We’ve all been there! Those times when you slide open the wardrobe doors and stand back in anticipation as you ponder how the hell you’re going to clothe your body before deciding that you ‘definitely never, ever have nothing to wear’ (queue yet another shopping trip!!). My wardrobe made me feel defeated most mornings. I’d spend the first 30 minutes of my day feeling unproductive as I pulled items from their hangers, holding them up in disgust, like I couldn’t have been the one that had made the purchase a few weeks back. Fashion for me was never something I found fun or could embrace the way I wanted.
Growing up, I had a limited sense of style, lacked any creative flair when it came to pulling an outfit together and often matched my top half to my bottom in ways that you weren’t supposed too! (I’m probably sounding a little harsh on myself now, but looking back that’s how I felt!).
My lack of creativeness wasn’t down to lack of interest in my appearance. It was down to the insecurities I had with my skin. Having Vitiligo, especially during my teenage years, was a struggle. It prevented me from experimenting and encouraged my focus to be purely on covering up and disguising a condition I was embarrassed about. Trends. Changing seasons. A desire to be stylish, it all meant nothing unless I was wearing something that covered me from head to toe.
What we wear communicates a powerful message to the outside world and according to Professor Karen J. Pine, of the University of Hertfordshire, “When we put on a piece of clothing we cannot help but adopt some of the characteristics associated with it, even if we are unaware of it”. In a number of studies Pine carried out, one participant admitted, “If I’m in casual clothes I relax and am tomboyish, but if I dress up for a meeting or a special occasion, it can alter the way I walk and hold myself”. Reading the outcome of such research, made me think back to my own style, the message it projected and how it made me feel on the inside….
As a teenager, I wasn’t into your typical mixed prints, cool dungarees, the Britpop look or thigh high shorts. I loved the Spice Girls (cringe!) and their ‘barely there’ style that bode well with their outlandish personalities, but the fact I admired 90’s fashion but couldn’t embrace it, troubled me. As a little girl, my parents dressed me in shorts, t-shirts and pretty little dresses which showed off my patches. To me that was normal and I didn’t mind because as far as I was concerned, having Vitiligo was normal.
So what happened? Why was I no longer that little girl who thought what she was ‘normal’?
I became a teenager. A self-conscious, shy, paranoid, ‘desperate to fit in’ teenager. No longer did I want people to see what I looked like underneath the layers and so I quickly retreated within myself. I became obsessed about covering up. I developed a wardrobe full of ‘safety pieces’ in ‘safety colours’ because it allowed me to blend in. My staple pieces centered around tops with long sleeves, jeans, trousers and skirts only if they could be worn with 80 denier tights.
I owned nothing outlandish, colourful or risqué because that would have moved me into a place of discomfort. For years, my entire wardrobe, whether it was summer or winter, consisted of long sleeves. The bravest thing I done during the summer was wear a top with ¾ length sleeves instead. Sandals, summer dresses and shorts were a ‘no go’ area.
What I wore in my teens projected the image of a shy teenager with limited confidence and incredibly low levels of self-esteem. I was scared about being judged and so conformed to what I thought would stop people from talking about me. My clothes helped me to become the person I was.
As I entered into my late teens, ready to embark on life as a college student, I realised I’d accumulated a wardrobe of mismatched items that had me feeling very uninspired. My clothes felt like ‘emotional baggage’ and I knew it was something that needed to change and so my ‘wardrobe overhaul’ began. Mum jumped on board (she helped with being ruthless!) and immediately we started packing up anything I hadn’t worn in 6 months and giving it to charity. I forced myself to let go of some of my safety pieces. I reduced what I owned in black and completely slimmed down my wardrobe ready to start again. The most unusual part of the exercise, wasn’t that I’d gained the confidence to change how I looked…..I hadn’t……but rather I had recognized it was something I wanted to change…..
My shopping habits started to change. Gradually, I was able to refocus my mind by putting more thought into what I was buying, rather than impulse buying. I fell in love with maxi dresses, which kept my legs covered during the summer. Pastel colored jeans in pale yellow; lime green and baby pink made me feel summer ready, as opposed to typical denim. My caramel coloured skin came alive against citrus colours such as oranges, reds and yellows so I injected instant colour on my top half when teamed with black jeans. Before buying anything I would ask myself whether I genuinely needed it and if I had something in my wardrobe that would go with my new purchase. In order to make the changes, I had to be strict otherwise I risked adopting my past bad habits.
I have a much better relationship with fashion now that i’ve given myself the freedom to experiment and wear those things I often envied on other women. Here’s how I changed my wardrobe and became more creative with what I wore….
Look for Inspiration and create a mood board
Popular magazines was what gave me inspiration and helped me define the styles and trends I was drawn to. I would cut out my favourite looks and stick them on a mood board which was a constant reminder of what inspired me. This gave me a sense of direction. It didnt necessarily mean I was going to run out and buy the exact same outfit, but it gave me a ‘starting point’ and enabled me to think more creatively when it came to putting something together that worked for my figure and suits who I was.
Don’t be afraid to experiment
I spent years stuck in my comfort zone because I didn’t have the confidence to venture past it! When I realised I wanted to be more open, I found I was able to have a lot more fun! Start by looking at items you would normally buy, perhaps in a different colour. So rather than opting for most people’s ‘go to’ colour of black try something in bold red or shocking pink. It will help divert your attention away from ‘safe’ colours and will help you to refocus your mind on being a little more experimental.
Focus on what looks good on you and not anyone else
There is nothing wrong with admiring a friend’s style or the girl in the office that can throw things together and still look like she’s emerged from the catwalk! But just remember, your style is unique to you. I was so paranoid about standing out, that I ‘played down’ what I wore, however, eventually,
I started wearing t-shirts and vests with a cardigan over the top or fitted shirts, which was a change from a standard top with long sleeves.
There’s more to fashion than showing your skin
At school, I was convinced that fashion meant exposing your skin which of course it doesn’t! There were so many trends I could’ve embraced whilst remaining covered, but I had no clue what suited me. One summer, my Mum suggested I try culottes, much to my distaste! Who on earth wore garments that hung like skirts but were in fact trousers was my initial thought. But I gave it a go. A pleated black pair that I teamed with a simple white tunic….which worked because it accentuated my slim frame. I realised that fashion wasn’t about revealing myself. It was about wearing what made me feel comfortable and what made me and my shape look amazing.
I’m by no means verging towards being the next Alexa Chung! But what I do know, is that I’ve found a place of comfort when it comes to dressing with confidence. I wear things that I like, I show my skin and I don’t consider whether anyone passing me in the street likes what I wear. I have fun experimenting with trends and putting things together that gives me a little uniqueness. I dress for me, even if it’s a risk, I’ve learnt that its one worth taking….