I love fashion. I’ve only recently fully realised and owned this fact. Why should this be difficult? Because as I reached womanhood I was never sure if I had the right to own it. Maybe I wasn’t cool enough? Maybe I wasn’t pretty enough? Maybe I wasn’t thin enough? Fashion has always felt somehow exclusive.
Looking back at a few photos from my mid-twenties, I can see I had a brief phase of being bolder and choosing what I really wanted to wear – patent stiletto boots, a polka dot playsuit, a shiny silver summer dress. Maybe for a while I didn’t care what anyone thought, didn’t care if I was judged for dressing too sexy, too showy, or as lacking the “right figure” for some of my choices. But this was before the anorexia got much worse and I lost all my confidence, desperate to fade into the background, yet despondent at my perceived invisibility.
Lately I’ve wondered if I’ll ever rediscover my freedom and boldness. And now I’m getting older too, so don’t I have to start worrying about the “age appropriate”dilemma? So maybe I’m fighting a losing battle?
Or maybe not…
The Fashion Mainstream v The Fashion Niche
At the end of 2017, I threw the majority of my wardrobe into the clothes recycling bin at the end of my street. It was time to cast off some difficult memories and start again. Not being rich, it’ll take a while to re-build a collection. And in anorexia recovery, I’m going to need bigger clothes as the months go on and I get well again (a great excuse for shopping). But it’s time to get started.
Thankfully, as I’m starting to follow fashion trends and media again, I’ve found that fashion is much more diverse than it was last time I felt bold enough to follow it. It seems there’s more space to own our look. There’s a mainstream fashion scene where you’re supposed to be cool, pretty in a “conventional” sense, and as thin and as toned as possible – though I’m still puzzled by how I can achieve both when I seem to have lost nearly every bit of muscle I had before anorexia. And you need to be rich, though careful not to point this out too much as this might stop people trying to copy you and you could lose some followers.
If we don’t fit into this mainstream, we can look for an alternative. We can be uncool and anti-fashion. We can define ourselves by our lack of “conventional” good looks, proudly showing off our “flaws”, proud to not have the “right figure” for our clothes. We can find a “range” where we belong – plus-size, petite, tall, or perhaps the range for the older woman, ageing “gracefully” of course. This disengagement is empowering up to a point. We can all carve out or join a little niche.
But don’t some of these niches become exclusive in themselves as their “members” start to defend them and strictly define who belongs and who doesn’t? We must think carefully before we join some of these niches. What can we do if we’re not quite large enough to be plus size, or “alternative” enough to be geeky, or too girly to be a “tomboy”? Are we stuck in a fashion no man’s land?
Can’t we do better than this?
All Fashion For All Women
I think disengagement was a necessary first step, to be free and to learn to think in a different way. But I felt upset recently reading about a woman who was stuck somewhere between “standard” and plus size with no “range” for her, and about some fashion editors who formed a support group to cope with the eating disorders caused or aggravated by working in their industry, while openly stating that they had no intention of challenging it.
I want to ask if we really need “ranges”, and if we should accept that mainstream high fashion is only for the privileged few who are lucky enough to meet the stringent and exclusive criteria to belong. I understand that the same basic garment design needs alterations for the myriad different beautiful figures out there. But I don’t understand why all the versions of this garment can’t be in the same part of the shop, or the on the same page of the magazine or website. I don’t understand why magazines and clothing companies need to tell us all when they occasionally decide to show a model from a niche outside the mainstream or dedicate a section of their website to this niche, carefully ensuring it doesn’t spill over into the mainstream. I don’t understand why we then sing their praises all over social media for being inclusive. Yes, it’s progress. But it’s not good enough.
My Fashion Vision
I envisage a day when we open a magazine or browse a website and see a different beautiful figure on every page, from different backgrounds, of different ages, and with different ideas of how they want to look – all without labeling this as the “body positive” or “diversity” issue – a day when it’s simply the norm.
I envisage a day when we can walk into a clothes shop and just see clothes divided perhaps by season, designer or style, but not by body type. I’m sure we’re smart enough to check through the rails and find something that fits us how we like.
I envisage a day when we can all just wear what the hell we like without fear of others’ judgement. I don’t want to age “gracefully”. I don’t want to hide my “flaws”. I think we all feel more alive and more beautiful when we choose what we really want to wear. Let’s be free.