How Moving to Colombia Changed My Sense of Style For Good

Moving from Connecticut to Colombia two years ago was a life-changing experience in so many ways, it even affected my personal sense of style. My changing wardrobe was not because I adapted any of my new neighbors' style choices or the style stereotypes they typically abide by — in fact, it's been the opposite! I actively go against them.

Don't get me wrong — as someone who has proudly repped Paisa (Northern Colombian) heritage my whole life, there is a special place in my heart for the stereotypical fashion trends that many people often (and rightly) attribute to the region. There is something about pocketless jeans, bedazzled strappy crop tops, and chunky blonde highlights on dark, straight hair that feels like home to me. But, ultimately, these trends don't feel like me, and thus I had to learn to break free from them. Here's what I've learned.

Make Your Own Rules

Ashley Ortiz

When I first moved to Medellín, one of the mottos I would repeat looking at my closet each morning was "make your own rules." In the beginning, my outfit choice for the day would be heavily influenced by what I believed locals might perceive as appropriate, as I tried to fit within their standards. However, while I appreciate style stereotypes in Colombia in the same way I appreciate all of the trends I grew up seeing in the US, at the end of the day they don't always represent how I choose to express myself. So I started to make up my own rules.

My own style rules are pretty simple: if I'm unsure whether two articles of clothing go together, I lean into the pairing and wear them anyway. I also prioritize what's important to me — comfort, currently — and adjust to standard safety precautions, such as wearing minimal jewelry. This gives me the liberty to express myself beyond society's standards, especially those placed on women, and develop a more authentic style that is still appropriate to where I'm living.

Take Up Space

Ashley Ortiz

I firmly believe that some beauty standards derive from the societal expectation that women must take up as little space as possible. To combat this instinct that has made its way into the closets of many cis and queer women, I like to make style choices that purposefully take up more physical space around my body than what is typically expected of it.

Balloon sleeves, for example, have become a staple in my wardrobe over time; the dramatic puffs around my arms feel like an extension of me. Similarly, I love pairing geometric bags with my outfits, especially ones that jut out in front of or around me. Instead of making myself small every day with my style choices, I've learned to express myself by taking up all the space I possibly can.

Don't Be Afraid to Stand Out

Ashley Ortiz

The overarching style rule that I've learned to embody from head to toe is not to be afraid of standing out. Of course, some women might find it more comfortable to fit inside the standards set by the locals in her new city, especially when living alone. But the most influential instinct I've developed when honing my sense of style is to make bold decisions regardless of how they might be perceived by the outside world — for example, hot pink hair.

While women in Medellín often prefer jet black, platinum blonde, or chunky highlighted hair, I've chosen to sport a color closer to that of a radioactive strawberry, and I love it! My pink hair adds an automatic layer of individuality to each of my looks every day, and allows my style to be even more uniquely mine. And, of course, no one can say a thing when it comes to how I choose to present myself because, like I always have, I make my own rules.