7 January 2019

New Year, New Wardrobe


Well, at the very least, a better wardrobe.

2018 was a difficult year for me, what with health issues and immense pain to contend with, and the year ending like I had the rug snatched out from under me. However, the magic of falling so far down that even rock bottom looks like an improvement, is that the only way is up (lateral movement notwithstanding, but I see that more like an attempt to find the right foot holes to head up). New Year's is a period of reflection for most of us, and indeed I used those few days to focus in on what work I want to do in order to tackle the goals that I have set myself for this year. In order to do the job correctly, you have to use the right tools, and for me, as ever, part of that is contained in how I dress myself and how I present myself. Our clothed self is our social skin, but it is also how we tend to perceive of our selves, and I could most certainly see the toll that a major depressive slump had taken on my wardrobe and general appearance. I do find it interesting to see how I can track the general state of my well-being according to the state of my wardrobe at the time, whether it be through compensating with super colourful clothes, or hiding away with oversize black sweats.

Several months ago my therapist asked me at the end of a session whether I was wearing "insecurity" black or "fashion" black. It was meant to be a throwaway comment as I was leaving. I remember replying instantly that they were the same thing, but it was a question that burned in my mind for weeks. I came to realise relatively recently that I was indeed draping myself in insecurity black, in depression black, in hide-away-from-the-world black, but when had I made that transition? Why had I not noticed until long after someone had pointed it out to me? My knee jerk reaction at the time was to look into colour, and so I bought a pink shirt a short while later as a way of experimenting. But as soon as I put it on, I knew that something was not quite right. I had bought a piece not because I liked the piece, but purely for the colour, which is to say, I wore it all of twice and resigned it to the back of my wardrobe. Having said that, I did enjoy seeing the millennial pink trend recently, because dusty pinks actually really suit my skin colour, and used to be my favourite colour to wear in my Crayola days (even though at the time I was using acid bright colours to distract people from seeing me - I thought if I could make them just see the clothes, they would never see the person beneath).

As you might expect, the worse my mental health got, the worse my wardrobe and general appearance seemed to get. Hardly surprising, but even so, it was a gradual change for me, and so I did not notice as it was happening. I have actually taken a photograph of myself daily for the past few years, and so it was only recently when I was going through the images for the past year that I could see so clearly that decline. At some point, I just stopped caring. And yet, I actually spent the past year getting back in touch with all the things that made me fall in love with fashion in the first place. It is something that I will hopefully cover in an upcoming podcast episode, but I think that this year I want to start acting on it. Here is this field that drives me, that fascinates me, and, when I talk about it, makes me feel more like me than anything else, and yet my daily reality was not reflective of that. But now I want to get back into the fold, organically, slowly, but in doing so I know that I can come to reflect the journey and growth that I am undergoing as a person. Lofty words for something so simple as the clothes on my back, but all the same, those clothes are how I choose to present myself to the world.

'Fashion' black is still what excites me, and so I do not think that I will be exploring colour to any great extent at anytime soon. But I now know that there is a world of difference between 'insecurity' black and 'fashion' black. Not in the colour, but in the use of that colour. And so to kickstart a positive reframing of that relationship once again, I decided to do what a lot of people seem to be doing right now, apparently because of Marie Kondo on Netflix, which is clear out my wardrobe. I have not actually read or seen any of Marie Kondo, but my sister got the book last year, cleared out her stuff, then regretted it a few months later. I can most certainly sympathise, but for me, clearing out my wardrobe and possessions is something that I try to do relatively frequently, and I am more than comfortable with letting go of my things. In fact for the longest time I have been toying with the idea of getting into the habit of giving my favourite piece of clothing to charity every year or so, just to see how that might change my relationship with my own personal clothing. If anyone has seen the Marie Kondo show and recommends it, please do let me know.

I think that I essentially did the equivalent of gorging myself on fast food. Not that I bought a ton of fast fashion, but rather I bought quite a number of cheaper items that I would never have otherwise bought and worn, simply because for a long while I just did not care anymore. I lost that confidence in myself, and so I thought that I was not worth nicer clothing. Again, one of those gradual declines, rather than an overnight decision, and so it crept up on me. But that is essentially what I plan on working on in order to correct this year. Obviously the issue is greater than clothing, but it is for me a good way to frame that experience. A clear outward manifestation of internal struggles I suppose. Indeed I think it is fascinating to observe the way that psychological trauma manifests itself in the body physically, and I would argue that this is carried across to how we choose to dress and adorn ourselves, especially as the majority of us do not spend our days in the nude (more power to you if you do though). I actually talk to my therapist about this from time to time, and he tells me that he is so well versed in how a person struggling with depression or anxiety carries themselves, that you can often tell when walking past people, not just in their posture, but even in the way that they are dressed. When pressed he was unable to give specifics, but he simply knew that there was something 'off' about the clothing, whether they were trying to hide themselves or distract from themselves, both of which I have experienced personally.

I feel lighter whenever I clear out my wardrobe - here is an opportunity for a fresh start, to become the person I know that I am. I am reminded of the mantra - "fail fast and fail often", because that is the best way to learn and grow, and I very much see the evidence of that in how my wardrobe has changed over the years. I have not been as dramatic as I once was, when several years ago I reduced my wardrobe down to two outfits, one that I could wear while the other was in the wash, but I did not need to this time around. I have a better understanding of my relationship with my clothing, even though this time around it took me a while to see what was right in front of me. And so I have cleared out the things that were not quite right, that were filling the gap, that allowed me to hide, that were me resisting (to quote Jung, "what we resist not only persists, but grows in size"). It seems simultaneously like a grand move and an utterly meaningless one to gut out my wardrobe, but I like that reminder from time to time. I want a wardrobe that I love and makes me feel comfortable as I am, not one that serves to deflect from what I wish I was not.

TL;DR - I donated a ton of clothes, and am working on getting back to having a fire wardrobe this year, because I am worth so much more than baggy black sweats. Learning to respect myself again.

xxxx

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