News update: I’ve two articles out this week available on the web. One is an assessment of the BBC documentary Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue for The Huffington Post. The other is a piece about my recent experience of therapy on the site Welldoing.Org. I’d love for you to take a read, comment and share of either or both of these!
One of the paradoxical ‘Secrets of Adulthood’ identified by Gretchen Rubin in New York Times’ bestsellers The Happiness Project and Happier at Home is ‘Take yourself less seriously – and take yourself more seriously’. I think the same dual approach is needed when it comes to fashion and personal appearance. I wrote a piece for The Huffington Post earlier this week which argues that as a society we don’t value fashion. We don’t take it seriously enough considering its economic and cultural significance. We treat it as simply women interested in blusher. Try telling that to the thousands affected by the recent closure of BHS when its parent company cared more about the fashionable Topshop chain than the dowdy and downtrodden British Home Stores.
The paradox of course is that we could also do with taking fashion less seriously. While on a macro level more seriousness is needed, on a micro level the opposite couldn’t be truer. In our personal lives, we can get far too anxious and sensible about it all.
In the Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue documentary which I discuss on The Huffington Post, fashion director Lucinda Chambers talks about how the atmosphere at Vogue has changed over her thirty-six years there. She describes editor Alexandra Shulman as running a much tighter ship, a comment which implies more professionalism and more seriousness. Chambers is very polite about this change but it is clear that she sees it as a loss too. Does this increase in professionalism and seriousness mean a reduction in fun and thus also creativity? Her tone indicates that this is so.
We see the same dynamic at work in our own relationship to dress and personal appearance. The dominate trend in cosmetics over recent years has been contouring not colour – literally creating airbrushed, identikit versions of ourselves a la the Kardashians rather than letting loose with colour in a highly personal way. Abby Jones’s excellent piece in The Pool about the classicist and fat-shaming attitudes inherent in The Daily Mail’s feature on Jenna Coleman hints at the same kind of shift, with Coleman’s public image being transformed by the upper-class aesthetic and deportment that she has now adopted. Individuality is traded for the safety of respectable conformity.
Why don’t we put the fun back into our fashion choices? Where is our sense of play when it comes to getting dressed?
Years ago, I temped in a number of admin jobs that ranged from interesting and pleasant to those so dreadful I resorted to watching Big Brother in order to be able to join in office conversations. During that time, I realised that what I wore could be a useful outlet for my frustration and boredom. I’d set myself mini-challenges such as wear a different pair of shoes every day for a week or style the same scarf differently for as many days as possible.
I rediscovered this playing-a-game approach to fashion during my recent time at a mental health day hospital. I’m not exactly sure when it began but at some point during my two months there, I found myself becoming obsessed with my accessory choices for the day. This soon became a new challenge: could I wear a different accessory every day?
Although purely a fun exercise, this daily activity became a vital lifeline. At a time when my sense of self was smashed up and in the gutter, asserting a positive choice about jewellery or scarves or other decoration each morning helped me to reconnect with who I feel I am and what I enjoy doing. The paradox of concurrently less serious and more serious was most definitely at work then.
I think I might pick this challenge up again this week. The weather is sufficiently warm that I can’t switch to lovely autumnal clothing yet but I’m tiring of my summer wear. I’m also feeling a bit shaky on the inside. I need a fun distraction to stop me getting too angsty again. So what could be better than playing around in my jewellery box?
Fancy joining me? I’ll be tagging my choices #havingfunwithfashion over on Instagram. Would love for you to play along too.