In 1998 I was at 6th form college trying my best at my A Levels and wondering if I was in over my head with the subjects I’d picked…
- English Literature and Language, I thought it was the best of both worlds, but I hated the books we had to read.
- Communication Studies, to this day I have no understanding of what that subject was about. I remember watching clips of The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and having to tell my tutor how many different camera angles there were in one shot. I also remember words being thrown around like syntax (first time I heard that I thought my tutor was asking for Tampax) and societal dynamics.
- Sociology…. I was an idiot for picking this and an idiot for sticking with it. I should have dropped that subject like a hot potato in the first 3 seconds of entering the classroom. What was I thinking?
Anyway, regardless of the subjects any of us chose that was not the most important part of being a 6th former. Nor was the fact that we had all chosen to go on to the next stage of our educational lives. Sixth form was seen as either a steppingstone to going to university or it was buying time. It gave everyone two years to gain a better idea of what they wanted in life and more importantly what they didn’t want.
It was also a massive fashion parade! Bear in mind we’d all spent five years in a school uniform having had only the odd “own clothes day” sprinkled here and there. Own clothes days always put the fear of god into me because those were the days when the bullies had free reign of humiliating the less fortunate in the fashion world.
I remember in year 8 my Mum bought me a red and blue woollen jumper with a heart on it and I loved it. Not only had she taken the time to buy me a present but she’d picked something that I liked and wore with pride.
Did the mean kids like it? Hell no!
Was I glad to put my uniform on the next day? Yes.
Was I sad because people made me ashamed of my jumper? Too right I was sad.
In year 10 I was completely and madly in love with Crispian Mills, the lead singer and guitarist from the indie band Kula Shaker. I was going to marry him, he was going to rescue me from all of my familial torture and he was my ticket to self and social acceptance.
Crispian was famous for wearing the most outlandish and extravagant trousers and the fact that he didn’t care what people thought was incomprehensible to me and I idolised his confidence. When I watched him performing he always wore these crazy wide flares and they were never a plain colour, they were always bright, embroidered or striped! I wanted to have his confidence. I wanted to not give a flying banana what anyone thought about me and my clothes because I was something, I was something good and I was someone special.
When own ‘clothes day’ came around in 1997 I bought a pair of pink and purple striped trousers from C&A and I had Crispian Mills’s face printed on to a white t-shirt and I walked through those school doors like a flaming hot Rockstar. I was cool, I was confident and I was showing everyone that I didn’t care because Crispian Mills was an inspiration and I had gained my brave girl pants from watching his carefree persona.
Did my confidence last? No.
Did I wear those pants again? Never.
Did I wear the t-shirt again? Of course I did. I gave up on the will to be adventurous, I didn’t give up my on my heart.
In 1998, the summer before I started 6th form I remember half dreading half celebrating the notion of being able to wear what I wanted. I was now the one who was in control of what I wore and how I carried myself. I had my first ever Saturday job so I had the money to buy the clothes I wanted and feel good doing it because surely, by now we’d sifted through the dregs of educational morons and the chavs and bullies were no longer in the vicinity?
That may have been the case but it became pretty obvious that you don’t have to be a bully to disapprove of what someone is wearing and you don’t have to say it to someone’s face in order to hurt them. Chinese whispers can spread like wildfire in a very short space of time and I learnt pretty quickly that I was most definitely not buying the right clothes from the right places. Marks and Spencer’s was not the place for a sixteen year old girl to buy fashionable tops from and BHS is an instant no no for all things trouser. It was hopeless. My excitement over 6th form being the place for a new start and a new beginning for my personal fashion was the opposite of what I’d hoped for.
On one particular day and I was sat in the refectory with my friends talking about boys (we were always talking about boys) and the door opened; three girls walked in. It was like a scene from the film Mean Girls only Mean Girls hadn’t even been born at this point.
It was “the plastics” walking in fully made up, wearing the clothes that were a combination of the Spice Girls, All Saints and B*Witched. They just floated into the room with their perfect hair and perfect nails and flawless skin and every single head in the room turned and I just thought…
“If this is what I’m up against, I give up.”
I gave up because the girl in the middle of the Charlie’s Angels-esque trio had snogged a boy I had the biggest crush on and I couldn’t compete with perfection. I looked down at my BHS jeans and the jumper I’d kept from year 8 because it miraculously still fit and I thought to myself ‘Crispian Mills will come for you, any second now he’ll walk into the refectory in front of all of these people and he’ll barge past the perfect plastics and he’ll take your hand and he’ll say…’
“You look beautiful and you’re perfect as you are. Now let’s get out of here because we’ve got a tour to do and the bus is waiting outside.”
A girl can dream.
In 2000 I bagged my place at university. From the day I got the confirmation I started shopping. This was definitely a new beginning. I was going somewhere where no one knew who I was or where I came from and I was determined to make the most of the opportunity to wear whatever I wanted. I didn’t care where I shopped or what people would think because this was my time to shine, I was at university and were no chavs and no bullies and no perfect plastics. I would be surrounded by funky people wearing flares and fun jumpers…
…so how it ended up being worse than school and worse than 6th from combined I have no idea!
My housemates tried to change my views on my clothes….
- Less jeans, more skirts.
- Fewer t-shirts, more blouses with low cut buttons.
- No trainers, kitten heels instead.
Was this me? No.
Did I do what they said? Hell no!
Did it depress me that my friends wanted to change me because I didn’t look the way they wanted me to? Of course it did.
It hurts when people don’t like the way you look. It’s the first thing we’re judged on but when it comes to clothes it’s the one thing we can easily change.
I could have changed everything about me, I could have made life so much easier for myself but I didn’t. Even when I came back to uni after a weekend at home and I found every single item in my entire wardrobe had been taken and replaced by an array of clothes belonging to my housemates, I still did nothing to change my appearance. Some might say they did this as an act of love in an effort to make me look more aesthetically pleasing; but the truth is, they broke my heart. This was the one thing that cemented the fact that I was just not good enough, simply because of how I dressed.
In 2009 I got a job at full time job in an office.
Did I feel like I fitted in there, clothes-wise? Nah.
I wore jeans every day, I wore jumpers and stupid t-shirts and trainers and I bought boots from Boundary Mill and if anyone made a suggestion or a comment, positive or negative I let it go over my head because at this point I just didn’t care. Maybe it was the fact that there was nothing I could be bothered doing in order to change myself and if I didn’t feel right in what I was wearing then that was on me.
In the office I was everyone’s friend, there wasn’t one single person I didn’t speak to but when it came to nights out, I steered well clear. In the 11 years that I was there I can count on one hand how many out of office celebrations I went on, this wasn’t actually a clothes related thing, this was a personality thing, my personality.
It was the same story every time, leave the office and I turn to an invisible pumpkin. I wasn’t fun, I wasn’t interesting, I was the last person people wanted to talk to and don’t get me wrong this wasn’t just with work people, this was life in general; hen do’s, birthdays, leaving parties, just being in a group of people where there’s a celebratory atmosphere something in me just gets lost. It’s never a conscious thing and it’s never anyone else’s fault but I’m always aware of it. When I’m sitting in a bar surrounded by people who can drink and dance and party like real rock stars because they are they are wearing the right clothes, their confidence is a reminder of everything that I am not.
It’s 2020 now and it’s been a really rubbish year! My god, can it get any worse? Probably. The best part of 2020 was being made redundant. I’m sorry it really was, I wanted to leave my job for about three years and I just never made the move to see it through. I was lazy and it was convenient but I made some really good friends there and I have a lot of great memories from being at that desk but even before the redundancies were made official I knew there was no way I wanted to save my job. Instead I pulled my finger out and I got down to it and I found myself new job in a place that after just 10 minutes of being there it had already captured my heart.
When I asked my manager what the dress code was I prayed for an old lady type blouse and a below the knee skirt with “practical” shoes. I don’t know why, I’m a ward clerk in a hospital and that’s all I’d ever seen so when she said there was no uniform I was genuinely disappointed.
Did I know what the hell to wear? No I did not!
Not a flippin clue. So I bought smart pants, dresses, tops and jumpers with pretend shirt collars poking out; but on my first day I got an inkling that something here was different. I wore smart pants and a jumper. On my second day I tested out a dress with my Dr Marten boots and you know what? People commented, people said nice things. So I tried a different dress, a different top, different boots, I dressed things up, I dressed them down and now, every day when I walk through the door with a different scarf or a different dress with a different cardigan someone says that they like my outfit.
I don’t know what the deal is here, maybe at this stage I really don’t care or maybe this was the clean slate I’ve always wanted. Maybe at this point in my life, having been through the things I have, having done the things I’ve done; perhaps I really have found my brave girl pants…
…or maybe it’s just that I’m finally comfortable being in my own skin and I have nothing to prove to anyone through the way I dress. Maybe that’s why I’ve never changed the contents of my wardrobe to satisfy others.
As we go through life we change, our likes and dislikes evolve, we move from one place to another, school, college, university; we change jobs and we wear the clothes that we think are appropriate. We dress up and we dress down for every occasion, whether it’s an interview or a Christmas party we wear what feels right…
…but one thing remains constant and that’s the fact that we are all just human beings, we’re all different and you can’t dress that up or down because you shouldn’t have to. The only thing we can do with who we are is be comfortable with it, maybe even happy…
…and that’s half the battle.