What Happened When I Stopped Caring About Style
This is a paid partnership with Baabuk, but as always all words and opinions are my own
I can remember a very specific moment in my online life when I was invited to speak at an event. In a fit of low confidence, I wailed to my friend, “but there will be all these internet people and their dresses and I am not like that!” There was a lot of gin, cake and bottom lip that night. It’s only now, looking back with a great deal more self discovery that I want to shake myself silly. Not just because I was worrying about how I looked but actually, because I reduced other women to what they wore.
The event, for the record, was fascinating and every speaker taught me something that day. I have no recollection of what any of them wore. I think my only real conscious thought about any of the other people's appearances was that one had nice hair that I sort of wanted to touch but that’s not really the point. There was a lot of stylish outfits but mostly what I felt in that moment was that I was surrounded by people who made their own definitions of who they were. It helped me no end.
As a teen, I was pretty much always out of place. I was too long, too tall and entirely flat chested. When I overheard locker room talk about what boys wanted from girls, I paid too much attention. Instead of seeing deep rooted misogyny in the way some men fetishize women’s bodies, reducing them to parts designed only for their sexual pleasure, I learned to hate myself. If I turned to magazines, it just got worse.
My overwhelming memory of reading magazines was the odd pairing of women’s attributes to clothing that would suit them. You could be a power dresser and in full time work. You could be a siren with no mention of work. The best example I can think of is the fashion styling around Sex and The City. I’m fairly sure most women my age can remember ticking multiple choice questions that sorted us accordingly: slutty Samantha or New York princess Charlotte. Their styles matched their one dimensional characters. Those woman were not written to surprise us. They were written to define us.
It was only when I started to question my sexuality that I started to question my wardrobe choices. For a while, I became a lover of the capsule wardrobe. I wore linen tunics, demin shift dresses and stretchy shapeless things in dark tones. I wore grey. I wore black. My body was barely visible and that was how I felt happiest. If a dress was described as “cocoon like” I bought it in eight colours.
What I know now is that I was starting to distance myself from the male gaze that dominates so much about the way women are told they are appealing, sexy and desirable. It wasn’t for me. I was dating both men and women at this point but the idea of being attractive wasn’t processing. I couldn’t cope. So I became neutral. Neutral was safe.
Let me tell you right now, neutral was boring as hell.
I stopped existing for a while until I’d processed and that’s ok. I know a lot of women who want to be shapeless and take their silhouette away from the world. Do it. Do that and don’t feel any shame in it. You owe no one your body but yourself. Me? I had absolutely no faith in my body at all, and in some ways I still don’t. I just care less. For me, what changed was I started to realise I could express my sexuality in the way I dressed. This wasn't about sex, it was about a gender and sexual identity that I found far too late in life.
It became fun to think of style as something I could play with for the first time in my life. I shopped in the men’s section and found clothes that fit my frame so much better without the expectation that I wanted to be defined by curves I have never had. (Or at least, not ones where we are told where they are meant to be). Some days, I’m all about a cute dress but I’m teaming it with sneakers and flicking the collar up on my demin jacket. I wear red lipstick now, something I’ve never done. I grin at the joyful suprise that greets my braces and bow tie. I wear absolutely no make up most of the time but make sure my hair is wild. I play with gender expectations and I love it. I’m going to say that again, I love dressing in clothes at last.
I’ve thrown pretty in the trash. I’ve thrown the idea of being beautiful in there too. I simply don’t care. I’m not a Samantha, Carrie, Charlotte or Miranda and I doubt they were either. We are more complex and rounded than that and I’ve over being restricted to what the latest trends are. I don’t like the idea that I have to be palatable. Sure, it’s nice when someone comments that I look good or my new haircut is awesome. Specific compliments are kind of delicious but I don’t really feel a need to be attractive in the way I was told I had to be for most of my life.
That’s why it has been such a joy to work with Baabuk to create these images. When they got in contact, I explained I wasn’t really into sponsored posts. Then I saw how cute the shoes are, read their company values and saw the words '100% natural wool' and wavered. When I said “I think I want to do something visible for Pride” they applauded. Now that I can get behind: an ethical company that truly represents the people who buy their shoes. So in the interests of full disclosure, I paid for the photoshoot with the fee from this blog post and wore the shoes they sent me to test drive. I have a great deal of time for a company that feels relaxed about my tendency to litter social media and blog posts with phrases like “fuck pretty”. It’s time we defined our own terms. May it be while we raise up and shine a light on companies that are getting it right.