As young people, fashion and the fashion industry touch almost every part of our lives whether deliberately or not. The media we consume on our computers and phones, the way we present ourselves to represent different aspects of our personality, even if we do not actively choose to participate in this world it is impossible to avoid as it slowly trickles down from the runway to the window of an H&M store. The all-encompassing infiltration of fashion into our lives surely has an effect on how we see and feel about ourselves and others, using the standards set up by the fashion industry to see how we measure up.
The conversation surrounding fashion and mental health can throw up many negative comments about body image from super skinny models on the runway and the exclusion of POC, plus size bodies and those with disabilities from the industry highlights many problems. However a conversation that is often forgotten about is the way fast fashion also has a negative impact – not just on our environment but also on our mental health, creating a need to keep up with the never ending parade of new styles and silhouettes or risk feeling left out and unattractive. The constantly updated New In section on websites like ASOS encourage us to check in daily to see what the latest thing we should buy is and create a culture of instant gratification with things like premier next day delivery services to fulfil our need for constant newness. This leaves many people with an empty bank account and a wardrobe full of clothes they’ve only worn once with no sense of achievement or enjoyment outside that fleeting moment when the parcel arrives at the door. The fashion industry’s growing number of shows per year fuels this endless cycle as the two collections fashion houses used to release each year has grown over time to four, five or more and high street fashion has followed suit. Ultimately it tells consumers that what we have now and therefore who we are now is not good enough if it is not constantly being updated and refreshed, leaving us feeling exhausted and unfulfilled while we impatiently wait for the next package to arrive; for the new decade we should all try to slow down, appreciate what we already have and hopefully avoid going bankrupt.
Remember when school non-uniform days created a buzz? Remember when clothes were fun, and we were driven by colours and textures and patterns, the ability to show off your favourite looks? We need to uncover this buzz again, the thrill of wearing clothes, our love affair with fashion. To feel the benefits of fashion to our mental health, we must see the beauty in clothes again; at their root, they are simply expression. Expression, feeling free to be who we want to be, feeling empowered in our authentic self, is only ever beneficial to our mental health.
When stripped back, brought to its rawest and most basic form, fashion is a language. It is a way to speak your soul, to explore your truest self and show off this flare to others. Despite what we are told by the high-street industry, all clothes are fashion, a fresh creative outlet which you are free to interpret. The gift of fashion is that it is limitless, if you like it you can wear it: clash bright colours, flaunt your red beret in the club. It doesn’t matter if you are in or out, ahead of fashion or in love with the seventies, the beauty to clothes is that they are an extension of our self.
Fashion is woven with the precious liberation to be who we want to be, regardless of gender, age, background, likes, dislikes. In a society where people feel thwarted by ‘normality’, the ability to break free is golden. Clothes present an outlet, an expression, a freedom. In buying clothes, you engage in a unique dialect with life, playing with your personality, creating a façade to the word. This isn’t to say clothing is fake, it is to say it opens the gate to empowerment, to be who we want regardless of what we feel we should be. A mirage of colours and patterns and materials and shapes is a creative outlet, the ability to paint your soul, to play with who you are. Not only is this freeing, it is inspiring! Fashion is a gift. Fashion scintillates excitement; fashion is art; a statement to the world; an opportunity to explore yourself. Within the arrangement of cloth, the array of textures and the spectrum of colours is a magic that we too often overlook. To engage with clothes is to engage with an expression of our soul.