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Wardrobe Ethnography

Or, what is revealed about you when the closet is opened?

It isn’t always easy to step back and be truly objective about the clothes we wear. Is this something you struggle with? I hope it helps to know you are in very good company. Google “body confidence” and there is so much out there on how our clothes can either boost or damage this.

It breaks my heart to read that 91% of women are not happy with their bodies. It is possible to reset this negative mindset. However, this is so much more difficult when the clothes in your wardrobe are undermining your efforts.

When you are ready to tackle the demons you have lurking in that wardrobe, is the right time for some wardrobe ethnography. Sometimes viewing yourself as a case study gives us permission to step away from the emotions. This could be just what you need to face up to the negative messages we inflict on ourselves daily.

Studying the accumulation of garments we gather over years tells us so much about identities, personalities, customs, ideas and habits, hence wardrobe ethnography. A little reflection can reveal some areas that really express who you are and others that just don’t.

It has taken some thought, but now I can say that my own wardrobe is a happy mix of pre-loved, much loved and a few items from previous roles that still work for me. Parting with some pieces needed work from me, whether it was protecting my feelings or realising that I had been making myself fit the look instead of the other way round.

It has been heartening to see how much of my wardrobe is not new, though in good condition. Much has come from charity shops or is made from deadstock by independents. I make my clothes work hard and many garments cross the seasons - a cotton skirt is as likely to be seen with opaque tights and boots in the winter as sandals in summer.

My most expensive purchase was back in the 1980s, a beautiful Ghost dress which I still have and is now one of my suitcase, summer holiday staples. I have bought some beautiful shoes over the years and most of these are still good to go; £250 on brogues seemed luxe at the time but to be still wearing them now shows a canny purchase. These are items that still reflect who I am today. It took a while to let go of some items that were holding me back in a less happy time but now I really do not miss them.

There are emotional connections with the pieces a friend altered for me. She was a talented tailor, revived my interest in style and set me down the entrepreneur path that brought me here. She passed a few years ago. Selling one of her creations to another dear friend was tough until I saw her looking beautiful at a party this Christmas, Kim would have been delighted!

Curating a wardrobe that I am comfortable with both from a style point of view and ethically too has been liberating. Deciding what to wear is a pleasure not a problem. This saves me time. I do have a small list of items that would tie it all together better. There is a place for a replacement pair of trainers as I have worn my faves to death. Some cycling shorts from an ethical brand will mean I can ride my bike with a dress and spare my blushes as I do have a man’s bike. I will continue always to be on the lookout for designer pre-loved treasures. Splashing out on a new dress from an ethical brand would be lovely but for now needs to wait until family finances are more secure - lockdown has hit all of us.

If a new acquaintance were to look into my wardrobe they would have a pretty clear idea of the person behind the clothes. What would your wardrobe tell me about you?

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