school every day, all through the brutal Finnish winter.

All these times, and many others, I was laughed at. I didn't really care.

A Rebellious High Schooler

I started high school on the other side of town. Nobody knew me, except for two of my best friends.

And my older sister, of course. She has always been more the type of person who didn't want to stand out from the crowd. At that stage, she was dating a basketball player and dressing like a Stepford wife, in my opinion. She instructed me to do the same, to look like I belonged.

The uniform consisted of a pair of simple black pants (not jeans!) and a Benetton t-shirt, topped with a Benetton cardigan. You were also allowed to put on a Burberry-style scarf, or change the pants for beige ones. The talk of our school was one girl who had the real thing. An authentic, expensive piece of fabric tied around her neck, in checkered beige, black and white.

I tried, honest. I bought some Benetton and let my hair grow longer, but after about a month, I began feeling I had dressed up as one of my teachers. I needed to rebel. Hello band t-shirts, studded belts and torn jeans. If I could put two t-shirts on at once, I did. If I could add studs to my wrists, I did. Several layers. A piercing on my belly button, my nose, my tongue.

No Burberry. No beige, period.

At 17, I asked my mom to make me a long, fluffy, bright red coat for the winter. Not only that, but I asked her to sew some ears on the hood. Then, I walked around my small town as a bright red, fluffy bear for a whole winter.

I found a pair of sneakers I really loved, but couldn't pick between red and green so I bought both. Of course, I wore a different color on both feet. It was a pain because I had to make sure I was wearing them out evenly, but it was worth it. I often wore them with long, colorful socks and a mini skirt. It was essentially a Pippi Longstocking costume.

At a flea market, I found an old Spice Girls crossbody bag. It was big and white, and had all the detailing in pink. The Spice Girls had separated about 6 years prior and that bag was probably the most hideous thing I ever owned, but I loved it.

I started using knitted hats every day, even in the summer. I had a whole collection of them, if I remember correctly around 30.

There was never any manic pixie dream girl in me. I was never cute while I was trying to be different. I just used colors and weird items because I thought it was fun, and because I never really wanted to fit in.

Uncool Young Adult

When I was 21, I moved to Barcelona. At first, I'd go out with my friends, and some of them would try to make me look like one of them. But they were Burberry girls, and soon my own, weird style shone through.

I got a pair of adidas Stan Smiths in light pink suede with velcro attachments, and another pair from the same brand with buildings from the city of Tokyo drawn on them. Black outlines against a white background. I was devastated after a nail polish remover accident wiped out a part of the drawing during my international travels.

There was also a part of me in those days that loved 60s-style clothing. It made me feel like I was wearing an era, not a piece of clothing. I bought a short, bright green coat with large buttons that contrasted with my bright red Victoria Beckham haircut. For my more conservative days, I got a cotton white and light grey A-line dress from Comptoir des Cotonniers. I still take care of it like it's my baby, taking it out for a stroll every summer.

In those days, there were some cool people, DJs and professional skaters my friends idolized and always wanted to hang out with. I didn't. I realized I didn't feel comfortable around cool people. It just wasn't me. I was awkward, and I was finally learning to embrace it.

I started working at a clothing store on the posh end of town. Outside our work uniform of a suit and dress shirt, all the girls dressed the part. There were lots of classic lines, muted and natural colors. I began unconsciously imitating their styles, but with a twist. For the winter, I bought a tiny little black coat with a puffy, almost Baroque collar, and extremely uncomfortable ankle boots with a curved, inward-leaning heel. Every step in them was pain, but when one of my male coworkers and style icons said the look was "very Givenchy," I left the ensemble in my personal Hall of Fame.

At that store, I bought my first two beige items of clothing, both at 70% off so I could excuse myself for the purchase. The first is a divine cashmere turtleneck that's still the most buttery soft sweater I've ever owned. I wear it with a cape, gloves that go up to my elbows and a hat or beret. The other one is a 3/4-length, short-sleeved trench coat/dress with a cinched waist. It's incredibly impractical and so tight I haven't been able to fit in it since the days my age began with the number two instead of three, but I will hold on to it forever. It makes me feel like a mix of Catherine and Audrey Hepburn: part safari, part lady.

A couple of years later, at university in Buenos Aires, I had a second chance at adolescence. I started wearing 5-inch heels and bodycon dresses to class. They were so tight I could barely breathe, but the Argentinians understood what I was going for. The American exchange students who showed up to class in sweatpants and UGG boots looked at me like I was a maniac.

For the first time since the age of 7, I stopped biting my nails, letting them grow. What a perfect canvas to extend my personality, I understood, religiously painting them in different colors every week. I also started building a collection of earrings, bracelets and necklaces. Every day was an opportunity to invent new combinations.

My Battle Against Office Attire

After I finished school, I got an office job in the government, surrounded by lawyers. The uniform was a lot of shirts and suits and ties. I still couldn't do it.

I did try, for a long time. I put on semi-appropriate clothing, high heels and dresses, until I developed a really bad case of Achilles tendonitis. Goodbye pretty heels, hello colorful sneakers. I got some obvious looks from government officials when I rocked my pink Pumas or my gold adidas high tops, but I didn't care. I was back to my essence.

The pandemic arrived, and I embraced the sweatpants and leggings. My extra quarantine lbs. were hidden perfectly under the Billy Eilish-style sweaters and t-shirts until I felt confident enough to put on something form-fitting again.

I missed putting on anything else but leggings, though, and as soon as I started dating somebody again, I pulled out all my old bodycon dresses, pencil skirts and high heels.

Returning to the office has been interesting, to say the least. We all look different. We all look for comfort, not impressing others.

Still, there's a part of me that wants to play with style.

I began wearing my hair up in two space buns on the top of my head, and expressing myself with black or white t-shirts with some of my favorite fictional moments from Friends, Clueless, Mean Girls and Bridesmaids.

Sometimes I pair them with a pair of baggy black and gold pants, others with a pleather pencil skirt. And always, a good pair of sneakers. I've got my rust-colored Air Maxes and my white Air Force 1s stored in their boxes next to my old adidas treasures and my classic black Chuck Taylors.

Some days are for simple and elegant accessories you'll only notice if you're looking really closely, others are for statement pieces. My all-time favorites are a pair of large Darth Vader earrings I got from my sister, and a simple, silver necklace that has the word 'princess' written on it. My mom saw it and thought of me, given it was my childhood dream job. I'm coming for you, Meghan.

During the colder months, coats are what define my look. I have several trench coats in different shapes and colors, sporty jackets, capes, denim, fake leather and wool. My favorite is an ankle-length, baggy silver coat. Mom called it hideous, but it's guaranteed to get me some looks. With that and my space buns, I feel like I'm going to a party in 1995 London.

I pick the coat by the weather, and I build my look around it. Some days, I'm a lady. Others, a little grunge. But it's always a look.

Do You Need a Signature Style?

You know those people who have a great signature style? I've never developed one, and I probably never will. I love changing too much.

My hair has gone from red to white to black to brown and then red again, only to end in platinum blond. If I stick to one color or style for too long, I'll only get bored.

When it comes to my clothes, my style may change several times a week. The pieces I've acquired through the years help me build a look and then change it the next day. This is why I've ever really fit in. Not all of us do. It's fine.

I think many of us are artists, even if we don't work as creators. We express ourselves every day through our personal styles. We wear costumes, not clothes. I may bare my entire soul for everybody to see online, or stand up on a stage telling jokes about my deepest vulnerabilities, but I'm always in costume. The effort I put into creating a persona on the outside allows me to be who I really am when I'm writing.

Plus, it's fun.

To me, there's nothing wrong with wearing a costume. It lets you express your creativity, start anew each and every day. It refreshes you.

Embrace your awkward. Take it from someone who's never been cool.


Taru Anniina Liikanen

Finnish by birth, porteña at heart. Relationships, politics, bad puns, popular and unpopular opinions.

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