If we are being honest (and I hope we are), I have always had a really complicated relationship with fashion.
In my late teens and early twenties, the industry paid for many of my vodkas, my taxis, and sometimes in a good month, my rent. But only when my extra eyebrows and extra chest size were on trend.
I mean, I never really knew what I was doing. I didn’t know what fashion was ‘good’, or what was ‘bad’. On photoshoots I would say things like “Wow, oh my goodness, I LOVE IT, adoooore” but really I was just thinking about catered lunch.
When it came to the suave sort of ‘je ne sais quoi’ modelly, all fashiony knowy vibe, I really looked to the other girls in the room (the ‘real’ girls) to tell me if I was supposed to approve of this scratchy, silky, or strange attire.
Funnily enough, as I got older, getting dressed every day in my every day Australian life, started to follow a similar pattern. I would always try to take notes on the external goings on. What was in, what was out. I would try to push back my enthusiasm for mix-matched colours, recycled leathers, denim, head pieces, and boots. I’d instead take a peek on the ‘gram, or around the house party, to see what I was supposed to look like now.
Internally, it felt like this glaringly obvious secret, that highlighted the difference between ‘them’ and me. Them, the ‘real Australian girls’, and me, the sneaky migrant hidden in plain white sight. Who when left to her devices, would choose jeans with a homemade flare, a baseball cap, and 20 thousand rings. Not so slick rick.
I am from a place where cultural conformity looks different. Not better, not worse, just different. Uniformity takes place at certain times and in certain traditions. There is a time to wear the attire of your people. And oh you will know about it. But otherwise, how and when you want to align yourself with the styles of modern world, is sort of up to you. Basically, personal fashion isn’t an identity signifier (*cough* your surname is).
In Fiji in our party attire, there are no wrong colours, or patterns, or trends. Wear millions of pieces of jewellery, wear denim shorts, wear pink, purple or blue, wear tall shoes, or no shoes, or your father’s kathmandu, no worries. Let’s go get a drink and laugh about something hilarious.
I personally haven’t heard or witnessed anyone being mocked for what they wear in the islands.* I’m sure it happens in different settings. It was just not a topic of conversation that was raised around me.
However, I found in Australia, the stakes were a little higher, and for young-me it was nerve-wracking. I noticed that a lot of people dressed to define themselves. Design themselves. Defend themselves. It really was entwined with their ‘who’.
And once again, this quite possibly could have just been my particular circles. And most likely, exacerbated in my particular head. But never-the-less, getting dressed in Australia felt like a exhausting uniform construction and ticket request into some elusive community. One that I wasn’t even sure I could be bothered with.
I noted that there were nuances too. You could be ‘Bondi, but travelling’. ‘Bondi, but affluent’. ‘Bondi, but wants to be in Byron’. ‘Private School, but open-minded’. ‘Private School, and you’re not invited’.
It was subtle. But I could see it. And even better, I could be it. But only if I focussed. Which I didn’t.
The life of vintage tees and randomness and eclectic jewels, has always had me hook line and sinker. So even when I thought I was trying so so so so hard, I really wasn’t. I could have done a lot better to blend in. But thank motherfairy I didn’t. I wrote in a blog recently that when I was 23, someone broke up with me because of the way I dressed. (If this was the real reason, we will never know but I have my suspicions it was indeed a contributing factor). I was told, “you’re not meeting your potential” or something like that.
On my blog I made a joke of it, because, well, I’m very funny. But again in all honesty, that really broke my baby girl heart. I remember clearly. Not just because I was in that deep kind of young, scary and dependant ‘love’, but because I felt like I had been seen, seen-through, and totally discarded. Based on the fact I didn’t know how to (or maybe even want to) fit a mould.
I mean, how could I? I didn’t ever feel like one mould would fit. Looking back, I realise that is true for us all.
I daresay there’s no mould for you either, you perfect and extraordinary thing. No matter what you wear. Even if you love the stripes, and the muted tones and adore the ups and downs, rounds and rounds of the trending world. If that’s you, go you. I’m all for it.
But don’t buy it as a disguise. Don’t buy into it because you feel like you are being told you need it, ‘to reach your full potential’. You are already full oh beautiful one. In my case, that tiny bout of rejection was really good for my lost little soul.
I found my love of colour again. I owned my enthusiasm for all things worldly and I stopped trying to wear what other people liked. I never had to morph myself into a cheaper, faster, carbon copy, yawnyyawnfest to be wanted again.
Getting dressed without asking for permission, or endorsement or even opinion, can be incredibly liberating.
And I only saw and felt the tiny tiny edges of it. My pressures were only based off social cues. Not the deeply entrenched oppression that many cultures and religions have struggled with in extremes. Fashion freedom is something women have fought for, for centuries. My story (the island girl who was raised with full freedoms, meets the capitalist global system of selling rotating stamps of approval packaged as stripes) hardly warrants as a sob story. But still, while I was trying it all on for size, it felt wildly constricting.
Once I forgot about trying to fit in via fitting rooms, I realised to those who mattered, I already did. Or more to the point, no one really thought about my appearance as much as I thought they did.
My pals love me in my fluffy pink jumper and sparkly eyeshadow on the days I have been channelling a mermaid, and in my pants suit on the days I’ve been watching Madam Secretary.
My community isn’t those I dress like. Or even those I look like. They are those I think like, love like, and laugh with.
I love clothes. I love expressing myself. I love colours, boots, and denim. I love getting dressed for a Nashville road-trip, even if I am just going to the beach. I love wearing clanking silver upon silver and imagining they are from the bottom of the ocean from a large treasure chest. I love getting dressed up. I really do love clothes.
But I don’t really like fashion. Or seasons. Country Road knows nothing about what I need to feel today. So I don’t let them try and tell me.
I’m totally enough as I am. And we have enough clothes between us, in our global cupboard, to be free, happy and loved. We shouldn’t be manipulated into believing we need more.
If we keep allowing our hearts to believe in the empty, eternal chase, we are going to lose everything we really have in the process. A healthy planet, healthy minds and each other.
The fashion industry is the second largest carbon emitter. It really is gross. It threatens the freedom and happiness of the very same islands that know and teach the deep value of both those things. It threatens my home. In order for fashion to limit its emissions, we need to drastically change the way we buy clothes and ultimately, the way we produce them.
We don’t need new. We just need you to dress like you.
*I just remembered we do sometimes make fun of Ed. But in our defence, he only owns two shirts and one pair of rugby shorts he goes spearfishing in them as well as wears them as his ‘fancy’ pants to go to dinner, and we basically just question his judgement on that. We feel two sets of clothing wouldn’t go astray. That is all.
Hello again. Fabulous as usual. I haven’t bought new clothing except underwear for 4 years now. Have the best wardrobe I have ever had. Op shops are amazing for treats. You just need patience and a good eye for natural fabrics etc. I have also found brand name Manchester and a French casserole pot for $25 that would retail for upwards of $400. I have had such success that I just can’t pay department store prices. I just know that what I need (want) will eventually turn up.
Couldn’t agree more !!!!!! Much love to you Sandra 🙂 🙂 🙂 xxx
Matisse I totally resonated and felt every part of your journey.
Great heart and soul.