What not to wear

What Not To Wear

How does what we wear affect our mood and can we create confidence through clothes?


Where I live there are loads of student houses. Earlier in the year a paper dubbed it ‘the Magaluf strip’ of Liverpool. A bit reductive, really. Save a few vomit splatters up the walls, bountiful takeaways and you know, a road, I’d be surprised if they were anything alike.

And in any case if I was off to the Balearics to booze it up and all I found were a few tipsy students knocking over wheelie bins, and a couple of roadmen creeping around in Ford Mondeos I’d be asking for my money back.

Student areas are great for the local economy, and for pubs and bars, and they ignite the area as long as greedy landlords don’t push their luck turning family homes into 9 bed HMOs, forcing displacement of those seeking out less densely populated areas. That aside, it’s great. And it’s perfect for people-watching. Specifically, student-watching

It seems that a majority of female students here embody the paradigm of creating mood and confidence through clothes. Sometimes in spaghetti-strapped mini dresses queuing for the 86 bus to take them into town – no matter the weather not a pair of 80 denier opaques between them, staying warm swigging the remnants of pre-drinks decanted into a 7-up bottle.

Chattering with an optimism I can barely remember, an excitement of what the night can bring, literally no hesitation that the bar they’re going onto won’t have what I call ‘nice wine’ (basically, any bottle that doesn’t say ‘fresh n fruity’ on the label).

Then the next day, throwing up at the top of my road in their pyjama bottoms and university hoody. One hand against the wall of the Bargain Booze and the other holding back their hair while they regurgitate last night’s nuggets after downing that too-fizzy too-cold hangover drink.

Last night’s Rimmel instant tan freshly scrubbed from their gorgeous young faces revealing no pallor like the one I get aged 33, a combination of green and grey, and the puffy eyes that literally no amount of industrial strength concealer can hide.

I work in a university so I see them in another of their natural habitats, identifiable by their uniform: Fila Disruptors, gym leggings, Urban Outfitters puffer jackets and gold hoop earrings (something like a “90s look” – when did I get so old that my former fashion phases are back in?).

They still uphold an institutionalised ‘us vs them’ mentality through their costume, isolating themselves from older generations, and maintaining the natural hierarchy within the education system. Of course, the outcome is they look pretty bloody good stomping around campus while my office wear pinches and rides up and I’m always either too hot or too cold.

This triad of situations indicates a state of mind and reinforces a status quo, but it certainly feels to me that these women are making choices and using clothes autonomously as both confidence booster and comfort blanket.

It is embodied in society and in popular culture that putting on different costumes can give you different mentalities. We used to have Trinny and Susannah telling us What Not To Wear while these days the (new and improved) Queer Eye guys – though not disregarding wardrobe – know that it’s what’s inside that really counts. (And dip, dip’s important too).

We’ve come a long way from Susannah screaming at Trinny “WHERE ARE YOUR TITS” while Trinny roars back “YOUR ARSE IS MASSIVE”, and thankfully discourse no longer revolves around this central theme of disguising our ‘flaws’.

There are thousands of body positivity campaigners finally telling us they are not actually flaws, but it’s hard to shed this idea that parts of our bodies must be hidden or enhanced through what we wear.

One of the pillars of the #bopo philosophy is that you don’t exist to look pretty and when you accept that being pretty isn’t critical to your existence your attitude to your body image will change.

It asks, ‘who taught me to hate myself and how do I unlearn it?’. When we’re told that you can (and do) look imperfect, how do we reprogramme, especially when it’s embedded in our language? It’s not just the fashion industry we need to break down, although their language is particularly hateful.

All speakers – the media, your parents, your best friends, yourself – are using language which underpin negative thoughts.

It is naturalised in the words and phrases we use to talk about clothes: ‘high-end’ and ‘low-end’ fashion strengthening a wealth divide, ‘dressing to impress’ and ‘making an effort’ embedded with misogyny, and ‘squeezing into skinny jeans‘ reinforcing unfair beauty standards that exclude vast numbers of people.

We even apologise for our clothes (‘I’m just in my scruffs’, ‘it’s only from Zara’) and only models can get away with casual – except it’s an ‘off duty look’ for them. We are urged to ‘dress for our body shapes’ and let us never forget Protein World’s ‘Beach Body Ready’ campaign which thankfully received the backlash it deserved.

Only when we reject these phrases can we dispel the negativity encoded within them and really accept ourselves. How we think and feel about our bodies doesn’t just come from what we see, but what we say and hear and read, and real confidence comes from wearing whatever you want, and not what somebody else’s set of rules says you should.

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