It has taken me a long time to reach a point where I am happy with the direction in which I find my wardrobe heading. My wardrobe is as of yet relatively spartan, and there is a lot of work that still needs to go into it, but for the first time I feel happy with how it is evolving. There are clothes I would love to buy, there are clothes I would love to wear (the two do not necessarily overlap), but for now, I am happy to let things unfurl at their own pace. The journey is one of self-discovery, and I am enjoying the ride.
For a long time I dressed in a manner that was specifically designed to capture attention. But loud clothes do not necessarily equate to a loud personality, and indeed in my case it was in fact the very opposite. The way I dressed was designed to divert attention - if they only ever saw the clothes, they would not have the chance to see me. It was a defence mechanism, a way of controlling how I was seen, because for a long time I was not happy with how I looked. I did not want people to see me, I wanted them to see only what I put out in front of me. Dressing up with all manner of colours and prints and accessories was a way of controlling my appearance - or at least the part of my appearance I could actively control.
This is not a subject I have ever felt confident enough to write about, but I thought it was time to at least start the conversation. I have been underweight my entire life due to an autoimmune condition, and it is not something I have ever really felt comfortable with. Where women are concerned, the issue of weight is put under unimaginable scrutiny - every minor fluctuation noted and commented upon. However when the issue of weight is touched upon in person, it is usually dealt with in euphemisms and indirect phrasing - someone suddenly looks 'more attractive' now they have lost a little weight, or they are seen to 'rather enjoy their food', etc. This is of course inexcusable behaviour, and something that I find abhorrent, but I use it as an example for the purposes of comparison. Men's weight may not be placed under such pressure, however where it is highlighted, it can be broached in an appallingly blunt manner.
It is for me quite a common experience for men and women, who I have only just met, to make observations about my weight before saying anything else - I am 'painfully skinny', 'skeletal', 'need to eat more', or look 'unmanly' (a comment, perhaps surprisingly, more common from women). Such comments being the first thing someone says to you after saying hello can get rather trying, but you learn to brush it off. With friends and family however it is not always quite so easy. I was once at a dinner party at a friend's flat, when the topic came up of the attractiveness, or lack thereof, of thin men. It was deemed 'wrong' to go out with a man who was thinner, 'unattractive', and as one dear friend rather charmingly concluded, 'gross'. Needless to say it was not a particularly pleasant evening for me, especially considering the fact that I was one of only two men present.
And so I dressed to make sure people saw the clothes and not my weight, and not me as a person. I dressed in clothes that other people liked, that other people complimented, so that I forced any conversation about looks to be based upon the clothing and nothing else. There was a very severe and conscious disconnect between body and dress - the very antithesis to the idea of wearing clothing. But I never enjoyed that way of dressing. It was just something I did to cope. The worse my health got, the more outrageously I sought to dress. Looking back at it now, I cringe at the clothes I used to wear, because I was dressing for what I now consider to be all the wrong reasons. I reached a point where I was dressing for others rather than for myself. But it was something I feel I needed to go through, and something I needed to experience to the point of absurdity, because of what it taught me.
In my head there was always an aesthetic I loved, an aesthetic I enjoyed, but there was never any evidence of that in what I wore, or what my wardrobe looked like. I always told myself that I would dress like that 'one day'. For now it was out of my reach - too expensive, too different, too austere, too alienating. I made excuse after excuse to myself of why I could not possibly strive for that way of dressing today, but when I sat down and really thought about it, it quickly became clear to me that all those excuses were entirely meaningless. Ultimately the reason I was so afraid of dressing in this new way was because it felt too revealing. After hiding behind a façade for so long, the idea of dressing in a way that actually felt meaningful and personal was terrifying.
Of course as it turned out the clothing that felt right for me was designed for exactly what I needed - "My clothing protects you from unwelcome eyes". But I did not swap one defence mechanism for another. I found something that made me feel both beautiful and secure at the same time. My wardrobe is not quite where I would like it to be, but it is on the way, and I am enjoying that journey. My clothes might be quieter, they might draw less attention, but they feel more luxurious than ever. A simple elegance, a whispered beauty, and a cheeky nod to that part of me still so very much enamoured with the more colourful side of dress. A way of dressing that makes me feel like I can take on the world. It can only get better.