Fashion can play quite a complicated role in the lives of many women. It fills our media, acts as a social currency for chatting to our peers, and is a regular weekend pursuit for many yet how many of us are truly happy getting dressed? How many of us stand in front of a full wardrobe, feeling we have nothing to wear?
I am lucky to have lots of lovely clothes but inevitably I don the same thing most days: leggings and a baggy top. My husband recently questioned why I wore a long singlet or t-shirt with every outfit and I admitted that I always feel the need to cover my hips. He couldn't understand it, but for me it is about feeling protected... as if my sensitive area needs a fashion airbag!
A good friend who is a fashion stylist explained women on average use just 20% of our wardrobes because we don't dare step out of our comfort zone. Also, once we get new clothes home, many of us don't actually suit or like the styles paraded by lofty models in magazines or down the catwalk. For a start, few of us are 6 foot and even less a size 4. The translation of the trends to the high street can be inspiring for some and daunting for others.
We are all told ad nauseam that we are this body shape (usually a fruit of sorts!) then we are bombarded with fashion hits and misses (critiquing the poor celebs on the beach or the red carpet). In addition dressing often is driven by the 'other person' dimension - a boyfriend, a boss, a best friend. Will a first date respond more to a plunging neckline? Will a group of friends judge me less if I am wearing my slimming pants? These are all tests of our confidence, of whether we feel we are good enough beyond heels, clothes and accessories.
It's hardly surprising that lots of us stay neutral, or 'hide'. I personally would rather wear leggings than a skirt, easier, comfier, less showy. For others it's long tops, certain cuts, no black or no beige because of their skin tone. We often don't have the confidence to dress to please ourselves. And we are always being reminded that life is a catwalk, with endless features on 'School run style', 'Fitness Fashion', 'Festival chic' and 'Hot looks for the beach'. Each moment of our lives now comes with a look book!
Yet there is another way: finding freedom in our own style. Thinking about selecting outfits as a reflection of who we are and not who we think we should look like. Clearly we can't practically wear exactly what we want every day, a kaftan probably wouldn't go down so well in a board meeting, but there is a lesson to be learnt from breaking free of prescribed fashion uniforms.
So, for a whole week I took a different approach to choosing my outfit. I didn't immediately reach for my staple of leggings and a tunic top. Instead I asked myself how I felt. The first day was a glorious summery day which made me feel hopeful and bouncy. So I picked a skirt I never wear that flared out and a top covered in peachy blossoms. It wasn't fashionable, nor my usual uniform, but in that moment, it was 'me'.
The next day I had to meet my publisher and I caught myself fussing about what to put on, worrying about whether I looked professional enough. Those niggly insecurities narrowed my options down to a grey skirt and white shirt, nice enough but not really me. Me was a writer of a colourful magical world to help build esteem. By far the best way to sell myself was to be myself. So I put on a pair of my fave jeans and a bright pink top, not because it was on trend, or suitable for olive skin, but because it's my favourite colour.
Each day I stuck with the program of dressing to please me, not the doubtful me, or the judgemental 'other'. Some days it was harder to switch off the voice telling me my legs were too white or butt too big. I tried to focus more on how each garment made me feel, through its colour print and texture. It was no different from picking flowers for my garden, cushions for my bed or wrapping paper for a present. None of those choices are loaded with insecurities about feeling ugly or fat. They are simple reflections of our personal and unique tastes. Going shopping or choosing outfits should be the same. If it's good for us, it should be good for everyone. Instead of endless magazine features with photoshopped models projecting what is cool (and by definition soon uncool), real women should talk about themselves and how their passions, tastes and influences shape their identity.
In the past women and men have been restricted to certain dress codes. Today there is no excuse for dressing to please others, the fashion police, or our inner critic. There are no cultural boundaries or social limitations - skimpy, frumpy, vintage, futuristic, sexy, coy. You could go online right now and buy an authentic kimono, a pair of Aussie boardies or an original flapper dress. Hopefully future advances in technology will bring even greater choice and personalisation - customised outfits, made to measure services and an infinite palette of colour choice. But for now, ignore the do's and don't's of the style gurus, be your own trendsetter. Or as the famous designer Versace said, 'don't make fashion own you but decide what you are and what you want to express by the way you dress and the way you live'.