As a former fashion editor, I always thought that I clearly understood how to keep a distinct separation between fashion as my career and a part of my identity. But it wasn't until I lost my job that I realised how blurred the boundaries can be when you chose to do something you love.

While I always had a keen interest in fashion and style, it was something that I always told myself to not take too seriously. Yes, it's a billion-dollar industry, but in the grand scheme of things, we aren't saving lives, so who are we to place such importance on something so frivolous?

As someone who, prior to this, had only known the comforts of working a full-time job in a semi-corporate environment, the idea of getting dressed up for work every single day was something I had a love-hate relationship with. On one hand, it was great to be able to take advantage of the lax dress code my office had, but the pressure to always wear something interesting or different had started to give me anxiety. I was even wasting money on trendy, impulse buys, just to avoid facing my overstuffed wardrobe whenever I experienced the dreaded "nothing to wear" syndrome. Sounds familiar to you?

TBH, fashion is an expensive hobby. As a collector, I had spent a lot of money over the years refining my taste and collection. While I still loved fashion beyond the idea of collecting designer pieces, expressing my sense of style and personality through the clothes I put on was a big part of that.

The clothes I put on always served as an indicator of how I wanted people to view me

As I adjusted to my new life as a freelancer, I tried to look at the positive outcome of my situation. Now that I was effectively working from home, I could finally relax the pressure I had placed on myself. Throw in Covid-19 restrictions and impending financial instability, getting dressed up was really the last thing on my mind! And so I leaned into it. I stopped getting dressed to do anything. The only clear distinction I made to separate the day from the night was to shuttle between day and night pyjamas. (Yes, before you ask, there is a difference!)

I’d only leave the house for supermarket runs and rotated my clothing choices between well-worn band tees and two pairs of vintage denim shorts from Levi's. I was exclusively wearing the same thing over and over again, to a point where even my least fashion-conscious friend started asking if I had anything else!

It wasn't until four months of this arrangement that I finally decided to meet a friend for lunch after restrictions were starting to relax. We planned our meet-up to be at a nice café, and while I initially wanted to throw on a sweater and call it a day, I thought it would’ve been a wasted opportunity if I didn't at least try to take advantage of the opportunity to dress up. As I caught my reflection in the mirror just before I left the house, I felt... weird. I almost couldn’t recognise the woman I saw, having had done only the bare minimum to my appearance in the last few months.

My first time out of the house and the most “dressed up” I’d been in four months. I posted this on my Instagram Stories at the time, but deep down inside I wasn’t feeling okay

The feeling persisted, and when my friend asked me how I had been doing the past couple of months, I started choking up and bawling in the middle of the coffee shop. I know this sounds… dramatic, but it was only then that I realised how much I’d been suppressing myself, and how personal style was an important form of expression for me.

Clothing had become an emotional response in so many ways. I wasn't feeling so great about myself on the inside (losing your job at the height of the pandemic will do that to you), and so I reflected the depression and existential crisis I was going through on the outside. In hindsight, I knew that I didn't have to spend money to look good.

Hey, I already had a great wardrobe filled with things I could wear. But for some reason, I chose not to. And in another teary conversation with a different friend, she reminded me that in my youth, money never stopped me from being creative with my style.

One of the first few fancy pieces I bought when I could afford it, a Dion Lee skirt I wore out to dinner with my family

Now that things have slightly adjusted back to normal and I've managed to secure myself a full-time job, I try to take the time to remember why I loved dressing up in the first place. With fewer reasons to leave the house, on the few occasions that I do, I cherish the opportunity to actually put in the effort. These days, I have more time to get ready since I'm not rushing from one event to another. I also don’t have to head to an office every day so there's less pressure to look good for others. Nowadays, when I get dressed to head out, I tell myself that I'm doing it for myself and nobody else.

So much of how we dress is based off our mood. Or, as the late Karl Lagerfeld once put it, “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life, so you bought some sweatpants.” That couldn't be more true for me.

Now I put on clothes like this huge, tulle skirt from Comme des Garçons randomly at home just to breathe life into them remind myself how much fun collecting clothes can be!

Getting dressed might be a banal activity for some, but for me, it helped to re-enforce my sense of self. And now that I actually look forward to leaving the house again, I relish in the process of trying on my clothes, just because I can afford the time to do so. With the pandemic creating many stressful and unique situations, the term self-care has been more prevalent than ever. And in my case, self-care encompasses taking care of my appearance and feeling connected to the clothes on my back.

Text & photography: Cheryl Chan
Featured image: Anastasiya Lobanovskaya/Pexels

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