Do We Really Need a Personal Brand?

I was shopping for a coat. A wool coat. The kind with an upright collar, which it turns out, is called a “funnel neck.” Or more simply, a “high collar,” although this entirely depends on which site or sartorial source you encounter. I was shopping for the kind of coat that says, “Here I am” while simultaneously remaining practical enough for the New York subway. The kind of coat that makes a statement without making a statement, the kind of coat that is a pleasure to pull my arms through but will also withstand the biting cold of a gust from the Hudson River.

This sort of coat had been rumbling around my mind since I realized that my fuchsia, full-polyester ASOS number that reliably collected compliments was simply not cutting it against the sort of cold that makes a Southerner’s bones rattle. Let alone, that as I had detailed on my Christmas Wish List, you can never have too many coats in New York (not very minimalist of me, but what can I say, I’m still a sucker for fashion options). Opportunely, an email arrived in my inbox for an end-of-season sale on winter coats and as an underpaid marketing assistant, I jumped on the chance to add to my collection of hibernation wear. After encountering two women in the span of a block in chic belted camel coats, I had convinced myself that to be a true Metropolitan Woman™ I should most likely build out my coat collection to include the sort of coat that would make me feel sleeker than a dolphin while also keeping me sufficiently warm, the sort of coat that I found my closet lacking.

I delved into the email, entranced by a gray cocoon coat that had A) a collar that wouldn’t necessitate a scarf at all times (a short-falling of my beloved fuchsia cloak with its wide collar) and B) a streamlined silhouette that spoke to my love affair with clean lines. Although lacking a belt, I couldn’t help but be tempted by the sale price, a stretch for my everyday budget but a justifiable investment for a mostly-wool-cashmere-blend. After brief research on reddit (obviously, the ultimate authority on everything despite the white-supremacy), I found myself unable to clear my mind of the beautiful robins-egg blue coat.

When it comes to winter dressing, I take my wardrobe rather seriously. In summer, I am merely trying to maintain equilibrium. I only mildly care for style because more importantly, I prioritize comfort in the form of loose fabrics and exposed skin. I’d like to get a mild tan and soak up as much Vitamin D as possible, thank you very much. With winter, however, my mood tends to take a shift (acknowledgements to S.A.D.) and I find that choosing pieces that really make me feel good—proud and excited and unique—to adorn my body can help make the difference in my mood. When you feel like a million bucks, you carry yourself accordingly and in the winter I’ve found this to be entirely necessary as a way to improve my mood. When you look good, you feel good.

Which brings me to a Tuesday night, online shopping. I found myself contemplating the serious (aka nearly double price difference) between the color I *really* wanted, according to practicality, and the color that was both closer to my budget and spoke to my soul. Amongst the few hours of contemplation, I found one concerning thought that stuck to me. I asked myself: will this color, the color that brings me joy, that I can see plucking out of my closet with pleasure every single chilling day, will this color be on-brand for me? Not just will this color be practical, which I feel is a common refrain for children of middle-class parents, but will this color go with my aesthetic? Will this color look good on my Instagram feed? What does this color say about me?

You know what? I realize I’ve asked a dozen rhetorical questions in a row but at the end of the line, you know what? It doesn’t matter. Because it doesn’t matter about the algorithm, about the “personal brand.” Everything I do is me. Everything I choose is because it makes me happy. The added layer of “does this fit,” is this “on-brand,” only serves the companies and trends that keep us in a cycle of consumerism, that keep us in a cycle of feeling not-good-enough. And when it comes down to it, I honestly don’t care. I’m not here to please your palette. I’m not here to look good on your feed. Working in marketing, everything begins to revolve around what will translate well online but ultimately, what makes you feel good is what translates well online.

Here I am, telling you that it doesn’t matter what you wear. It doesn’t matter what you think your “brand” is. You are not a brand. You are a person. You’re not your Instagram profile, you are a person with thoughts and ideas and wants and needs and desires and loves and preferences and happiness. Wear the coat that makes you glad to be alive, wear the shoes that say “here I am, alive and me!” No brand, no company, will ever have the soul that you have. You are you. Wear the coat, write the too-personal caption. The people who really matter will like you, will like the words you have to say anyways and the superfluous never mattered in the first place.

I bought the coat. The coat that I knew I could pluck off the hanger everyday and feel a small thrill—really, trully good about putting around my shoulders. The kind of coat that will make winter a little less gray.

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