For as long as I can remember, clothes have been somewhat of on obsession for me. I often wonder where this stems from, and why these Outer Layers have defined so much of my life.
Is it because growing up I was a bit of an outsider and clothes were a way of ‘fitting in’ to a particular social group? Maybe growing up in a family with little money contributed, as the clothes I so desired in order to fit in couldn’t be had. Or could it be rooted in being a younger sibling, stuck with hand-me-downs but desperate to express myself in something to call my own? It may be down to all, or none of these reasons, but many of my most vivid memories centre around particular fashion choices.
The earliest of these memories is of a Minnie Mouse outfit (navy blue skater skirt and a white t-shirt printed with Minnie) that I refused to take off other than to go to bed. I must have only been 2 or 3 at the time, and my mum has often reminded me how she had to wash and dry the outfit under the cover of darkness to avoid temper tantrums the following morning. To this day I haven’t parted with the outfit, and it currently resides in a dusty corner of my Mum’s loft. This attachment to a ‘particular ‘look’ is something that’s continued throughout my life.
I must have been about ten years old when I was first aware of being fashion conscious. This was the mid-nineties, when tracksuits were the height of fashion, and, as I’m sure is still the same today, branding was of the utmost importance. Kids would turn up to class in the latest Adidas tracksuits and trainers (I seem to remember Reebok classics being a popular choice), but alas, my family just couldn’t afford this designer gear. I was left wearing market stall knock-offs until pester power wore my Mum down (sorry Mum) and I was bought an Adidas tracksuit from the bargain bin. This hideous number consisted of a white top with black stripes, and electric blue bottoms with neon orange. The garish colour combo mattered not, as the obligatory three stripes were all present and correct. It baffles me to think now how a ridiculous combination like that was more acceptable because of its branding, when my attempts to wear nice but ‘unfashionable’ clothes, were met with mockery (a particularly hurtful comment from the best looking boy in class about a homemade skirt sticks in my mind).
Whilst my mismatched tracksuits was socially acceptable, they weren’t me, and this conflict definitely contributed to a general lack of confidence in anything I wore by the time I got to secondary school. Whilst I was relatively safe in my uniform during school hours, what I wore after 3:30pm was a great source of stress. By the age of fourteen I’d developed something of a style, and in my wardrobe hung a few outfits, mostly wide leg jeans and grunge t-shirts. I’d wear these at home, but the minute I had to leave the house I would change back into something ‘safe’ or even back into my school trousers out of fear of bumping into someone from school and being laughed at for wearing something a little different. I acknowledge that the problem here was my own confidence rather than the attitude of others, I bet no one cared what I wore, if they noticed me at all.
College brought it’s own challenges. There was a refreshing feeling that ‘anything goes’; the playground politics had disappeared and everyone had just grown up a bit, but which group to try and conform with? Grunge, skater, hippie, preppy, sporty, girly…? I must have experimented with them all and whichever I was into informed my buying choices. I’d walk into a shop and analyse every piece of clothing that I liked to determine if it fitted with the particular look I was going for: “Is it ‘grunge’ enough?” or, “does this say ‘hippy chick’ to you?” If the answer was no, it would go back on the shelf no matter how much I liked it. So, at the age of 18 I still wasn’t dressing for myself, but crying a ‘look’ for the benefit of whichever group I wanted to be part of.
At university I became interested in anything with a ‘vintage’ look, which to this day is more me. However, with my own income for the first time and the rise of discount clothes stores like Primark, my wardrobe became overloaded to the point that any style I had was lost in a jumble of cheap dresses, t-shirts, and knitwear. Oh so much knitwear. (I’m ashamed to admit that at one point I owned upwards of 65 jumpers and cardigans). My wardrobe is only just recovering from the onslaught of outfits during my university days.
It’s only now as a confident(ish) 29 year old that I wear what I feel comfortable in and reflects who I am. Clothes and fashion will always be a passion of mine and reflect my personality. I’m a firm believer that even if you’re someone who claims to have no interest in fashion, your choice of ‘outer layer’ will still be a reflection of who you are; it’s unavoidable.
I’ll still have a bad day if I wear an outfit that’s not right, but as I’ve got older my choices have become much more refined. More often than not, I can be found in a pair of dark skinny jeans, a Breton top, and a pair of scuffed up plimsolls, but, if I do want to wear something a little more ‘out there’, I will, with little regard for what anyone else thinks. I only wish I’d had that confidence when I was younger, but maybe it’s all part of a learning curve and a way of our younger selves figuring out who we really are.