Okay 2016, I’m ready for you! The end of 2015 involved more downs than ups and because I was feeling all the sad feelings, I didn’t have a lot of time or emotional energy to put into Floral Manifesto. But this whole not feeling great thing did get me thinking about how when I’m often feeling the blues, I turn to clothing to give me a little pick me up. This might mean shopping (although I’m trying to set hard and fast rules about what I can buy and when). More often than not, it’s all about choosing an outfit that makes me feel sparkly or, as I like to call it, “in my power.” I have this one dress that I’ve worn on a couple of occasions when I was feeling super nervous but wanted to look fabulous. The first time I wore it was for Orientation Day the year that I was President of the Graduate English Association and had to give a welcome speech to the new students. I wore it again a little over a year later for my qualifying exams. Here’s a photo of me wearing the dress just because I felt like it:
The other thing that makes me feel in my power is the colour red. Red lipstick. Red dresses. And in the case below, red shoes.
And here’s my favourite red dress, still kicking ass and taking numbers a good 3+ years after I purchased it:
Were taught to view clothes as frivolous, as markers of consumerism. As Chimimanda Ngozi Adiche notes in her essay for Elle Magazine, a love of fashion can cause others to not take you seriously. But clothing can be an integral way of expressing ourselves. What I wear on a given day often reflects my mood: loose bag dresses and leggings on days when I feel kind of “ughhhhh.” A skirt and floral blouse on days when I’m feeling more sassy and flirty. Sometimes the outfits I pick out don’t always represents how I’m feeling currently, but how I want to feel. And I find that putting on my “in my power dress” makes me feel just that! I wanted to hear from other ladies in my life about when and why they turned to fashion when they weren’t feeling great. They kindly answered some questions for me and allowed me to take their photos wearing some of their favourite pieces.
What are some of the challenges you face when it comes to choosing an outfit when you’re not feeling great about yourself? Does clothing provide a way for you to feel good about yourself in those situations? Or does it tend to make you feel worse?
Charlotte: Fortunately many of my clothes offer a very easy transition from pj to outfit.. when I am feeling low I want to feel like I am being wrapped in a hug/blanket. This means loose fitting clothing, layers, more layers, a strong shoe (that makes a nice clicking sound preferable) and my power jewelry. Wearing layers makes me feel safe and sheltered.
Jennifer: One of the biggest challenges I face when choosing an outfit is this overwhelming feeling that I’m selling myself out. My work wardrobe mainly consists of overpriced suits. As a result, I find myself constantly conflicted with my personal feminist values. Personally, I believe that suits embody patriarchal values and are the universal symbol of identifying individuals in white collar professions. Honestly, when I’m in a suit I feel like a dick. When I’m wearing a suit, people often address me as ‘ma’am.’ (I’m 25, don’t call me ma’am.) As a feminist it’s difficult to reconcile obliging the outdated social norms of my profession, especially as a womyn of colour. As an articling student, you’re kind of floating in this temporary in-between state. Although you’ve completed law school, you haven’t been called to the bar yet. You’re still labeled as a student, even though you’re working full-time and have important responsibilities. You’re hesitant to stand out. Clothing provides a small, but powerful, outlet to express your identity (and even creativity). For me, that often means wearing loud shirts and other pieces that challenge the conventional black suit, white blouse, and black heels look for lady lawyers.
Jayme: I wear scrubs half the time, so some days I honestly forget how to dress nicely. Or I’m feeling too tired to put too much effort in, which usually translates to me wearing the same outfits over and over again. Alternatively, I like choosing fun outfits because it clearly says “I am not at work.” I like having days off because it means dressing up, putting on makeup, and wearing perfume. I feel the most powerful when I get to take my time with how I look.
Hana: When I’m not feeling great about myself I simply don’t leave the house, pick up phone calls, respond to emails or answer the door. If I have to leave the apartment, my rational mind knows it’s better to comb my hair, take off whichever cat-hair covered sweater I’m wearing and at least pretend to be a part of human society. If I can put on at least a few “grown up” pieces of clothing without too much fuss, I feel like I’m passably put together and not broadcasting my crankiness to the world.
Stephanie: When I’m feeling not great, all I want to do is wrap myself up in a nest of blankets and huddle and sulk. Anxiety and depression tend to make me cold and shivery. So it’s difficult to resist the temptation, when finding myself in a fit of lousiness, to simply sheathe my body in layers upon layers of grey and black wool and fleece and whatever it is sweatpants are made of. And frankly, I usually follow that urge when the stakes of my day aren’t particularly high, because it feels pretty good to swaddle oneself in comfortable clothing. But if I feel I need to be somewhat more aesthetically impressive, then I’ll wear what is effectively the opposite of my inclinations: a sheer, 45-year-old, bright red dress handed down to me by my mother. Although this dress is not in the least cozy or warm, it makes me feel – in a good way – like I’ve had two shots of espresso. It makes me livelier when I’m feeling only partway alive.
Are there specific occasions when you have turned to this outfit to feel better? Could you tell us a bit about what was making you not feel great and why it was this outfit that you selected?
Charlotte: Living in New York made me really fine tune my wardrobe. Yes there’s a lot of black (very NY) but it also made me only wear clothing that made me feel truly powerful, grounded and myself. This type of outfit I would wear doing anything (probably not hiking despite the photo!) but always felt particularly strong wearing it during rush hour on the subway. The boots made an amazing clicking noise walking through the paths and I swear I walk faster in them. I hated rush hour, it was beyond stressful. People pushing and yelling at you constantly. This outfit allowed me to stand my ground.
Jennifer: I can’t really recall a specific occasion where I have worn this exact outfit to feel better. But generally, I enjoy pairing a patterned shirt and a grey or black blazer when I have to attend more important events. These events can range from appearing at hearings to attending bar association events to nicer dates with my girlfriend.
Jayme: This is my classic “first date” outfit. I went through a pretty nasty break up in the middle of summer and just kind of threw myself into dating, whether I was actually ready or not. Even if the date went really badly or the person wasn’t what I was expecting, at least this outfit made me feel super cute and like the prize that I am.
Hana: One specific moment I can think of is two winters ago – I didn’t have this coat at the time but I did have the boots (which I’ve had for the past four years). I was in the midst of a labour dispute with a nonprofit I was working for in Prishtina, Kosovo. I was unemployed, trying to file a formal complaint in a country notorious for not giving two shits about formal complaints and feeling very exploited and pissed off. I spent most of my time running around back and forth getting the paperwork together to create a complaint file, and it was a snowy and wet winter. I was too angry to care at all about how I looked, but I at least felt more or less put together when I visited the labour inspectorate with my black boots on.
Stephanie: In one of the weirder episodes of my youth I was, for two shows, the lead singer of a doom-metal band called Blood Ceremony. I was, and still am, also very shy, but never more so than in situations that require me to stand in front of a group of people who are staring at me. Accordingly, at our first show I was so terrified, and sang so softly, that nobody in the audience could hear me. When I stepped off stage and ordered a drink, the bartender wouldn’t make eye contact with me. At the next show I wore the dress and, helped by its magick and some gin, was able to yell out my lyrics with enthusiasm and moxie if not tunefulness. People clapped! And the bartender complimented me and gave me a free drink! Reader, I married him. (Actually, I didn’t. That was a joke. But the night was still a triumph.)
What is it about this outfit that makes you feel awesome/in your power/sparkly (please feel free to insert another word more fitting to you)?
Charlotte: This outfit makes me feel very me, very grounded. I love the colour (or shade if you want to be specific) black. I like the way black makes the rest of me pop because I’m very pale and blonde. To me feeling comfortable and cozy makes me feel great; I love seasons where in which you can layer. I love a simple shift dress, you can let it all hang while still looking chic and polished. Clothes that give me the ability to move are key both professionally (as I work with children) and personally (as I like to move around, walk and be outside as much as I can). I’m very specific in my accessory choices and don’t often buy jewelry. All of my jewelry represents a person or a point in my life. Wearing these pieces make me feel very me, very loved and very proud.
Jennifer: I like this outfit because it’s a little risky. I’m wearing a light gray (or even off-beige depending on the lighting in pictures) and a white and blue patterned shirt. It’s almost clashing, and I kinda like that the colours don’t exactly go the best with each other. I also like this outfit because it still allows to be somewhat eccentric at work. This outfit embodies more of my personality: loud and quirky. I’m not subtle.
Jayme: I didn’t wear pink for the longest time because I subconsciously equated pink and femininity with weakness, which is absolute bullshit. There’s strength in softness and femininity and I wear pink to represent that. Also, I feel like my legs are one of my best physical features. I’m short but I’ve got legs ‘til Tuesday and I love showing them off. Summer is my favourite season because I like wearing as little as possible. If I could be naked in public, I would. But for now I’ll settle for short shorts!
Hana: I think the description “mature/adult/in control” would be more accurate for me. A black coat goes with everything, and so do black boots. I can be wearing a York University sweatshirt and stained jeans underneath, and no one’s the wiser. Just a sophisticated lady with all her shit together over here.
Stephanie: In addition to the liveliness factor mentioned above, the dress makes me in some way feel more connected to the world. Maybe this is because it used to belong to my mother, and because I know that she bought it in Toronto when she, like I did, moved to the city from Montreal to attend university here ─ and so that creates a sense of supportive continuity and mom-power for me. Or maybe it’s just because it’s dress in a vivid colour and slightly weird style, and if dresses could talk it would be saying “Hi!” very loudly and waving both of its hands in awkward greeting, thereby forcing people to connect to me in its overt enthusiasm. And connection is, needless to say, very good at warding off any feelings of don’t-talk-to-me-I’m-in-a-terrible-abyss-of-loneliness-and-fear-iness.
Here are all of the details for each of the outfits:
Charlotte: Shift Dress — Cotton on; Plaid Shirt — Thrifted and altered by me; Cardigan — Joe Fresh; Tights — Joe Fresh; Shoes — Frye; Rings: Antler ring — Moon Raven Designs (Etsy), Silver Ring — used to be my aunts sugar spoon and had it made into a ring, Pearl Ring — from my step-fathers home country of South Africa; Necklaces: String and anchor shaped — Free the children (from my step-brother), Gold Geometric — from teachers I used to work with in New York, Gold Charm — from my grandfathers home country of Serbia.
Jennifer: Shirt – J. Crew; Blazer – Ann Taylor; Skirt – J. Crew; Heels – Aldo; Watch – Daniel Wellington.
Jayme: Black shorts shorts — Garage; Pink top — secondhand
Hana: Coat – Mango; Glasses – Police (real name of brand); Jeans – Buffalo Jeans (“Faith” midrise skinny); Purse – Roots; Boots — Clarks.
Stephanie: Vintage Anoushka, apparently an independent Toronto designer of the 1970s – from my mom
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This post was written by Margeaux