When it comes to clothes and fashion, high self-esteem isn’t exactly encouraged. I mean, the industry is pretty much reliant on making people feel “not quite good enough”, and then convincing them that all they need for a happier, easier life is new clothes. So whenever I come across body-positive fashion advice, this obviously feels like a great thing. Well, except that it always tells me to embrace my own personal style, and I never know what that means. But this month, I gave it a go.
Self-expression is a massive improvement on “dressing to impress”, but it’s still quite a high bar to reach. A personal style feels like something achievable only by the effortlessly cool, the naturally creative; it sounds like something I would have to work very hard to figure out. Which is why I went straight from struggling to keep up with the latest fashions, and feeling inadequate, to struggling to find an outfit that expressed my personality—and yeah, still feeling inadequate.
After thinking about this for a while (and staring hopelessly in the mirror wondering why none of the outfits that I thought would scream “quirky feminist blogger” made me look like a quirky feminist blogger), I did what I always do when life throws me a problem I can’t solve: I read an Emma Gannon article. If you don’t know who Emma Gannon is, watch this space because I have a lot more to say about her—but in brief, she’s a writer who blogs about muddling through life with such a positive, intelligent outlook that you can’t help but feel reassured after scrolling through her articles. (Go check out her blog, Girl Lost In The City, to see what I mean).
Emma Gannon is definitely one of those naturally creative, effortlessly cool people to whom self-expression is totally second nature, but of course, she still managed to totally get the struggle with what “finding your own personal style” really means. I won’t be able to put this in words half as good as her own so you’ll have to go read her article, but to paraphrase: Emma explained that the only person who has to have an opinion on your personal style is you. This may sound obvious, but it was definitely a mistake I was making. I had always thought self-expression meant my clothes had to say something about me to other people—but in fact, your clothes don’t have to say anything to anyone but you.
So, armed with this new-found inspiration, I decided to chuck out everything in my wardrobe that I didn’t love, and start again. Here are a few things I found out about my personal style.
1. Don’t keep “motivation clothes”
Motivation clothes don’t work. Full stop. At this stage, about a quarter of my wardrobe was full of tiny shorts and crop tops that I was just never going to wear—and all they did was make me feel bad about myself. So I gave them all away. Motivation clothes are a waste of space, and a waste of money. Even if you are losing weight (and there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to lose weight in a healthy way if that’s what you’d like), you can never predict how your body will end up looking. You could drop three dress sizes and still not fit into those shorts because your body is just a different shape than the model in the picture. Even if you fit into them two years ago, your body might have changed. So don’t waste your time with needlessly specific goals to feel bad about. Only keep around the stuff you feel great in now.
2. Stay comfortable
Comfort can mean something different to everyone, and feeling emotionally comfortable is just as important as feeling physically comfortable—but once you truly stop caring about other people’s opinion, then “pain is beauty” stops making even one iota of sense. If I’m not comfortable, then I can’t run, dance, laugh—so what was the point? That’s why I never wear heels.
3. Feel good about where your clothes come from
I’d love to say that I don’t buy anything made in a sweatshop, but unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. This article provides a pretty depressing overview of the “ethical shopping myth”; we as consumers have dishearteningly little influence over where our clothes come from—but we can still try. I now shop mainly second-hand, because slowing down the rate at which we demand new clothes is one good way forward. And when I do buy new clothes (I draw the line at second-hand underwear, for example), I stick to brands like People Tree. I thought it would be hard, but I don’t miss the greater freedom of choice at all; the clothes I once coveted genuinely don’t appeal to me now, as I don’t think I could feel comfortable if I thought I’d prioritised my looks over my desire to make a change. (And I don’t say that to sound judgy; I manage to feel perfectly comfortable prioritising bacon sandwiches over animal rights, and prioritising my proximity to the rubbish bin over recycling, so we can all agree I’m a pretty sucky person in many ways.)
4. You don’t have to prove your right to wear anything
By this, I don’t mean that you can just wear whatever you want despite the significance it holds to other cultures. Cultural appropriation is still something I’m very much in the process of learning about so I’m not going to go there right now, but here’s a helpful beginner’s guide to cultural appropriation so we can learn about it at the same time. What I mean here is that you don’t have to prove yourself “cool enough” or “thin enough” or “edgy enough” to wear anything, if you feel like it’s part of your personal style. I tend to stick to tea dresses and chunky knitwear for most of my outfits—partly because I love them, but partly because they suit my body shape and they’re unassuming, and I never feel like I’ve proved myself adventurous enough to wear anything else. But you know what? I also love black lace, even though I’m not good at the whole sexy mysterious thing that’s supposed to go with it.
And I love cropped jumpers, even if my stomach isn’t flat.
And I’m definitely not “cool enough” (or brave enough) to pierce my nose, but I sometimes wear a fake nose ring anyway because why the hell not? I like the way it looks.
My wardrobe right now is filled with colours and patterns that I love. There are no clothes I have to squeeze myself into. There are no clothes that are supposed to “say” anything about me. And that’s what I think self-expression and personal style really is. These are the clothes I can dance all night in, the clothes I can spill red wine on, the clothes I can snuggle in for a Gilmore Girls marathon on the sofa. These aren’t clothes that define me. These are clothes that allow me to be me.
Don’t go anywhere before you sign up for email notifications by clicking the ‘FOLLOW’ button below, or follow me on Bloglovin’!