When we look better, we feel better and therefore we are better. This is a widely held principle that most of us have experienced firsthand, one that can perpetuate the plaguing cycle of consumerism and that is difficult to understand until you have genuinely felt unlike yourself.

I have heretofore enjoyed the superficial vicissitudes of pregnancy in most of its permutations, from the primordial but diminutive growth phase to the full-fledged basketball-under-sweater stage that I am in now and thus have not really felt unlike myself, save for on two occasions wherein I just wanted to wear clothes that reflected “the real me” (as if the current one is a temporary conduit). The first of the aforementioned clothes included these high-waist jeans, this crisp white T-shirt, shoes like these and a jacket like this one.

The second involved a pair of tailored shorts, knee-high socks, strappy sandals, a button-down shirt and a printed overcoat.

The common denominator among these occasions is that I needed the clothes to act as armor, which would mean that the definition of “the real me” is conflated because armor — a protective shield — can never get at the crux of who I really am, who any of us really are. On the contrary, it further masks our truth. What I wanted in those two settings was to prove a point, to appease my vanity and insecurity, the shouting girl inside of me who, whenever she feels at all unsafe, wants to demonstrate: “This — style — is my great quality. I’m worth something, too.”

Maybe it sounds superficial, but it’s forced me to think more deeply about why I look forward to getting dressed, why some days I care more than others how I present myself and, frankly, why I have come to own so much stuff. Because, you know, I could call the 95% of my wardrobe currently trapped in the ivory tower of pregnancy a byproduct of working in fashion, or I could be honest and call it what it is: an obsession with consumption, addiction to the high that invariably comes with new stuff and its subsequent, shallow promise of a new me.

In November, I challenged myself to take mirror selfies for 30 days, and when I look at them now to determine whether another coming-to moment presented itself similarly to the way it did last year, I am not particularly satisfied by the way I look. Every outfit is effectively the same. There is little color, and they mostly exist as a function of limitations that I have tried to offset with a multitude of accessories and coats and shoes where I can. On most days, I don’t feel like I’m wearing my own clothes or my own style, but I don’t really care. Something far bigger than me and high-rise jeans and waist belts is in progress, and whatever sartorial malaise — the banality, the sameness — that this mass has ignited is helping me to find the energetic special sauce that I’ve previously used to define looking, feeling and therefore being better, elsewhere.

Herein lies the difference between bandages (using clothes to look better) and stitches (solid self-talk to be better), surface-level medicating (a new blazer on a bad day) and cellular-level repair (getting to the heart of what is bothering me). It’s making me ask what I use my clothes to do for me and how I can do that for myself. It is also finally forcing me to live within the capsule wardrobe I have been romanticizing since last year — and to that point, let me tell you, getting dressed is E-Z when you’re rotating between two pairs of pants and a handful of the same shirt.

But I’m not an idiot.

I know myself.

And once this is over, no matter how free I might feel right now, it’s back to the dungeon of maximalism. Maybe I’m a masochist, but man, I love a frivolous skirt.

Feature photo by Edith Young; Fabiana Pigna blouse, The Row pants and Roger Vivier shoes.

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