I’m having some trouble getting dressed lately. This must sound like a fairly benign disclosure, particularly for someone who has essentially made a career of speaking publicly about the extremely private. But this particular bout of difficulty is ripping the rug out from under me because I’ve spent so many years believing that who I am is what I wear, making a case for style as a litmus test for identity. This practice goes beyond the personal — it’s the basis of a business and a brand. So what happens when it stops working?
I get out of bed and head towards my closet, excited to get dressed, but once there, I find myself paralyzed. It feels a lot like writer’s block — you have all the words and yet, you cannot compose even a single sentence.
Everyone experiences these spells of un-inspiration among their own stuff. You feel blah, you’re anxious, you’re busy — for whatever reason, you don’t want to think about getting dressed. So you rely on your closet tricks, the top-shelf, blah-proof garments that always work. Most of us have these tricks. For me, they’re high-waist jeans and striped tees, button-down shirts and denim cut-offs. I’ve even pulled out some newer ones, shin-length socks and tea-length dresses, but none of it works anymore. So what do I do? Can I do anything?
To try, I tracked how I dressed for a week to figure out if it would tell me anything my mind wasn’t yet computing. Here’s what the log looked like:
I feel foggy. My stomach is slightly bloated, my thighs are kind of hairy. My inclination is to wear something bright, because it seems pretty nice out, but I can’t bring myself to. So I rely on trick number one: a new linen shirt, which I basically rebuy every single Spring, and denim cut-offs that I have had for years. Add shin-length socks and suede loafers and I feel good enough to walk out the door.
Foggy again, but I don’t feel like dressing so plainly, so I’m gonna fight the fog. I can fight the fog! Today I’ll wear a gingham shirtdress that basically comes with matching pants. But now I’m relying on someone else’s vision. This isn’t a look I put together, it’s a look that was put together for me. Completely prescribed, but that no insurance will cover. For what it’s worth, I feel excellent.
It’s raining, but if I have to see another sweater, I’m giving up my passport and moving to the sun. I put on high-waist white jeans with a striped T-shirt and a Pepto-pink blazer. I hate how I look. The clothes are wearing me, I’m not wearing them.
This tiger top and zebra skirt are the first pieces to catch my eye today and that’s why I’m wearing them. Easy default. Feeling? Neutral.
One last ditch effort: a green folk skirt with a similarly colored tank top, plus satin sandals and a clutch. Again, I don’t feel much like myself, but it’s good.
Deduction: It seems I felt my best in looks that weren’t mine (see: Tuesday, Friday). This scares the shit out of me — am I trying to escape myself? What am I running away from? For each time that I rely on a trick and it works, there is almost always another time where I do the same and it doesn’t. This was true between Monday (when I felt okay) and Wednesday, when I wore the striped shirt and jeans. I spent the majority of that day wanting to go home to dream up a spectacle that would eradicate the paradoxical doldrums of a pink blazer.
The thing is, if I had gone home, nothing would have transpired. I’d have gone to my closet, looked around at clothes that I had deliberately selected to live in there and thought to myself: Who is this person? I think this is bigger than a lack of fashion stimulation; I’m outgrowing the identity I have carried through so much of my 20s. But it’s not just my identity because of what has been built — both personal and not — around it. If that sounds dramatic, it’s because it is. Not knowing how to dress has thrown me down an existential spiral that is forcing me to wake up to life. But it’s still so cloudy, so it’s probably best that I wait for even just a sliver of clarity — a pop of excitement, maybe a pair of shoes or a weird winged dress — anything that will display itself and remind me that even through the most radical change, you never cease to exist. I am who I am — we are who we are. I hope.
Photos by Edith Young