I was wearing my favorite dress: White polka dots against black tulle, a tee shirt knotted over top, a black lace choker and boots that made me feel invincible. I was walking to class and a girl came up on my left. For some reason she kept going straight, almost as if she were trying to walk through my shoulder, my very existence. Right before she ran into me she stopped, then said – lips pursed, staring at my dress – “Are you…serious? It’s Monday.

I get this a lot because, every day, I enjoy taking the time to “curate” and present my best self to the world. It’s my way of waking up and embracing the challenges of the day. But sometimes people misread this as arrogance or trying too hard. The Monday incident isn’t a unique occurrence. I’ve heard stories from friends and family who dress to face their day and conquer the world, and are shamed or looked down upon because of it. On a college campus (and a wider world) that strives so desperately for diversity, why are we suppressing individual expression?

When did embracing who you are and who you want to be become a bad thing?

Your clothing is the voice that speaks before you can. It’s a vehicle, one that carries you through classrooms and coffee houses and various social settings. Like it or not, it says something about you. It doesn’t have to say “trendsetter.” It simply has to say “you.”

You might not be into fashion, and that’s fine. You also might not care to be into fashion, and that’s also fine. You can be fully, 100 percentyou” without fitting into what the world considers “fashionable.”

So, how do you find your “voice?”

The first step is to recognize and seek out clothing that resonates with you. This can happen in many ways – a force of nature, a person walking down the street wearing an amazing jacket, a moment in a conversation or a word on a page. Take note of what moves you. When you begin to understand what compels and interests you, you can begin to find ways to incorporate it into the way you dress.

The second step is silencing your inner critic. There will always be a voice inside your head saying, you can’t do that. You can’t wear that. You don’t have a right to wear that. Learn what lies you have been buying into. (Hint: pay attention to what goes through your head the next time you get dressed). Learn to break free of them. This is not so much a step as it is a process. I struggle every day with embracing who I want to be on a given day. When I’m feeling insecure about an article of clothing, an accessory, or a way I’m presenting myself, I ask: Will not wearing this make me feel like I’ve compromised who I am? Will I regret not wearing this today? And, by not wearing this, am I ignoring a chance to be 100 percent myself, 100 percent (or at least, close) confident and mentally prepared for today? Find similar questions that will cause you to think and ask yourself those when you’re second-guessing yourself.

The third – and final – step is understanding that life, fashion and identity looks different for everyone. There will be naysayers.

People will misunderstand you.

People will judge you.

People will put you in a box with nasty labels – labels such as freak or diva or punk.

On the days when you feel like screaming because you don’t want to live in a box, remember that you live in a beautiful space of the universe that’s yours, undefined by a category, and that you have been created with a unique voice and purpose. To silence that voice out of fear would be to devalue one of the single greatest gifts you can embrace as a human being.

So, go out into the world today and be yourself.