PUBLISHED ON TEEN VOGUE
My mother was someone who lived in color, and her style was as contagious as her laugh. She raised me on '80s music, setting curlers in my hair as she sipped her morning coffee.
She was a beautiful contradiction. Unequivocally humble, yet a force to be reckoned with. She perfected the mix of modern chic and timeless sophistication as she walked this earth in ballet flats of every shade of rainbow. From the way she carried herself to the clothes she put on her body, she had that je ne sais quoi, that effortless beauty that 10 years later, I still hold onto deeply.
Her heart stopped on a Wednesday morning. She was 43, and I was 14.
The last piece of clothing we bought together, intended for my eighth grade graduation, was my dress for her funeral three weeks later. It was a classic LBD that she said was Breakfast At Tiffany’s-approved. And as luck would have it, it was the last one left in the store, on sale, and it happened to fit me like a glove.
In a way neither of us could have anticipated, wearing that dress helped me say a goodbye I didn’t know how to say. My mom was my point-person for all things — from academics to boys to the fashion that was undoubtedly her territory. When we weren’t spending our days strolling through DSW's clearance aisles, we were prepping for Saturday morning mall trips by analyzing and folding glossy pages in magazines in the attempts to find lookalike pieces.
They say time heals all. But I felt petrified thinking time could be the biggest attack against my relationship with my mother. I was so scared that as the seasons faded, so would our inside jokes, the sound of her voice, and everything I knew her to be.
So consequently, as the years went on, I found myself holding onto old photographs and memories told by her friends and family. Whatever it would take to keep her spirit alive. And in doing that, the loss of my mother would transcend her role in my life as not only my guardian angel but my style icon.
I think, maybe, her influence on my personal style was destined to be, that this connection to her would be the same if she were alive.
Growing up in a predominately all-white area as a first-generation Filipina-American, I couldn't help but feel like who I was and what I wore would preclude me from fitting in. When I looked at my classmates and the stylish celebrities on television and in magazines, it was rare to find women who looked like me.
But then, there she was: There was my mother.
She was the woman whose smile reflected mine. The woman who would sew satin ribbons onto my flats, and buy us matching high-top Converse sneakers. Finding myself felt easier when I could find myself in her.
It only makes sense that 10 years after her passing, by recreating her style from her early '20s, now during my 20s, I’ve gained a profound perspective that personal style is so much more than what we choose to wear. It’s the art of doing whatever it takes to not only love the skin we’re in, but to feel understood. Which is why I shouldn’t be so scared of time interfering with what I remember about my mother.
Because as I throw on my clothes for the day, curling iron plugged in, music playing in the background — there she is, coffee in hand, cheering me on from the other side.
Photography by Robert Perea