I’ve often wondered if fashion can be a force for good, particularly in relation to mental health. Many people would argue that fashion is an insatiable monster of commerce, continually producing an irresponsible amount of product at the expense of its workers and the environment. On top of this, it tricks consumers into believing that they need to buy endless stuff in order to feel validated. It’s uncomfortable to think of the fashion industry in these terms but it’s difficult to argue with this analysis. However, fashion is a multi-faceted business and there are individuals and brands who do amazing things every day. It is one of the UK’s biggest industries, employing 550,000 people, which is more than the automotive industry. There are also increasingly successful companies who promote sustainable manufacturing whilst making desirable clothes and accessories; The Reformation, Matt and Nat and Stella McCartney come to mind. It would be easy to dismiss fashion as something that could be helpful to mental health, but I believe this would be a mistake
I regard clothing much like food as they are both nonnegotiable; without nourishment and suitable clothing life becomes very difficult. Like the food industry, there is a lot about fashion that is toxic and designed to keep the consumer perpetually unsatisfied and hungry for the next fix. Although eating and getting dressed are two of life’s most basic daily routines, both can be fraught with complications, neuroses and negative habits. As with a healthy diet, using fashion positively involves making well informed choices.
Since I was a teenager, my clothes have been like a suit of armour. I often feel vulnerable and the thought of leaving the house and stepping out into an unpredictable, non-sensical world can be intimidating. For me, spending a little time on my appearance each morning is a way to prepare myself for the day ahead. It may sound flippant and trivial, but the effect can be profound. This is particularly apparent since I became a mum, I find that dressing the way I like and doing my makeup has become a way of asserting my own identity. Does this mean that I think that my issues will be solved with a frock and a lipstick? No, of course not. But it is one of the ways I look after myself, along with a reasonably healthy lifestyle, taking my medication and seeking regular counselling.
You might say that taking an interest in clothes is more to do with personal style that it is to do with fashion. I would argue that one cannot exist without the other. Personal style is an outward expression of one’s inner-self and the quickest way of non-verbal communication. Getting dressed is something we all have to do, why not choose at least one thing that makes you feel happy? It might be something as simple as your favourite shade of lipstick or eyeshadow. I understand that investing in one’s appearance is not important to everyone, and I’m certainly not here to judge. However, if makeup and an outfit that makes you feel good is helpful to your overall wellbeing, don’t let anyone shame you into thinking that you’re wasting your time on fripperies. I often think of my grandmother who was a stylish, charismatic woman. When she was dying of cancer she wore red lipstick until her last days. Cancer had robbed her of nearly everything, but she was determined to maintain her identity in the face of death.
Sometimes, taking the time to look after these most basic tasks is the only thing that provides enough courage to get through the day. The power of personal style should never be ignored.