I Stopped Wearing Jeans For Four Years

This is what I learned.

My teenage self was anything but fashionable. After failing to keep up with the ever-changing fashion trends of my youth – by the time I figured out bell-bottoms were cool again, my more stylish 5th grade peers had already moved on to skinny jeans – I entered college with utmost relief. I had finally found a community that put more value on my ability to understand discrete mathematics than whether or not I painted my fingernails. In fact, as a female student of computer science, fitting in meant not caring about fashion. Jeans, and whatever could be easily thrown over them, were the basis of any OOTD.

College flew by. My days in the computer lab paid off and I landed a job at a reputable tech company in Seattle. I was proud of myself, but as I looked into the mirror on graduation day, I was dissatisfied with how this showed on the outside. In my attempt to blend in too much, I had lost my sense of identity, my confidence and – to my mother’s dismay – my posture. As I packed my moving boxes, I surveyed my wardrobe and gazed upon the pile of ratty jeans that had carried me through those late nights buried in problem sets. I asked myself whether I could adapt to life without them, the one thing that limited my fashion creativity. Could I do it for a week? A year? Longer?

Denim might be a wardrobe staple for many Americans, but it was soon banished from mine. I remember my outfit for the first day of work: a silk J. Crew blouse neatly tucked into a pleated gray skirt, clothes I deemed appropriate for the corporate world. I emerged from orientation and was thrown into hallways of The North Face puffy jackets, jeans and man buns. Some developers even refused to wear shoes. Everything I had heard about the tech life became my reality. Armed with determination not to conform, I learned to swap flats for heels and pants for stockings. I worshiped brands like Jimmy Choo, Wolford and Diane von Furstenberg. I finally started standing up straight and feeling happy about my appearance.

As I excelled in my job, I also became known for my sense of style. I found it endearing when my colleagues approached me for fashion advice or politely asked, “can I see your necklace?” However, nothing new goes without opposition. Strangely enough, snide remarks about my clothing came from other female engineers. “Are you going to a party or something?” “Why do you always wear fancy shoes?” I became discouraged until I found a mentor who told me, “the height of your heel does not correlate with the level of your intelligence. Don’t be afraid to shine.” In giving up jeans, I also gave up my insecurities. Weirdly enough, venturing outside the typical tech uniform forced me to work harder to prove my competence. If I was going to choose to shine, I had to back it up.

I recently purchased my first pair of jeans since graduating from college. I had moved to Paris, and once again, a new environment inspired a change in style. Frame, J Brand and Paige are brands I have just started learning, even if I’m years late to the game. This time though, when I look in the mirror, the jeans feel different. Putting them on is no longer a thoughtless default; instead, it’s a conscious decision about how I want to express myself for the day. I spent four years without denim in my life. Now, I’ll spend the rest of them confident in my individuality to wear something as common as the blue jean.

Melissa Lim is a guest contributor for Wheretoget. You can follow her blog, Melissa in Paris, here.

All photos by Leah Chernick.

Shop Melissa's favorite pieces below, recent jean discoveries included: 
Sandro Short Lace Backless Dress - $495
Eloquii Textured Mock Neck Fit And Flare Dress - $111
DVF Julian Short Sleeve Wrap Dress - $398
Wolford Velvet De Luxe 50 Tights - $49
Frame Le Color Ripped - €230
J Brand Jeans Alana Cropped Maria Pant - $198
Paige Hoxton Mona - $179
Jimmy Choo Flynn 85 - $795
Saint Laurent Monogram Cabas Bag - $2,450