The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday


Annabel Rivkin and Emilie McMeekan

- Dear A Mess,

QDear A&E, I have spent so long sitting in my house, staring at a screen, wearing elasticate­d waists, hoodies and slippers that I no longer know how to get dressed. All my clothes look weird and it’s making me say no to seeing my friends because I genuinely don’t know what to wear. I know this sounds silly but I’m finding it distressin­g because I can’t work out how to present myself even to go to the pub. I used to love fashion but now I feel ready to give up – A Mess

AWe are having a hard relate. These days Annabel opens her cupboard and there might as well be a selection of medieval robes hanging there, so unwearable, irrelevant and uncomforta­ble does it all seem. Years and years of shopping and nothing resembling a fully-functionin­g human wardrobe. Getting dressed was hard enough before all the lockdowns – but now? Distressin­g and disempower­ing.

Whatever you do, step away from the idea of “fashion”. That will get you precisely nowhere. Fashion is an aspiration­al idea; it has no borders. It will petrify you with its ever-shifting sartorial sands. You need to conquer… clothes. A way to cover your body and tell your story in a way that feels empowered rather than defeated. Baby steps, A Mess… here are some thoughts.

Start with your underwear. Knickers that don’t creep up or bulge. Bras that feel secure without giving you back fat or three boobs. Subtle shoulder pads that are miraculous when it comes out balancing out a bigger bust or giving sloppy tops some architectu­re. These are the underpinni­ngs and will allow you to proceed with confidence.

Think about your foundation­s: the bits and pieces that you will wear and wear. The phrase “capsule wardrobe” has been beating us all around the head for generation­s now. The perfect trench coat. The perfect white shirt. Ugh. Every white shirt makes Annabel look like a fridge and Emilie like a pharmacist. Your capsule wardrobe might be a couple of flowery dresses; some flared jeans and a Breton top. Or jumpsuits. Or tuxedo jackets. Or pencil skirts. Whatever makes you feel like you. These are the working parts. It can help to think about friends or Instagram people or telly people whose style you really enjoy (as long as they have a similar shape to you) and just think about how you might copy elements of what they wear. But do not go shopping yet.

First you need to find the energy to try on everything you own, including belts and bags. It will take hours and you will get sweaty but, even if you don’t uncover lots of fabulous outfits, there will be things you can work with. For a start, work with the clothes you are wearing. Tracksuit bottoms and hoodies may be dispiritin­g to you, but shove a great coat over the top with a pair of massive hoop earrings and suddenly you’re Stacey Dooley. Wonderful.

Speaking of hoops, once you have found, say, the one black dress that you don’t mind, play with shoes and bags and belts and earrings and necklaces and make-up. We call the one thing we can bear to wear our “emotional support” piece because it allows us to go out into the world. Emilie has been wearing the same black cords for a year. She has two pairs. No one notices.

You do not, at this point, need to spend your money on a deranged shopping spree. In fact, that might be the worst thing you can do. Instead, you need to spend your time. Playing with your clothes, looking at things online, working out whose style you admire, rediscover­ing the joy you historical­ly found in clothes and will once again.

And when you do – finally – shop, there are some ground rules. In her book, Get Changed: Finding the New You Through Fashion, the influencer Kat Farmer (@Doesmybuml­ook40) has two sets of three rules. Firstly, if you are considerin­g buying anything, it must go with at least three things that you already own. Secondly, you must be able to think of at least three situations where you might wear it – and that does not include work on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday or the holiday you dream of one day taking in the Maldives when you are two sizes smaller. If you can’t apply these rules, walk away.

You are not alone. Many of us are feeling this to some extent. Start by finding an afternoon to go shopping in your own wardrobe, play some dress-up and take it from there. Getting dressed is a muscle, that’s all. Start flexing.

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