I Think I Have an Unhealthy Relationship With My Clothes

I was rifling through my carry-on bag when my boyfriend asked me what was wrong.

“I’m just so over this,” I breathed from the floor of our AirBnB. “I don’t want to wear my fucking pajamas to a bar again!”

We were three days into our four-day trip to San Francisco, which had been heavenly except for one small snag: We didn’t know the weather would be literally perfect. Blue sky, no clouds, light breeze perfect. At first, this was a delightful surprise — the moment we walked out of SFO and into a balmy 75, we were euphoric. We couldn’t wipe the grins off our faces! Or, we soon discovered, the sweat.

As our Lyft breezed past the sun-dappled hills of South San Francisco, windows down, it quickly set in that we’d packed completely wrong. Blame the inaccurate weather app or our inability to conceptualize “warm” in February, it didn’t really matter. What mattered was our bags were stuffed with sweaters and the four outfits I’d carefully chosen for myself were now problems to solve.

The solution turned out to be two cotton T-shirts I’d brought for sleeping, and by our second-to-last day, as I sat crumpled by my bag, I was so resentful of those grimy little T-shirts I wanted to cry. My irritation at my poor packing job had rattled me beyond reason, and the only thing keeping me from actually crying was the obvious absurdity of doing so. We were in San Francisco! It was beautiful out! We were having so much fun! Who the hell cares what I’m WEARING?

Hello, I’m me, nice to meet you.

The reason I cared was obvious — I use clothing to communicate something about who I am, and as armor to guard who I think I am. That weekend, I felt unprotected. Reuniting with all my old friends in uncomfortable, patched-together outfits made me feel vulnerable and unlike myself. But as I verbalized that to Avi, it was hard to skirt around the vapid implication of it all. I knew my desire to self-express with style wasn’t inherently wrong, but letting it ruin a trip felt sacrilegious. Worse: utterly shallow. After all, he’d packed wrong too, and he was doing just fine.

And it’s not that I wasn’t. I remember that trip for the near-utopian escape that it was, but I also remember the back-burner irritation I felt all weekend at not getting to dress how I wanted to. Even then, I knew it was silly. I knew that it revealed more about my self-esteem than it did my packing abilities, but I wasn’t eager to tack on more self-criticism, so I channeled my energy into wishing I could turn back time. Very helpful.

And I think that may have a lot less to do with clothes than it does with me.

A month later, I read about an economic theorist named E.F. Schumacher. I was looking into his perspective on modern consumption, but something he said about materialism zapped me right back to San Francisco: “Buddhism is ‘The Middle Way’ and therefore in no way antagonistic to physical well-being. It is not wealth that stands in the way of liberation but the attachment to wealth; not the enjoyment of pleasurable things but the craving for them.”

I immediately saw myself in his words, and the way my self-image wilted without its counterpart. That was attachment.

If you subscribe to the idea that fashion is a means of expression, it’s easy to see it as an inherent good, as something that’s always capable of lifting us up and making us feel good and whole. But that’s a tenuous paradigm, isn’t it? Because sometimes clothes don’t fit, or we don’t have the resources to buy them or the time to choose them, and what then? When we’ve made, to use Shumacher’s words, the enjoyment of a pleasurable thing a requirement to feel like ourselves, what happens when it’s taken away?

My San Francisco meltdown is one answer, and it’s all the proof I need that my relationship with personal style needs to graduate to something else. I think that may have a lot less to do with clothes than it does with me. I will probably never stop appreciating the power of style, but if I don’t appreciate its limitations, too, I could rob myself of an important truth: I may love my clothes, I may hate my clothes, but I am not my clothes. I can’t imagine an outfit as liberating as that.

Photo provided by Haley Nahman.

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  • Ooooh loved this Haley, I definitely can relate.

  • Clare

    SO relatable– there have been way too many vacations where I’m kicking myself for packing light, functional clothing instead of my funky “cool girl” pieces (that I have absolutely no room for), and then I see glamorous cosmopolitan women on the street and immediately feel like an inferior midwesterner who knows nothing about fashion. And then of course, I feel silly for spending energy thinking about that.

    This was a great wakeup call to the fact that I desperately need to work on this relationship as well! Thank you!

    • I’m absolutely dying over “inferior midwestern miscreant” because I’ve had the same exact thought so many times. One of the most memorable times was as a teenager in Disneyland when my parents still had some sway over my actions and they all but threatened me with bringing “practical” and “comfortable” items (as I had a tendency towards thrifted vests and cheap, hot pink slingbacks that I couldn’t walk in). I wanted to wear a sign saying “THIS ISN’T NORMALLY WHAT I WEAR I PROMISE”

      • Kiks

        I love this comment. That sign is still what I sometimes want to shout when I’m traveling.

  • magiblin

    I so relate to this! I’m travelling to Paris and Amsterdam for the first time in April, and I currently have a GoogleDoc of all of the clothes I want to buy for the trip.

  • hollygoeslightly22

    As someone who lives near SF, the Bay Area has unpredictable weather and micro-climates. Layering is essential, and It’s borderline ridiculous because you find yourself packing extra clothes in your car/bag. A day out usually requires a base layer, a sweater, carrying your jacket, and maybe packing a light scarf. Or gloves.

    • Adrianna

      I grew up in the tri state area and have lived in NYC for 10 years. SF weather is truly baffling

      • Cristina

        Haha, try Oklahoma. Where it’s literally snowing one day and 70 degrees the next! It’s insane!

        • Adrianna

          oh believe me, it’s beginning to be like that in NYC. 80 degree days or weeks in October and February. Snowstorms in mid April. Yay climate change

  • Andrea

    LOVE this. And I would have 100% also cried about my outfits if I didn’t have the right ones for a trip, but I probably would have gone out and bought something about of panic and insecurity that I couldn’t afford or did not need, and then feel worse because I wasted my money!

    I have so much anxiety about how I dress, because it is very important to me how I am perceived by the world. I always feel more confident when I look “fashion-y,” but some morning I wake up and I’m tired and can only mentally handle picking out basic black pants and one of my 5 gray sweaters. It totally boils down to insecurity and wanting other people to think highly of me. I’m almost jealous of the women I know who don’t give a fuck at all about their clothes–they always seem so carefree and content.

    I’ve been looking into the capsule wardrobe thing because I’m tired of being stressed about what I’m wearing but ugh! I love clothes! I love accessories! I love variety! But I hate that I wish I had a lot of money to always wear great clothes 🙁

  • Ap4rna

    I relate to this so much!! Always overpacking but somehow still need to shop when I get to the destination because I didn’t bring enough/the right dresses, shorts, [fill in the blank], etc.

  • Madeline C

    it me.

  • Ann

    Super Interesting…. Im taking a break from work right now and have totally noticed that I haven’t worn more than half my clothes. My work clothes are extremely casual so its not that they are too dressy, but I don’t feel the pressure to come up with something new every day or not repeat things that worked/felt good/looked good. The idea of a uniform is floating in my mind and that doesn’t mean boring, If the giant wookie sweater worked yesterday… rock it again today. Also, that warm spell in Feb in SF was an extreme even for us…. and its true SF is the land of layering. Never leave the house without options for warmer or cooler. We were all caught off guard too……

    • Jessica

      That heatwave really weirded me out.

  • Alex

    As my mother once told me: you should use things, and not let things use you. Easier said than done: I am very particular about my clothes, only have clothes that I love in my wardrobe, and I can get upset if something breaks beyond repair or gets lost (I am insomniac and have lost countless pieces of clothing and jewellery while sleep-walking).

    I guess for me the turning point was starting to hike in the mountains. It came with two issues: having to carry everything in a backpack for days, and having to accept that practical clothing tends to be ugly (hiking boots anyone?). I now can switch on and off my “dressed up” attitude more easily. Oh and I learned to pack light for weekends 😉

  • While your thinking is superb and your conclusions commendable, I could not help but to sigh at the fact that we share a micro-philosophy I cannot afford to have. In small places I come from, went to school to, played in, dreamed at and left, not dressing up or at least appearing to be stylish or interesting in a way that adds value to the people you are catching up with is a serious crime. One that I almost always commit. Always have. While I do care about fashion, my choice of outfits reflects practical aspects and personal desires. So I often get/got berated or looked down upon for not using these opportunities to dazzle, preen and decorate other people’s lives. While fighting one’s insecurities is really valiant, maybe it is better to keep in mind that simply existing happily with yourself will bring you trouble too. From those who cannot but notice you can.

  • eva

    i am you, you are me! thank you for articulating these feelings we share.

  • Olivia Black

    I also suffer from this feeling in my day-today life! I feel as though there could be a few pieces I could get to *elevate* or *up my style game*, but, as a student, I don’t have the $ to spend on clothing. Even then, if I do have the money to buy a nice item, I usually suffer the body-image blow when I go to the mall, feeling silly and downtrodden when nothing fits me the way I hoped it would in my head.
    The way I’ve found I can best combat this is just going to thrift stores. It makes me feel more in control, like I am finding and wearing the clothes, the clothes aren’t wearing me (emotionally,phys, etc… if that makes sense)
    Anyway yeah, it feels good to find those ways to really enjoy finding and wearing and putting together outfits. It also feels good to remind yourself that clothes aren’t you, they are an expression of you. Yay! self expression! woohoo

  • Ana Maia

    if i go to an event where people use the opportunity to wear something bold and different like its coachella and im not as “well dressed” i will feel terrible, even if it was my decision to wear a casual, comfortable, no brainer look when i left home. what bothers me about this situation is my opinion about my outift can partly depend on how OTHER PEOPLE are dressed.

    • Suzan

      Oh I relate to this! It’s annoying/exciting because you won’t know how you’ll be feeling about your outfit until you have arrived at the destination (the whole over/underdressed conundrum).

      What helps me in these situations – because I too often opt for a casual (yet polished) look – is to imagine the “better” dressed people secretly thinking to themselves “damn look at here being all comfortable in her own skin, looking comfortable and at ease. I wish I hadn’t put on this itchy top/heavy earrings/etc.” They might not think that, but it helps to not assume other people are thinking the worst.
      It also helps me to realize that the times I do go all out I often feel miserable because I feel like I look like a cockatoo. Even when it’s an appropriate look. Helps with the couldawouldashoulda feeling 🙂

  • Sarah Bauer

    Something about short-term travel brings out the grimy in most of us. She has overeaten and soiled another top with arm pit stains. Her hair is windblown and greasy, her eyes squinty from staring at Google Maps or hurried texts from local friends on her phone for the nineteenth time that day. No amount of beautiful clothing could resolve her aggravated sense of transposition. She is herself, but now more visibly unrooted.

  • Olivia Lauren Hawk Moore

    haley I feel frequently that you and I share a brain and I am eternally grateful that your half of our brain is far more eloquent than the half I have. these are good words I’ve been trying to put together this week.

  • Lizlemon

    It’s always reassuring when someone shares your neurosis.

    I remember reading a quote at a Grace Kelly that she said there was no such thing as retail therapy because it’s nerve wracking to try to choose the right thing.

    I can tell how good my self esteem is by how long I fuss before going out.

    • sartreadie

      Oh my goodness I relate so much to your last point! It is amazing how long I can spend fussing about an outfit before realising that is not the problem on that day.

    • Kiks

      I haven’t been shopping much lately due to budget constraints, and I actually do feel a lot less anxious. Also I’ve dug through my closet and brought back some great investment pieces from almost ten years ago which I’m actually so happy to have back in the rotation. It’s made me realize the value of buying a few things I really love versus spur-of-the-moment things to temporarily make me feel good about wearing something new.

      • Lizlemon

        I’ve found the same thing when I couldn’t stop because of a budget constraint. I think you get more creative and have more enjoyment with dressing when you have no other choice.

  • Cristina

    I think investing all of who we are in identifying with anything outside of ourselves can be applied to a lot of things. I recently got in a conversation with a women who was having a near atomic meltdown because she found out one of her social media guru’s was a fraud. She was really torn up about it and extremely angry. I mean, if a stranger on social media holds all of your identity as a person, there’s a much bigger problem. I was late to the “french girls are awesome” party but went on this French spiral to look like one. I finally got over it and now realize that i enjoy minimal makeup for MYSELF and because I feel my best than because I want to look like a French girl. I’ve stopped beating myself up that my fashion style isn’t yours, or Harlan or whoever because I feel at my best in athleisure. I am a women of sweatpants and I LOVE it. Very thoughtful article Haley!

  • Caroline Christianson

    Yes to this. And practically, because we aren’t perfect, pack SO MUCH JEWELRY

  • B.H.

    Love the overall message here. As an almost unrelated side note, as a Canadian I’ve found the key to all travel is layers, layers of all kinds where an outfit becomes three in one, and can be dismantled to suit warm weather or added to for unexpected flurries.

  • Emily Rose

    THANK YOU for sharing. I can relate to this on so many levels and it’s nice to know (based on this article and the comments) that I’m not alone in this.

    E.g.: I was going out on the town for a friend’s birthday last weekend and I felt the need to change between dinner and going out. All of my friends going were dressed up in skirts and I was sporting a super casual look with black pants a sweater and a denim jacket. Even though I know I looked alright it still made me feel less put together and less confident. And then I felt silly because the night wasn’t about what I was wearing, it was about celebrating my friend! Sometimes I lose sight about enjoying the company around me and focus rather on the image I’m conveying instead. When in all reality nobody REALLY cares, your personality should shine through the clothes you’re wearing.

  • Mariana Rodrigues

    At least you’re very good at pinpointing the reason of you anxiety Haley! I went trough the same feeling as you when I was a teenager. Yes fashion is a great way of self-expression but not the only one. Fear of judgment? Hey, you’re gonna be judged anyway even if you just stand still and breathe! Maybe it would be a good challenge if you dressed up in a style that typically you wouldn’t label as “yourself” every now and then; I once had to take jobs in which I couldn’t dress the way I wanted, and it sure was a good remedy to let go of that hahah!
    But for real, wearing clothes as an armor has many tricky sides to it…
    Great articles as always 🙂

  • A perfect article to read as I plot my next big closet purge.

  • Erin S

    In the last sentence, you could replace “clothes” with “job” and it would be just as poignant: I may love my job, I may hate my job, but I am not my job.

    • Haley Nahman


  • Alicia Celeste

    I have been thinking about this SO much lately. I feel exactly the same way you do – ” I use clothing to communicate something about who I am, and as armor to guard who I think I am.” So it is also difficult for me to separate the effect that not having what I want to wear has on my mood. This not only started to happen when I was travelling, but also in my regular, every day life (in SF!). It got to the point where I was spending too much money on new items – that I did not need. I realized that I needed to start to focus on what it was that I was actually doing – why was I going crazy with spending on clothing?

    Nowadays, with the prevalence of content geared towards one’s image (especially in fashion and beauty of course), it’s hard not to make comparisons about who you are, versus who is being represented in media. Not a new concept for sure – but the fact that there is also so much going on around counteracting that (body positive campaigns, you are you and you are beautiful, natural beauty etc…) it’s still hard to get on board – not because I disagree, far from it! I wish I could just let go and be happy with what I have and what I look like and who I am – it just takes time. So all that to say, thanks for writing this – it helps to have other women out there expressing reflections that many of us have, but never really talk about it or receive validation. Love your pieces, Haley!

  • I relate to this on every level. The amount of times I’ve had a completely unreasonable meltdown because I can’t find the right outfit? No big deal in reality, but I can’t seem to convince myself that THE WORLD WILL NOT END if I don’t wear an outfit that is 10/10.

  • Holly Lyons

    I had the same experience- on my first trip to LONDON of all places. This discomfort in the background about my poor packing choices….that I still feel when I look at the pictures from the trip :((((( This experience was relatable. I’m still chewing on your conclusion though. Haha….I just want BETTER packing solutions. Would love some MR tips on that…….but also I just think it will be hard to ever fully LET GO when I’m wearing something that is letting me down so much.

    • JennyWren

      For short trips, I find it useful to have one or two “centerpiece” items (a great jacket and or dress, or a statement skirt) and then basics you can pull around them. Oh, and take more jewellery than you think you’d need, because it packs small and then you can just wear the same navy t-shirt three times in a row.

  • Lauren

    I travel for about 1/3 of the year with only a carry-on suitcase. (Literally typing this from Berlin right now.) If it weren’t for a Refinery29 article formula from YEARS ago I would be completely lost. (For reference: https://www.refinery29.com/71259)

    Without getting too nerdy, I’ve realized that the key is to pack in ITEMS instead of set OUTFITS. I make sure that no cut overlaps (for example, I’d never bring two pairs of skinny pants; instead bring one skinny and one bootcut) so every piece offers a different volume/opportunity for expression. If I feel confident in every piece, it makes life so much easier. Otherwise I’d probably have a Haley-style meltdown too 🙁

  • brabra1

    Soooooo relatable. Clothes could easily ruin a vacation for me, but more frequently they just ruin a night, as in going to an event and realizing I didn’t get the memo and now all I can think about is how under or overdressed I am.

  • leahpapa

    As the Reverend Mother RuPaul says, we’re born naked, and the rest is drag: all personal presentation is a type of communication, costuming, armoring. My preoccupation with what I’m wearing is best summarized by Cooley’s Looking-Glass Paradigm: I’m not who I am; I’m not who you think I am; I am who I think YOU think I am. I’m constantly trying to conjure an identity in the eye of my beholder, and when I think I’ve failed — “I look unremarkable and therefore AM unremarkable,” — I’ve often felt bewildered. I have literally thought that perfectly enjoyable evenings full of friends and food and and love and laughter were failures, simply because I didn’t like what I was wearing. It’s as if I’m both costume designer and star of the movie I imagine others are watching, one in which I need to evoke specific interpretations about my character through her dress. (And, yes, I hear the narcissism in that, when the reality is that we are all the stars of our own “movies”; surely more than 99% of the “audience” I was dressing for was too caught up in their own starring role to even notice, let alone interpret me.)

    My young children have done much to alter my thinking, simply by introducing chaos and unpredictability into my system of (fantasized) Perfectly Self-Costumed Moments. I can’t count the number of times I premeditated and carefully planned The Outfit — the perfect complement to the event, the occasion, the venue, etc. — only to have it puked on, pooped on, branded by a sweet potato-covered hand, baptized by a spray of pureed peas. Usually I had to change into something clean, comfortable, non-editorial, and banal. And I had a great time, anyway. Last anniversary with the hubs, a combination of nasty weather and unexpected family hiccups meant that my adorable costume sat in the closet, and my unwashed hair, unmade face, Patagonia fleece, yoga pants, and rain boots went out for a night that I’ll probably remember for the rest of my days.

    When I get invited to an event in certain spaces and with certain folk, my first response is still (usually), What will I wear? What will tell them what I want them to know about me? I’m trying to notice that voice, not to judge it, and to listen to what it tells me about what brings me joy and what doesn’t; what makes me feel fragile, silenced, or invisible; where I want to put my energies and attention where they’ll be most rewarded. It may all be drag, but it doesn’t have to be a drag 😉

    • Haley Nahman

      You’re so wise, I loved this, thank you!!

      • leahpapa

        Thank you! I was so moved by this post, because your insights and self-awareness – your capacity to explore your own ambivalence – are wisdom I sorely could have used earlier in my life. It’s quite a thing on a site that is, in part, about Lewks to interrogate Lewking in general, not to judge or to condemn or to valorize but simply to say, with curiosity and appreciation, What’s at work here? Which is why I <3 Team MR 🙂

    • Alexa M

      What you wrote about feeling a little like you’re in a movie is true for me too, except that for me the way I’m dressed is also part of a larger awareness of the ~aesthetic~ of the moment I’m in – I’ve been at other people’s houses and found myself fixing mood lighting and playlists because I want the memory of that moment to be aesthetically pleasing…

    • rachel

      Love a good fashion/sociology mashup! I wrote my senior thesis on it, and while I focused more on the likes of Goffman (we are just putting on costumes to pass as the image we want to be), I love the idea of integrating Cooley into it!

    • Paige Kay

      Please write a book. I promise I will buy it.

      • leahpapa

        Aww, thanks!

  • Rockrenee

    The same happened with me while back, whilst visiting my relatives, it fastly can errupt in a huge mess. For all of you out there, I can only suggest finding balance in between.

    Rock Renee Blog

  • Ana Karen

    Extremely relatable! Thank you so much for writing this Haley.

  • such a good read! I’ve never related to a piece more; when my clothes/outfits don’t feel right I don’t feel like myself and it honestly ruins my entire day, making them waaaay too important to my image/identity. I’m definitely going to have several mental breakdowns when I’m in Spain next week, where it’s raining all week long and I still have no idea what to wear!!!

    • b

      I live in Spain and yes it is very rainy right now! Hot tip: sneakers are in and so are trenchcoats, which also happen to be the ideal outfit for rain. Stay comfy and have fun!! x

  • Elizabeth Beanland

    The takeaway of this piece reminds me of Amelia’s fashion week experiment where she wore the same thing days in a row. I LOVE that MR is deconstructing the ways personal style relates to self-esteem. For me, my stubborn expectation that every single outfit MUST communicate who I am got to a point where I wouldn’t make it to a class on time, I’d run late for work, I’d be a flustered hot mess once I met up with my friends because I’d been rummaging through a closet devoid of options. We just wanted to go dancing!

    After some reflection, I realized that the beauty of Who I Am is also communicated through my actions and how I carry myself beyond aesthetics. Frankly, I choose to prioritize those.

    And looking on point when it happens is still something to celebrate.

    • megzzz31

      agreed! i also love MR articles where you deconstruct how personal style relates to self esteem.

  • Emily

    “Because sometimes clothes don’t fit, or we don’t have the resources to buy them or the time to choose them, and what then? When we’ve made, to use Shumacher’s words, the enjoyment of a pleasurable thing a requirement to feel like ourselves, what happens when it’s taken away?” I really like this section of this piece, particularly. I recently moved across the country and started my first real job, and thus became financially independent. Living in NYC, where many people are v stylish, arts salaries are low, and rent and food are very, very expensive, I suddenly felt not only that I couldn’t really afford to dress how I wanted, but also that everyone else COULD, which made me feel more out of step. I’ve had to try to recenter my thoughts around this, because my budget just doesn’t allow for me to buy and wear everything that would express who I am through clothes (at least this season’s clothes) but I’m still me! It’s strange that clothes can do so much to communicate that, and yes, hard when we can’t afford to buy them and thus are not afforded that common marker of identity.

    • Sluisma

      I imagine the thrift stores in NYC have some really cool things…another idea.. with a little creativity ( YouTube videos are inspirational and take you step by step) you can take some simple inexpensive pieces and create some really unique artistic clothing that express “you” and have some fun while doing it

  • Rhia

    As many times as I’ve knelt on the floor of my closet with absolute frustration and near tears at not being able to get dressed, THIS is the best was to explain it. Thank you! I’m thinking of sharing your article with my boyfriend to give him some insight into where my head is at in these situations. And I’m also trying to let it go and just LIVE when I can.

  • Amy L Campbell

    Haley this is so good

  • C. Killion

    Brilliant and insightful. Thank you.

  • Sluisma

    It’s the perfect problem! When this happens to me, I have the perfect reason to justify a little vacation shopping and buy myself an outfit, or even just a new top. I get something local, and have a wonderful time wearing it, and take it home as a momento of a wonderful vacation. It’s always a win win!

  • Victoria

    This has never felt as true as I left home this morning for a 3 days trip and realised on the way that I packed COMPLETELY WRONG. I immediately felt the urge to go shopping during lunch time to remediate that, albeit knowing perfectly that hanging around H&M desperately looking for something more appropriate will not help my self estimate.

    • Victoria

      Also, thanks for introducing Brain Pickings !!! So good!

  • Aydan

    I think I used to be like this but have been able to get beyond it—by uniform dressing!! I know what my fave clothes are that make me look and feel good and now I just bring a mix (with layers if cold) to wear regardless of weather and it works!! I always feel better on vacation now!!

  • Jjean

    My God, every line of this resonates with me. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve felt like my day wasn’t quite as perfect as it could have been, because of the outfit I was wearing for it. And that looks mortifyingly shallow and vacuous when writing down….

  • Suzan

    Beautiful article Haley!
    Of course this is not the point of your article but I’m obsessed/fascinated how to pack most efficiently yet versatile (stylewise). It helps to choose layered outfits to bring, where the layers on their own are nice too. Even better if all the layers of the different outfits can be interchanged (so not an entire individual look for every day) so there are more options to style. Sometimes I surprise myself with an interesting combination because of it, that I wouldn’t have thought of at home.

    It’s good to be aware of your attachment to clothing and accessories and a certain style that you “must” exude in general. Right now I’m on a very low income, while searching for a job, so I decided there is no budget at all for clothing, make-up and accessories, just for some basic care products. I also decided that that is okay for now, because I have a full closet! Really trying hard to quench the thirst of reinventing (or perfecting, completing) my wardrobe like I always did (and which I enjoyed, but it’s also good to take a break from it, even if it stems from necessity/being low on money). And to focus less on having to have certain items as a means to confirm my personality/mood outwardly.

  • Chess

    I love Schumacher! I’m an engineer, and I think he ought to be required reading for all engineering and economics courses to be honest. Highly highly recommend

    Also, he’s responsible for escalating a discussion with the CEO of the company I work almost to fire-able incivility when I mentioned something about Schumacher’s philosophy, and the CEO smirked and said “Ummmm that’s a racing car driver, I think you mean Schopenhauer”. UMMmmmm I DON’T THINK I DO COCKWOMBLE

  • Anne

    Perfect timing as I start to pack for a visit to my friend in NYC who seems to always have the perfectly curated outfit for every situation (because she is at home) and how I always find myself feeling inadequate even though I KNOW that I can’t possibly pack for every circumstance in a carry on and sometimes you just have to make do. This time I’m packing exactly as I do every time I leave for the airport for work instead of trying to pack like I’m trying to keep up with her choices; a couple of pairs of pants, a second shoe option, and lots of tops that go with either pant/shoe combo in case I change my mind. I’m sure I’ll have my moments, but I know I will look great and appropriate for any situation. Thanks for the reminder.

  • vss

    I adore this piece. You are so articulate and I admire how you can explain- rationally- things we all feel. In my experience with packing regret, I feel bad about myself because I want to spend vacation shopping for better clothes to wear immediately. Wanting to spend vacation shopping makes me feel frivolous and vain.

    Also, since it’s fan month at MR, I may as well say this-I’ve already told my boyfriend that you’re the voice of our generation and I hope to one day read a book of your essays. I love your work.

  • Kiks

    TRUE STORY: Last fall, I was in the city and had dreamed up a really cool outfit featuring my Man Repeller pink velvet loafers with grey ankle socks and a mid-length skirt.
    It turned out to be a heat wave but I wore the outfit + shoes anyway and walked all over the city looking SO fly.
    I also got a blister on the back of my heel — even with socks, my feet were so sweaty because it was like 30 degrees Celsius.
    Three days (and slightly more sensible shoes) later, that blister had nonetheless developed an infection so severe it spread to the surrounding flesh. My ankle and foot were so swollen I could not wear any shoes at all. I had cellulitis, a soft tissue infection that can lead to sepsis if not treated.
    I spent the last day of my trip in a hospital bed getting IV antibiotics and bawling because the pain was so severe. My skin looked like it was going to burst.

    I did get a ton of compliments on that outfit though, so like… 🤷🏼‍♀️

  • tamara winawer

    i have learned to free myself from the concept of “outfits” (especially when i pack) and instead go for basics…making sure that i love each and every piece. then it’s simply a matter of throwing on a piece of this and a piece of that. the key to making this work…wild scarves , big earrings, and lots of different lipsticks. and never ever depend on shoes that are not 1000% comfortable while on vacation. don’t even pack them. oh. and bring along a thin leather motorcycle jacket. trust me. it makes everything chic.

  • Laura

    San Fran is all about layering – layers you can build or strip. Strangely, Socal is starting to be that way, too – if you live near the ocean.

  • Amber

    Thank you for writing about this Haley! It’s really interesting hearing other women’s reasons why they feel this way too – and it makes me sad that we all seem to, in some way or another, get stressed out by our wardrobes. I have a tendency to overdress, and frequently turn up to an event feeling way out of my comfort zone because I’m in heels and everyone else is in flats, etc etc. Don’t get me started on holiday packing…

    I always remember something my godmother said to me when I was fifteen. I’m fairly tall but she’s even taller – stand-out-from-the-crowd tall. One day she looked at me and out of the blue said, “Don’t ever NOT wear heels when you want to wear heels”. I reminded her of that a couple of months ago, and she cried, “YES! You’re into fashion! Wear whatever you want! No excuses!”

    Sometimes the self-inflicted pressure to wear whatever we want grows and grows until it overshadows what is practical or comfortable, doesn’t it? My solution at the moment (which I am still working on, very gradually) is to have a wardrobe full of clothes that I a) love and b) suit/fit me. Goodbye too-tight jeans! Goodbye ugly baggy T that *might* be useful! Hello (slightly ridiculously) loose trousers and vintage floral dresses! It’s turning into a capsule wardrobe within a more interesting wardrobe, but I’m okay with that.

    They’re just clothes, don’t let them rule your fun. xx

  • Ana

    Oh boy do I feel this right now. I’ve been backpacking for the past seven months, and I am so bored with my clothes. For the past few years I always thought of myself as stylish, and I could identify my personal style. But since coming to South America, where the style among locals and travelers alike is SO different than in New York, I’ve realized I have zero idea what my personal style is anymore, and I have no idea how my dressing will manifest when I go back to the states! This freaked me out a lot at the beginning, but now I am excited to see how the changes I’ve gone through since traveling will come out in my clothes. And how I am still me whether I am able to express myself through my clothes the way I want or not! (That said, the lists in my phone of dream outfit combinations, once I have access to more than 5 shirts and two pairs of shoes, are incredible.)

  • Theresa McTammany

    This article struck a chord—I refused to succumb to pedestrian-friendly footwear while visiting Paris and I was miserable and blister-ridden my first two days. Why was it so crucial to emulate stylish French women? Excruciating choice—I ultimately succumbed to comfortable shoes and my feet were happy but I bypassed Chanel and LV because I felt touristy—

  • Sundae

    I fixed some of the things that were bothering me – my teeth, lasered my legs, laser for acne, lost some of my jelly belly. It was amazing how these ‘superficial’ things boosted my confidence. It allowed me to let go of the armor for daily living that my outfits were. It was ok to be less than amazing because, I felt okay.
    I think sometimes being overtly concerned with my outfit was a crutch to conceal other fears. Your insecurities may be different but it might be a factor? After all what’s you wear is not the sum of what you are (allowed we’re still allowed to want nice things!!!)

  • Anastasia Giangrande

    Hello! I read your post in one big gulp! You discussed about an important psychological topic: how much our clothes cooperate with other personality traits to build and protect our personality. I lived your same experience and I reacted in different ways respect my age. When I was younger my clothes were me, they said what I’d like to be and they showed how I’d like other people have to look at me. So I couldn’t travel just with a small suitcase! I had to have at least 5 or 6 shoes for 4 days out and so many clothes, cause I had to be ready to my rapid mood swings. And more, I’ve always had a bad relationship with my body, I have an image distortion that affected me a lot in the past and clothes helped me to avoid it or to fix it. But now, I feel a new person; I’m conscious who I am, what I can do, I know my limits and my power and I not look at people as tough judges of me. I am who I am and I’m proud of myself. I still have a lot of insecurities about my body but now they don’t affect my life. I could travel for 8 days with a small suitcase and I feel much more free than ever. I feel I could walk around naked and I could be fine, cause all of me is inside my brain, it’s not my body or my clothes; I can show myself through my words and not through my body.
    Yes! Obviously sometimes I realize that I brought such horrible clothes but if I have to wear them I just try to fix it according to myself. Now I never permit that this kind of things can affect my life and my happy moments and memories. Clothes are an essential part of me, but they are not all of me. And this help me when, sometimes, I return to being a 19 19 year old girl!
    Well done with your post! I liked it a lot! <3

  • Sophie

    When I’m unsatisfied with my outfit, I feel like a completely different person all day…

  • Jean

    I definitely did this on a trip to Paris a few years back. I was so determined to not look like the typical tourist, that I overpacked and made it quite difficult to change trains, cars, etc. When I look back at pictures of it, I realize how silly it was to put pressure on myself. The pics are special because of where I was and who I went with, not which outfits I packed. In recent trips I have swung the other way and really pack quite light, but still find myself longing for the outfit or item I left at home. I am not saying clothes don’t matter; I just like the reminder you give to not let the need to feel stylish carry one away from the moment actually happening.

  • vert-i-go

    It’s funny, this hugely resonated with me and I have the opposite problem.
    I tend to be extremely practical when clothes shopping particularly when travelling (the joys of being extremely fair requires tent like sun clothes!). But I always feel a bit rubbish, because some of the fun is lost. I’m now actively trying to find someways to include a bit of style and “me” into my wardrobe. As otherwise I’ll choose solely on practicality level. So I’m actively encouraging myself to spend time finding clothes that can do a bit of both.

    Moderation in all things.. and all that.
    Although I ain’t giving up tourist comfort shoes for anything 🙂

  • jen

    “I use clothing to communicate something about who I am, and as armor to guard who I think I am. That weekend, I felt unprotected. Reuniting with all my old friends in uncomfortable, patched-together outfits made me feel vulnerable and unlike myself.”

    I appreciate this so much. Just recently, I was getting ready to go out on a Saturday night and had an actual meltdown on what to wear. I was so fed up with the NYC cold weather and the thought of wearing my winter uniform one more time made me sick. After that, I felt like such a lunatic that I was crying about clothes as a 27 year old and even almost stayed in. But you’re right, our clothes don’t define us! I must start practicing this more or I will actually lose the few marbles I still have!!

  • Engels_Beard

    This article makes me really happy I that I have very few friends and that they don’t care about my clothes.