Karen Osborne

In my favorite photo from college, my friend Cara and I are standing next to each other at a party, making funny faces. We could be any other teen best friends in the world, except for what we’re wearing: Cara’s in a typical blue Abercrombie & Fitch babydoll sports shirt, while I’m in black eyeliner, black nail polish and a black shirt emblazoned with the word “Anticrombie.”

We couldn’t look more different.

The really funny thing about it is that people didn’t understand that we were friends. We liked hanging out with each other. We cared about each other. We went to parties together, laughed together and worked through bad breakups together.

They blink at the picture. They tilt their head. They just don’t get it. All they see is the goth and the prep in a picture that our culture tells them shouldn’t exist. All they see are the clothes, not the people.

One of the toughest things about being a teen is figuring out what to wear in the morning. I’m serious. When I was 14, a common pastime for the bullies at my high school was to stop the uncool kids in the hallway, yank their shirts back and check the label to make sure you were “cool enough.” Didn’t shop at The Gap? Nerd. Didn’t wear Abercrombie? Dork. Are your clothes from Kmart? Get ready for a long, lonely school year.

In high school, it’s common for people around you to confuse clothing for personality. I liked to wear black clothing and clunky gothic jewelry because it was slimming and made me feel confident. A lot of people expected me to be moody, angry and sad.

When they found out I was a happy, positive, devout Catholic, I really threw them for a loop.

They saw the clothes. They didn’t see me.

The same thing happened to Cara. People expected Cara to be the typical Abercrombie girl in the advertisements — skinny, carefree and happy. It’s tough to live up to that unrealistic expectation when, like all of us, she was going through tough times and sad moments. I’m sure she found it frustrating when all people saw were the clothes.

A few days ago, I related this story to a friend who grew up in a different part of town. In his neighborhood, he told me, wearing Abercrombie & Fitch would get you beaten up and make you unpopular.

It all goes to show that you can’t really figure out who someone is by the clothes they wear. You have to get to know them.

The old saying “you can’t judge a book by its cover” applies to people, too, especially in high school. Everybody is trying to figure out who they are. Sometimes, the people who seem to have it all figured out are just as confused as the rest.

There’s a temptation in high school to define yourself and others by the clothing you wear, the stores where you shop and the company you keep. In doing so, you miss out on meeting amazing people who will challenge you, support you and, most importantly, be your friend.

I can’t imagine those four years without Cara. What could you be missing? Look behind the labels. You might find amazing friendships and experiences.