I was challenged by Unique Vintage to percolate on self-celebration for their #iamunique campaign. I was truly honored to be asked to participate in such an incredible movement, which encourages everyone to embrace their fabulous quirks and put their own unique spin on the world. But, I was also terrified. Because as semi-practised as I am speaking my mind and putting myself out there, the thought of contributing to something so powerful was a bit intimidating. But, if I present the challenge every day on this blog to be ourselves, celebrate our bodies, and wear what we please, then I owed it to myself (and you) to scrunch up my nose and ask myself the tough question: What makes me unique? So, I donned one of my all-time favorite Unique Vintage dresses, twirled around the garden for inspiration, and then poured myself a glass of wine and sat down to write…

As a society, I think we celebrate humility. Laud the absence of vanity. But I find that we’re sent conflicting messages – because we’re also told that our job is to be perfect – to work towards perfect bodies, perfect hair, perfect skin. We need to follow the current trends and adopt the current colloquialisms and eat that which is currently proclaimed as the miracle food. Everything that runs across our retinas emphasizes that we are not yet good enough. But, with a swipe of this concealer pen or the reduction of a few numbers on a scale, maybe, just maybe, one day we can be this mythical ‘enough’.

Well, guess what? Dear World: I am unique and I am already plenty good enough.

I have to admit, it took some navigating down a pretty long road to arrive at a destination where I could let my freak flag fly proudly and without reservation. To acknowledge that self-celebration isn’t vanity and all of the various parts of myself that I bemoan from time to time are actually the very things that make me uniquely fabulous.

#iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic

#iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic
Outfit planned using Dressed for iPhone

#iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic#iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic#iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic#iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic

My first love has always been science. I spend my days buried in books, teaching our next generation of undergraduates (which is still terrifying), dissection specimens, and, very occasionally, swimming with the sharks, literally and figuratively. I run experiments, manage grants, facilitate collaborations, and drink a LOT of coffee. And I just happen to do it in a dress (except the swimming part. I have a wetsuit for that).

Many people struggle with marrying the vision of a scientist (read: nerdy) and a vintage bombshell (read: sexy). But I am neither and both of those things. And my fabulous uniqueness sits at the crossroads of that dichotomy.

Although I couldn’t articulate it until my inaugural blog post, I believe woman and young girls alike are sent an all-pervasive message – that we can either be pretty or smart. Sure, we have the option, but we’d better choose one and choose it fast. And with that choice comes certain archetypes we need to emulate to fulfill our membership into the Smart Club or the Pretty Club. If you are a Smart Girl, you don’t have time to understand your body or celebrate it – you’re too busy being smart! And serious. And buying thick framed glasses to emphasize your brilliance. And if you’re a Pretty Girl, there’s no need for you to excel in math and science or flex your creative muscles. Don’t fret your pretty little head over world news or politics – leave that to the Smart Girls. You need to spend time worrying about how best to achieve perfection and avoid getting dirty.

These messages are conveyed to all of us to varying degrees, sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly, and always to subconscious effect.

I’m a scientist – a marine biologist – and a pretty darn good one. Throughout most my my life, my professional goals were so focused and precise that I thought I only could choose one path – that of the Smart Girl. I thought that if I put an effort into my appearance, then I would no longer look ‘smart.’  Because an interest in fashion is seen as a shallow pursuit. Putting effort into your appearance is seen as vain. And if you DO care about your outward appearance, you must have nothing else going for you. And who wants to look as though they have nothing else going for them? So I settled into the role of the Smart Girl, but the other part of myself lay dormant for awhile, until she realized her self-imposed stereotype was all kinds of crazy and started to fight her way free…

#iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic #iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic#iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic #iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic #iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic#iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic#iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic

Truthfully, I live and work in a very male-dominated profession. For this reason, I fight daily against a culture that suggests I dress differently, wear my hair differently, and defer to a more masculine identity. I’ve been told “not to be such a girl” by a colleague, as if celebrating femininity somehow precludes me from being a good researcher. I have been asked if I was “sure I was a scientist,” because I look far too pretty (which, as we now know, goes against the bylaws of the Smart Girls Club). As if a dress beneath my lab coat instantly negates my ideas and my expertise. Or the impact of my research paper hinges on heels and eyeliner.

These comments really pushed me to a crossroads and I had a choice: (1) Give in to someone else’s definition of me or (2) Make a conscious effort to embrace my aesthetic – embrace what I loved to wear and how I chose to present myself. And in doing so, I outwardly refused to apologize for feeling at my most powerful in a dress and heels. Although a small battle in the scheme of things, wearing the dresses I love so dearly subtly wages a daily war on premise that pretty and smart are mutually exclusive adjectives. I now skip towards the lab in my sparkliest heels, marching right past those that suggested I may need to “dress more like a man.” And with each bedazzled, heel-clad step, I refuse to foster the idea that to succeed I needed to conform. And over time, that idea slowly withered and no longer held any power.

I won’t lie – I get a lot of stares (I choose to see them as complimentary). I’ve been asked what costume party I was heading off to as I gazed back, eyebrow raised, cause I was going to work dressed as myself. I’ve had people say, “Well, I would have never have guessed that” at University events when I share my Assistant Professor title and job as a scientist, barely disguising their surprise as they take in my floral vintage dress. But, bottom line – I don’t dress for them. I don’t dress in a way to facilitate successful categorization, so they might feel comfortable with the box they choose to put me in. I dress in a way that is unique to me, not to the cardboard cutout of me. Because years from now, looking back on my life, I know I would question why I wasted a single day conforming someone else’s stereotype of who I should be.

#iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic#iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic#iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic #iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic#iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic#iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic#iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic

Getting to a place where you can feel comfortable in your own skin is like the act of falling asleep – it happens both slowly and all at once. And once you’re there, you’ll wonder what took you so long. I spent a large portion of my life covering up, trying to fit in – believing that if I could just be “normal” and like everyone else, I would feel confident. I fell into that trap, as so many of us do, and talked myself out of wearing beautiful things for fear of breaking out of the confines of what “smart” was supposed to look like or – god forbid – looking like I was making an effort (apparently this is a huge crime). I admired things on other women but could never translate it to me and spent way too much time in the mirror focusing on my flaws.

But the truth is – we spend so much time doing things we don’t want to do but have to do – laundry, taxes, putting up with rude coworkers, and resisting the temptation to road rage. We have no choice when it comes to changing our childhood or erasing an ex-boyfriend or two from our memories. So, why not take charge of the things we actually CAN control?  Why waste any time focused on the extra pounds we have, the extra money we don’t have, the extra attention that girl over there is getting. Why not focus on the strength we have, the riches that are overflowing around us, and the empathy we can always have more of. Isn’t it time to make yourself vulnerable? Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Put the power back in your hands where it belongs. You are beautiful because of each and every one of your quirks – those things you see as “flaws.” Those things that make you uniquely you. Not in spite of. Because of.

#iamunique - The Dressed Aesthetic

Personally, I am at my best when I am bursting forth into the fray as my most crazy, whimsical, dressed-up-and-covered-in-glitter self. And I will never apologize for my love of pink glitter and floaty chiffon dresses, coupled with my love of science and books and excel spreadsheets. How my voice goes up an octave or two when I see a kitten, how loudly I sing to broadway musicals in my car, and how I love reading fashion blogs in my spare time. Even though, to society, apparently that isn’t ‘high minded’ enough. It isn’t “smart girl” enough. But I’m no longer trying to be enough for anyone, but me.

You are uniquely beautiful and you are more than enough. You always have been – you just have to say it out loud.





Outfit Details:
Dress: Trudy Yellow & Chiffon Cocktail Dress from Unique Vintage
(similar modern here & here or vintage herehere & here)
Belt: Mo-Mo’s Vintage (similar)
Necklace: Sophistihat (similar here & here)
Handbag: Gift (similar here & here)
Shoes: Jessica Simpson (similar hereherehere & here)
Vintage Cherry Shoe Clips: La Belle Vintage (another pair available here)


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The Dressed Aesthetic


14 comments on #iamunique

  • Vanessa Araujo

    Kara this is a amazing post! I think most of us are stuck in these stereotypes. Its like a box that traps everything that makes us different and unique, and sometimes we just get too lost on the concept of “normal” or “should be”, that not even remember who we really are. As a member of the “smart girls club” i know what is be stuck on the opinion of everyone. I really need to read this today.
    And this outifit is fantastic!! Oh my God, this dress and these shoes are gorgeous, and they fit perfectly on you!! xx

    • kara@dressedapp.net (author)

      Thank you darling! I absolutely agree with you…the word “should” seriously needs to be stricken from our vocabulary…I think we get so focused on the ‘shoulds’ – what we should do, should say, should wear. It can get exhausting. I’m so happy that I posted this right when you needed it – and remember to always stay true to your fabulous, amazing, eclectic self. Yours is the opinion that matters the most. 😉 xxx

  • Lindsey P.

    Loved this post, Kara! You are so inspiring! This is such a good reminder to embrace who you are and not conform for the sake of conforming. It’s great to be reminded of this and know that there are wonderfully smart, confident and beautiful women – like yourself- who are facing these “ideals” that society has and choosing to go your own fabulous path! Awesome, Awesome, Awesome!

    Also, your dress is probably my favorite of all your gorgeous dresses! And the shot with Willie is too cute!


    • kara@dressedapp.net (author)

      Thank you so much hon! That means so much to me…I feel the same way about you! It’s one of the things I’ve loved about blogging…so many fabulous women around to be inspired by! 🙂 And Willie is SUCH a ham – it just isn’t right if he isn’t the star of at least one photo! 😉 xxx

  • Jillian

    Being a scientist myself, I definitely need to hear this. This is such a great article and I am sure I will be referring back to this when I get myself in such a rut =)

    • kara@dressedapp.net (author)

      I always loved that you were a scientist and a vintage shop owner (definitely a combination I can relate to!) If you ever have doubts or find yourself feeling low – message me and I’ll remind you of how awesome you are. 🙂 xx

  • Lucy

    Thanks for an excellent post, Kara! Your outfit is spectacular & congratulations for having the courage to be true to yourself! I often feel the same way you describe – on one hand, I am a lawyer who loves Pokemon, video games, reading fantasy … & then on the other I am blonde, passionate about make up & fashion and a competitive cheerleader. I find it really difficult to meet like minded people because I feel I don’t truly fit in with either group. I completely agree that we are socialised to be one or the other; I often find myself questioning “who am I really?” xx

    • kara@dressedapp.net (author)

      You have no idea how happy it made me to read your comment. You are AMAZING – a lawyer meets Pokemon/gamer/fantasy buff meets fashionista meets competitive cheerleader!?! That is the most fabulous thing I have ever heard and I am OVERJOYED that you’re embracing every aspect of you to it’s fullest. It also helps to know I’m not alone in my eclectic passions…and I really hope other women read this and realize we don’t need the two extremes of “Smart” or “Pretty”. Because we are both and more! At the very least, you and I need to start an Awesome Club that encompasses all things. Keep on being you – because you are fabulous. xx

  • Camilla

    What a great post….very inspiring and I can totally relate and agree with everything you have written! Love it! 🙂

    • kara@dressedapp.net (author)

      Awww thank you sweets! I got on a bit of a roll with this one and couldn’t stop my fingers flying over the keys! 😉 xxx

  • Miss Amy May

    Yes yes yes YES!! You know full well I agree with and applaud anyone who refuses to dress as they’re ‘supposed’ to dress and instead has the courage to dress try way they want to dress–because weirdly, at first, it does take courage. It’s scary when you first begin to dress differently to everyone else because you stand out and you are revealing the real you for the first time to the world. Eventually it’s empowering and builds your confidence and makes you feel fabulous, and I hope other women reading this will see that empowerment shine through you and feel inspired to dress the way they want to as well if they, too, have been doing only what society tells them to do at the cost of what they want to do (and wear and be and love.)

    This was beautifully written. I loved it. Thank you for sharing, Kara 🙂

    P.s. Those shoe clips and that necklace are dope, and you looked fabulous! Pet the doggies for me <3

    • kara@dressedapp.net (author)

      Thank you gorgeous!! I know you’re out there fighting the good fight for body positivity and embracing your individualism every day and I applaud you too! And as weird as it sounds, you’re right – it really does take courage to show your true self, be it by wearing what you like or sharing a unique interest or the myriad other ways people put themselves out there every day. It’s funny…when I started wearing vintage I remember thinking, “Oh THERE you are…” It was a part of me that had been there all along. =) You’re a rockstar and I find you inspiring every day. xxx (oohhh and those shoe clips have a sister pair! We could be shoe clip twins! Love love love them. 🙂 )

  • Silvia

    Just what I needed to read today! Thanks. 🙂

    • kara@dressedapp.net (author)

      You are very welcome. Sometimes we hear the right thing exactly when we need to hear it. 🙂 Go forth and rock your unique self! xx

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