roses and cakes

Why I Love Fashion

When people find out someone is interested in fashion (or clothes, or style, or shopping, or whatever word you’re using to describe it), their first assumption is normally that the person is vain, or empty-headed, or just plain stupid. I wrote a bit about those assumptions and why they’re so, so wrong here – but if we don’t buy clothes because we want people to tell us we’re pretty, why DO we do it?

Well, in my case, I guess I’ve always viewed fashion as a way of solving a problem. Or a set of problems, as the case may be.

As I said in my post on why I blog, I’ve never really felt like I “fit in” anywhere, and for a long time, I tried to use clothes as way to “fix” that. In my last two years of primary school I was badly bullied – to the extent that my parents seriously considered removing me from the school. By the time I started high school, the bullying itself had stopped, but the damage had been well and truly done, and I’d gone from a happy, confident little person to someone who lived in constant fear of being singled out for abuse. My way of dealing with that was to try and make sure there was nothing to single me out – and that started with clothes.

Our high school didn’t have a school uniform – or, at least, not when I started attending it. What that meant was that every single day was a fashion parade, with everyone, male and female alike, trying desperately to make sure they had the “right” clothes, from the “right” brands, in order to be accepted. If you think it’s strange how much emphasis I put on clothes NOW, all I can say is that you obviously never went to my high school, because, back then, you were judged almost entirely on what you wore: not in terms of what it looked like, but in terms of where you got it and how much it had cost.

This was the era when branded sportswear became big. In order to be accepted by your peers, you had to wear very specific brands of sneakers and clothes – British Knight, Travel Fox, Reebok… later Kickers shoes, Benetton sweaters, Pepe jeans – oh, the LOLs! If you didn’t wear these brands, you’d be mocked mercilessly – and, hey, guess who didn’t wear any of those brands? Here’s a clue: it wasn’t the popular kids. No, it was the kid with the bad perm, the thick, unflattering glasses, and the monobrow, and GOD, did I not have ENOUGH to deal with, without adding “being badly dressed” into the mix, too?

“You should be unique,” my parents would tell me, “Be different! If everyone else in your class jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?”

But actually, yeah, I would have. In fact, before my parents could even finish that sentence, I was asking where the cliff was, and if they could maybe drop me off there after school. I didn’t WANT to be different or unique: I wanted to be THE SAME. I wanted to AVOID standing out, at all costs – because to stand out was to be different, and to be different was to be laughed at, teased and taunted. I’d had enough of that. So my parents would take me shopping, and would hold up various garments, saying, “Look at this! I bet no one at school will have one like THIS!” and I’d roll my eyes and wonder what on earth was WRONG with them, and why they persisted in trying to make me do the EXACT OPPOSITE of all the things that would give me a chance of actually, you know, having friends.

(I was a HORRIBLE teenager, seriously. One of the reasons I don’t have children is that if I ended up with a teenager like I was, I’d probably leave home myself…)

So, clothes were a problem I had to solve, and I did my very best to solve it. Back then, I had absolutely no style or taste of my own: honestly, if the kids in my class had started wearing clown suits to school, I’d have nagged my parents until I got one too – which, inevitably, would happen three weeks after clown suits were declared tragically uncool. I’d buy fashion magazines and watch fashion shows on TV, convinced they would give me the answers I was looking for, but always disappointed when they just contained photos of leggy models in fancy dresses, when what I needed to know was how to buy expensive sportswear with just my pocket money. Over and over again, I got it wrong: I couldn’t seem to work out what I needed to wear to “fit in”, and I knew I’d be teased if I tried to wear the things I liked, so I spent my entire teenage years feeling awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin – and looking it, too.

Then I went to university. Again, I viewed dressing for university as a problem that needed to be solved, and I attempted to solve it by buying all of the things I thought a student might wear at that time: baggy sweaters, Doc Marten boots, jeans … On the first night there, however, I met the girl who was to become my best friend. We decided to go out to the student union that night, so I went and changed into what I’d decided would be my “going out” uniform – Doc Marten boots and slightly smarter jeans than the ones I’d worn all day – then there was a knock on the door and Stephanie was standing there in heels and a dress.

It was kind of a game-changer for me.

I didn’t start dressing exactly like Stephanie, because what I learned from her was that I didn’t have to dress like ANYONE if I didn’t want to. Actually, I could wear whatever I wanted to: sure, Steph would get the inevitable questions about why she was “all dressed up” (She once turned up to a tutorial in a suit, and was asked if she was the class secretary…), but no one actually CARED what the answer was, and after a while they stopped asking, and accepted that she was dressed like that simply because that was how she dressed. I mean, what a revelation, huh?

It took me quite a few years to work out how I wanted to dress, and I’m not going to lie, I made a LOT of expensive mistakes along the way, but eventually I started to feel more comfortable in my own skin, and to buy things because I liked them, not just because I thought they’d allow me to “fit in”. These days, in fact, “fitting in” isn’t something I think about much: I often get questions from people who are visiting Scotland, for instance, and who want to know what to wear to “fit in” with the locals, and I’m always confused by that, because when I travel, I only think about the weather and the activities I’ll be doing – unless I was going somewhere with a culture that required a certain style of dress, it wouldn’t even occur to me to worry about whether I’d look like a local or not, so I don’t relate to that at all any more.

With that said, I do spend a lot of time thinking about what’s going to be “appropriate” for whatever I’m doing (by which I mean will it be comfortable, will it be practical, will it be the right level of formality etc, not “will it be the same as what everyone else is wearing”), so in that respect I DO still view clothing as a problem that needs to be solved. I’ve written a lot recently about my struggle to find practical /casual clothes that I still feel like “myself” in (My capsule wardrobe is my attempt to solve that particular problem…), and I also struggle frequently with the feeling of being over-dressed. I’d love to be the kind of person who genuinely doesn’t give a crap and who thinks nothing of wearing a ballgown to walk the dog, but I’m just not there yet: I still feel quite silly and uncomfortable if I turn up somewhere in a cocktail dress and everyone else is in jeans, so figuring out the “right” thing to wear is still important to me. It’s still the difference between walking into a room and feeling confident and relaxed enough to actually enjoy myself, or just pretending to feel confident and relaxed, while really wanting to hide behind the nearest pot plant.

It’s also, however, transformative. One of the reasons I love shopping is because of all of the possibilities it holds. I’ve written a lot lately about dresses having “characters”, or making you feel like if you put them on, you could almost turn into someone else. I’m exaggerating, obviously, but I do love the self-expression that comes from clothing – the fact that I can walk into my closet every morning and pick out the outfit that best matches that day’s mood. And most of all, the fact that – to quote Rachel Zoe – “Style is a way of saying who you are without having to speak.”

Fellow fashion lovers: why do you love clothes?

Related: How to get used to wearing heels

books by Amber Eve
  • I love clothes because they complete me…..

    July 21, 2015
  • Boy can I relate! I just turned 70 years oldish and I don’t ever remember being comfortable in my own skin or in my fashion. But I still try. One nice thing though, My give a ____ factor is way down. If it’s not comfortable, forget it. I love fashion, clothes, whatever partly because I can’t stand being the same all of the time. And because I love color and the feel of nice cloth. And because I have mirrors in the house. I loved your post. Thanks.

    July 21, 2015
  • Sarah


    I was really badly bullied as well, but I think it had the opposite effect on me, as it just made me realise how much I DIDN’T want to be like them. My clothes reflect my tastes and personality, but I’m not scared to wear just whatever makes me feel comfortable. My clothes help me to face the world feeling like myself.

    July 21, 2015
  • I’m also in the bullied club (what a horrible club that is) and think the reasons I got into clothes are really not that dissimilar to yours. Thankfully I did have a uniform at secondary school, but boy non-uniform days were SO stressful. My mum, for years, dressed me in the least fashionable things she could think of. I always stood out like a sore thumb among my friends. They were all Tammy and jelly shoes and I was in Marks & Spencers and Clarks (I love Clarks now, don’t get me wrong, but they had the untrendiest school shoes known to man back then. A far cry from Kickers!). And not only that, I was always matching my two sisters – one of which I have a 6 year age gap with. When you’re 12, do you really want to look like your 6 year old sister?! I think this is all to blame for why I tried to use clothes, when I had control over them, to identify with other social groups at school and university, and then why that obsession stuck with me into adulthood. They do let you be whoever you want to be – agreed.

    July 21, 2015
  • Selina


    Amen to all of this

    July 21, 2015
  • For years, I didn’t feel like clothes loved ME (I was a very large teenager in the days before actual plus size fashion, when it was tent, muumuu or muumuu tent) so I ignored them. Then gradually the high street began to find me more acceptable, and I it… and even more gradually I grew into my body and it shrank to proportions that opened a few more doors… and then I got dragged (not unwillingly) headfirst into vintage by a very good friend and discovered the joy of knowing one’s measurements and shopping accordingly, in styles that actually make my body feel comfortable. And then I realised I’ve actually started to really love clothes even if the word ‘fashion’ doesn’t really mean anything to me either. Helps to have such stylish pals. 😉

    July 21, 2015
  • TinaD


    Amen. Had I not been born to bohemians with inexplicably Tory ideas about education, I could have had a couple of “the right” shirts, and maybe a pair of “the right” shoes, and not drawn fire from the exact second I entered the school doors every morning. (The school counselor even recommended a wardrobe revamp as an antidote to the bullying and the beatings.) (Or I could have gone to a school with some social diversity.) My university taught me that, for some courses, a deep v-neck netted a higher score than a brainy answer. Clothes are language, a syntax of spotlight and subterfuge; it is no wonder you are so adept with both fashion and words.

    July 21, 2015
  • Maite


    I was also bullied during my first years of school (now I’m on my last) though my bullying was more of a “this girls doesn’t exist unless I need her homework” thing. I’ve always gone to private school that used uniforms, so I don’t really have a style now- you’ll always see me in simple t-shirt and jeans. I actually hate wearing pants, so I’d wear skirts and dresses all day long but I can’t because:
    1. I run, jump and dance my way trough life, so skirts and dresses are pretty impractical. I also have the useless superpower of tripping over nothing
    2. I don’t have nearly enough confidence to wear skirts and dresses while everyone is wearing jeans and t-shirts
    3. Dressing culture where I live is very informal and casual,so dresses and skirts are only sold to be worn in nightclubs (pleather,sequins or spandex) or very formal ocassions (silk, floor lenght). That means more informal skirts and dresses are almost non-existant (as much as I love your style, full tea-lenght dresses aren’t something I’d wear everyday)

    July 21, 2015
  • JoAnn Moran


    Also a part of the bullied club which started in 6th grade after a parent’s divorce, moving, and losing my maternal grandmother who I was very close too. Girls made fun of my wardrobe everyday and a group actually physically attacked me in the bathroom. The bullying stopped, but I’m afraid that kind of treatment changes you. I’ve always loved clothing, but the need to have the exact thing to wear is sort of an expensive pathology that I wish I could shake. You can love clothing too much, I’ve decided. I may need group therapy.

    July 21, 2015
  • I’m not even sure why it is that I love clothes so much- I’m only sure that I do!

    Now, this is horribly anal, but I have a question. My walk in wardrobe has Billy bookcases for shoe storage, and they get HORRIBLY dusty…. How do you deal with this with your shoe storage? I resorted to clear plastic shoe boxes for a while but it was all too much fag to be honest. So now I have a few pairs that I wear regularly that never need dusting and some shoes that really, really do!

    July 21, 2015
  • Yes! Clothes are my absolute favorit form of self-expressin. I love clothing and I always have. And I have finally come to a point where I refuse to be ashamed of it. I’m not a shallow person. I care about feeling good, and looking my best mekes me do that.
    And for the red lipsticks. They dont all look the same. Thats why its okey to buy tons of them./ love Ida

    July 21, 2015
  • Maria


    I really don’t know why I love shopping so much: people think it’s an obsession and a futile exercise in vanity, but really, it’s not like I’m standing in the morning in front of my mirror being all “Omg I’m so beautiful, omg I’m so cool!’.
    Actyally, having a wardrobe full of clothes I love, that match well with each other, and that flatter me, makes me feel ‘secure’, ‘settled’. Knowing that I will always have something to wear no matter the occasion eases some kind of atavistic fear for scarcity (which is quite dumb, I know, it’s not like the shops are running out of items any time soon, but still, I like to be well stocked on what I like the most, clothing-wise).
    But this doesn’t explain why I love buying new things, If I already have enough clothes… Well, it’s quite simple: I’m a mess with clothes. I’m capable of ripping/staining almost everything I love the most. Just in the last few months I managed to stain 2 pants, shrink 2 camisoles in the wash and rip a lace top… Ok, some of these things are easily remedied, but still, I like to be well stocked. And I also like to vary my style: I don’t have just one; I love casual, retro, tomboyish, boohoo etc. It varies everyday, and I really cherish the variety!
    All in all, I’d say that as long as I stay true to my preferences and don’t dress in a way that makes me feel bad, I’m really content with my clothes, and who cares if people think I’m vain and superficial for expressing myself with ‘fashion’ (or my version of it anyway).

    July 21, 2015
  • Love this post, but your description of bullying is very sad. You do describe it very well though, and I think you should post this widely, as it explains how a young person is feeling at this difficult stage in their lives, and I think many others will recognise what you say in their own lives.

    I used to love clothes, and spent almost every penny I had on clothes. My mother used to say that I bought clothes other people would never wear (she was right most of the time). But rather than fitting in I always wanted to stand out for something, anything. I guess I didn’t have much sense of myself, or individual attention as part of a large family, so wanted someone to notice my style. During my 40s and 50s I started to put on weight and the fatter I got the less interested I became in clothes. Now in my 60s I embarrass my daughter who is a total fashionista, in the same way you are, she knows what suits her and what she feels good in. She seems to have always been like that, I remember her choosing her own clothes and styling outfits when she was four (not kidding here).

    I love reading your posts, not least because they often take me back to events in my own life, but also because of your assured and reflective. Long may you continue.

    July 22, 2015
  • Gosh i’m glad we had school uniform so everyone was pretty much on a level playing field (save for school shoes that is and yes, t’was all about the Kickers towards the end of secondary school but I didn’t succumb – so clunky, urgh). The bullying sounds dreadful, I’m so sorry to read about this however many years after the fact.

    Not sure why I love clothes so much. I’m like you in that I’m not interested in trends as much but I enjoy putting together a nice outfit that I feel good in. I love colour and patterns and have more than I need. Honestly I think it all started properly, my interest in nice clothes, when I got a job at River Island in 1998! It was a Saturday job but as I was at college I picked up loads of extra hours, helped with merchandising etc and basically just never stopped spending all my spare cash on clothes….

    River Island is nothing like it was these days, I rarely go in there now but 1998 – 2002 was pretty good 🙂

    July 22, 2015
  • “…I do love the self-expression that comes from clothing – the fact that I can walk into my closet every morning and pick out the outfit that best matches that day’s mood.”

    You nailed it with this quote. That’s the number one reason I love clothes so much; I mood dress. While I follow the latest trends to some degree, it’s not uncommon for me to swathe myself in head-to-toe black in the middle of the summer if I’m cranky. Likewise, there are cold, snowy winter days that find me in colors more suited to warmer months.

    The other reason I love clothes so much is the stories behind them. I’ve made a big commitment in my life to only shop from ethical and sustainable clothing brands, and while at first it seemed daunting, I now find myself looking forward to each blog post I write, because a lot of the time, I get to be a storyteller. Like today. The shoes I’m wearing helped put a woman in rural Uganda through college. How cool is that?

    July 22, 2015
  • Having horrible flashbacks to my poor mum taking me shopping for a leather jacket before I started high school because that’s what all the kids were wearing. She wanted to spend that much money on me to ensure that I fitted in, but I looked like a chimp in everything I tried on 🙁 x

    July 22, 2015
  • My story is very similar- I grew up in a very poor family so we couldn’t afford the Adidas poppers and neon Nikes that were popular at the time. Instead, I wore “Arrow” trainers (nope, never heard of the brand either) until they were so small, something disgusting happened to my toenail that I won’t mention here! When I started earning money and could buy my own clothes, I bought nothing else BUT clothes. And that is the story of how I have three rooms filled with clothes.

    July 23, 2015
  • Miss Kitty


    Oh gosh, your story takes me straight back a few years… I too spent my teenage years trying to get my clothing JUST RIGHT so that I DIDN’T stand out. Maybe expressing individuality is all very well when you are an adult, but when you are a kid, you just want to blend in. Those who stand out are those who are bullied! And anyone who says they enjoyed their teenage years? Is either lying or was one of the ‘cool’ kids who bullied others. OK maybe there is some who enjoyed it, but I would never want to go back to that age. My twenties have been far more enjoyable.

    July 25, 2015
  • I was always the kid who didn’t fit in. I was okay with that and just kind of put up with the bullying. I spent most of my life hating myself (my shape, size etc) and that was probably far more damaging than a bunch of school bullies doing it. I didn’t really notice them. I did used to wear the things I liked. Even on non-uniform days when everyone would be wearing jeans and I remember turning up in an orange denim skirt and matching jacket, which were my mum’s and I thought were awesome. I’m sure they weren’t but anyway.
    I did go through a little bit of a “need to fit in” thing and wore jeans and skate trainers for about a year at 6th form college but soon realised that I didn’t like them and that there was no point in building up a collection of pretty dresses and Irregular Choice shoes if I wasn’t going to actually wear them. I’m sure people do still laugh at my style choices. And I’m still in the throes of the crippling self-hatred. I’ve tried to explain that one before and been told that it’s ridiculous that I wear things which draw attention to myself if I hate my body so much. I’m not sure how that works, but I kind of hope that people focus on the clothes instead of on me.

    August 10, 2015