Fashion anxiety: a daily struggle

Image description: A woman holding shopping bags with a geometric edit on her face

You wake up in the morning – it’s a beautiful day and you’re feeling good. You get up, brush your teeth (hopefully), check the weather forecast (unless you’re a reckless maniac), open the doors of your wardrobe, and get to it. Maybe all you have on today is a Teams tute, or maybe you’re planning an exciting outing to Pret; if you’re lucky enough, you may even be heading to the Rad Cam – either way, you’re expecting an audience for your sartorial ensemble of the day. This pressure is more than you can handle, and you start trying all your clothes in their various permutations.

There’s no method to your madness as trousers, sweatshirts, scarves, and t-shirts start to fly out of your wardrobe and onto the floor in a semi-cinematic fashion. You end up throwing on a satisfactory outfit, enough to get you to the nearest coffee dispensary. On the way, you catch your reflection in a shop window and regret all of your earlier decisions. Your coat definitely does not go with the cut of your trousers, your jewellery is all wrong, you wish you were wearing a different pair of shoes, why didn’t you put on that red jumper instead, and oh my god you can’t face yourself anymore. 

You keep walking in a huff and you see someone else walking towards you, wearing a coat that resembles yours but is better, jeans in a cut that you need to have but haven’t been able to find anywhere; they’re wearing really cool sunglasses that would make your face look like the moon, and now all you want to do is go home and change but there’s no turning back now, so you keep going. Thinking of all the other outfits you could’ve possibly worn today, you realise that there is no way out, and that tomorrow you will be back where you started.

I am no fashion psychiatrist, but if any of that seemed familiar, you may have fashion anxiety.

Ana Itonishvili on Unsplash

In this culture of constant comparison and the endless influx of ‘inspiration,’ it’s difficult not to. Although it may help to know that you are not the first nor the last person to feel this way – after all, the paradox of choice is a well-known phenomenon, more than common under late capitalism. For every morning spent in sartorial despair, there are at least three videos instructing you on how to construct your perfect capsule wardrobe, four more seasonal lookbooks, a dozen articles in fashion magazines gathering outfit inspiration from TV shows and the like, and an infinite number of ‘five-minute hacks’ showing you how to cut the legs off your old trousers and reimagine them as a funky beach top.

Instagram’s new layout places shopping at the forefront of the app, reminding you to scroll through swathes of online shops of varying quality; and when you need a break from this retail non-therapy, you are confronted with an array of models pictured in weirdly cut jean shorts that somehow make their legs look even longer, of celebrities looking more put together in their cashmere loungewear than you ever will in an actual suit, of nostalgic paparazzi pictures of 90s celebrities which leave you wondering how triply oversized cargo trousers could be attractive, and yet, look at Brad and Jen, they are!

You can Marie Kondo your wardrobe, only to realise that the only thing that brings you real joy is your backless velvet dress or your fringed cowboy jacket.

Most likely, these things (guides, accounts, videos) were not created in bad faith (no comment re: Instagram). In fact, what their respective creators are striving to do is far removed from the produced effect – designed to help rather than hinder your fashion journey, they provide you with all the necessary elements for your own personal game of sartorial Oulipo. Try owning only three pairs of trousers, or constructing your outfit around a particularly autumnal colour palette, or dressing like Moira Rose c. season 3 of Schitt’s Creek x Chandler Bing c. season 1 of Friends (maybe this one is actually worth trying…). You can Marie Kondo your wardrobe, only to realise that the only thing that brings you real joy is your backless velvet dress or your fringed cowboy jacket. You can take polaroids because you can’t rely on mirrors, only to realise that you actually look worse in the picture than in your reflection, back to your anxiety square one. You can plan next day’s outfit the night before, only to wake up and realise that you absolutely do not want to wear those white jeans and that in no way does that blazer represent your mental state or inner angst today.

Photo by piotr szulawski on Unsplash

Dressing like another person, or according to another person’s rules is unlikely to help you look more like yourself

The point is that all of these rules do not target the core of fashion anxiety – dressing like another person, or according to another person’s rules is unlikely to help you look more like yourself. After all, this is exactly what most of us are trying to do – convey our personality through a particular combination of fabrics sewn together in a particular way. Not an easy task by any means. Instead of following blanket guidance, ask yourself – is this really me? Will this t-shirt over long-sleeve top combo accurately represent my personality? Does this skirt convey my peaceful post-essay-submission state? Those sunglasses definitely do say ‘I’m hungover and tired, actually,’ and that’s not a bad thing. This constant self-questioning can be odd at first, and can feel like you’re making everything worse – why overthink when you could just copy some influencer’s outfit and hope for the best? But communicating through fashion can definitely be more liberating than anxiety-inducing, so long as you realise that there are no rules, and that the only person acting as your guide is you.

It may seem difficult at first. You may not even recognise your own mental states or know what it is you’re trying to tell the world when you get dressed in the morning. It may be tempting to ‘get to know yourself’ first, and then diversify your wardrobe. Well, I don’t know about you, but I prefer to do my soul-searching and my shirt-searching in tandem.

Image credit: (modified) freestocks on Unsplash, all images modified by Josh Boddington