TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains information about mental illness and anxiety disorders which may be triggering to some readers.
As a fashion writer, I’m more privy than most to the inner workings of the industry.
Despite knowing the tricks of the trade when it comes to contributing to a fashion bible or going backstage on a fashion show, my anxiety-ridden psyche is still rattled with nerves when it comes to some of the most basic styling tasks, including choosing what to wear.
So, when the annual Afterpay Australian Fashion Week rolled around I was overwhelmed by the constant and intrusive thoughts regarding outfit choices. This trait certainly isn’t healthy by any means, and the all consuming nature of my anxiety sent me spiralling.
I was bombarded with negative thoughts, leading to many sleepless nights and a sense of my perturbation was felt by those closest around me. My headspace was directed from a place where I felt I had to “prove” myself to the industry through what I was wearing.
Because of my job title and role at one of Australia’s most prestigious fashion publications, I felt it was my responsibility to look sharp, tailored and structured, like The Row wearing and Bottega Veneta swinging journalists from international outlets that I had so glamorised and idolised because of a street style shot.
While I’m still coming to terms with my own sense of style, I felt like I was in a position where I was supposed to be a role model for what’s on trend.
Like heavily glamorised movies, TV shows, and even Instagram would have us believe, I had wondered if a prerequisite for my attendance at fashion week meant showcasing my latest designer purchases, or wearing an outfit that cost more than a month’s rent—and God forbid I reveal that my wardrobe was predominantly purchased on Depop?
As much as I wanted to be the picture-perfect definition of what a fashion journalist should be—complete with the perinerally stylish wardrobe and enviable aesthetic of my personal heroes like Alexa Chung, Willa Bennett or Liana Satenstein—I found myself confounded by my indecision and own lack of identity.
So, rather than lose myself in the frivolous notion of being ruled by my clothes, I decided to set myself a challenge. Having been a self proclaimed 2014 Tumblr girl, my own personal style is certainly influenced by the reign of the Hadid-Jenners and 90s poster-girls like Dua Lipa, Iris Law and Mia Regan.
When Bella Hadid announced back in January that her rebellious, and sometimes questionable style choices were a conscious move for her mental health, I knew that the ethos of ‘dressing for myself’ was the only way I’d be able to stay sane during a manic week.
While there are some major differences between Hadid and myself. I for one am not one of the highest paid supermodels or hounded by paparazzi, yet her comments around the intense anxiety surrounding getting dressed in the morning is one I resonated with.
Which is why I chose to sartorially reference and emulate Bella’s eclectic street style during AAFW.
The result was liberating. I never felt constrained to dress according to a prescribed set of pieces that I had originally felt were fitting for a fashion journalist. I could actually have fun with clothing, often choosing things that I thought would never work together, or were too afraid to try under any circumstances.
As I ascended the steps of Carriageworks on the final day, exhausted, saturated from the constant rain, feet swollen from my chosen footwear, I knew that the decision to not abide by the expectations I had set for myself was the right one.
The week didn’t come without it’s downfalls however. One night saw me have a full mental breakdown purely because of how exhausted I was and the shirt I had envisioned myself wearing had been left out on the washing line for two weeks in the pouring rain.
This is the side of the fashion industry that we don’t discuss. It can involve early starts and late finishes, a hustle to get the job done (and look good while doing it) and in my case, a lot of self deprecation and doubt along the way.
The fashion industry has a long way to go to strip the veneer of luxury and exclusivity that surrounds it. To do my part, I’m sharing the five lessons I learnt by dressing like Bella Hadid during fashion week.
1. Dressing for yourself is only half the battle
Fashion is naturally a performative art, with every piece of clothing a part in telling a narrative. I found that in “dressing for myself”—which I interpreted as not conforming to society’s conventional understanding of what was ‘stylish’— that I was cosplaying as someone other than myself.
The clothes I wore, though innately in tune with my own style, weren’t pieces that I would have necessarily gravitated towards if I wasn’t doing this challenge.
Out of all of the outfits, my Day 4 evening look (which included a pair of thrifted white Cargo pants, a white button down and chartreuse halter neck) was probably where I felt most myself, and in the grand scheme of things probably the least ‘trendy’ or ‘stylish’, in my opinion
2. Imposter syndrome is very real
On the second and third day of fashion week, my confidence definitely began to wane. I began comparing myself to the industry veterans, who wore brands that were certainly out of my price range and who posed effortlessly for street style photographers.
I compared myself to the models, who looked so effortless as they ran between shows in their ‘off duty’ wardrobes. I began to question my place there and doubt whether the outfits that I had put together even looked good. Was everyone talking about how badly I was dressing and didn’t even tell me?
In therapy, they tell you that one way to combat these intrusive thoughts is by redefining the difference between your imagination, and reality. I realised that I was probably experiencing the same set of emotions as almost everyone attending fashion week and began thinking back to why I started this challenge in the first place. Dressing for myself wasn’t supposed to overcome my anxiety, however it was a step in validating my visceral reaction.
Even though I was dressing for myself, I was lacking the very important step in having confidence in myself, which although sounds cliché, truly makes an outfit.
3. You don’t have to have a stylist to dress well, but knowing a few definitely helps
Like Bella Hadid, I also haven’t worked with a stylist for two years—in my case, it’s about 22 years but who’s counting.
Rather than seeking the help of a professional to pull together outfits and dress me, I instead chose to lean on the advice of a few good friends who work as stylists to support me when I began overthinking what I was wearing. My love language is words of affirmation, so I relied on my support system to help comfort me when I felt out of depth.
Overall, I found that this ethos is the only approach I’ll take when it comes to dressing. I no longer feel that I have to fit inside a prescribed box, or subscribe to a certain trend. I’ve come to realise that my self confidence will always be a work in progress, just like my wardrobe.