My Strongest Suit
“You’ll never look like you’ve fallen apart if you’re wearing a good pair of shoes.” - Sasha Gora
Dressing up each day is my favourite form of self-care. When life seems as though it’s tearing apart at the seams, I turn to my wardrobe to help me get through the day. I run my fingertips through a black velvet Shanghai Tang blazer (lined with lime green silk) I inherited from my mother, the dress I wore during my first ballroom dance competition, my collection of denim jackets. I revel at the array of patterns and textures before me. My anxiety about the coming days blur into the distance, and my focus sharpens. I pull out my newest find: a hand-knitted black cardigan, with a pattern of pumpkins, vines, and vegetables woven onto it. I put it on and complete my look. I step outside and face life, ready and poised, standing a little bit taller (platform shoes aside).
On the first day of class, my costume design professor asked us why we wear clothes. As people began to put their hands up and answer, she noted them down on the chalkboard in front of us. After several minutes, she circled three responses:
- Adornment and Beautifying
- Transformation of the Body
- Religious Worship
“These are the first three reasons people started wearing clothes,” she stated. Among the other answers from my classmates were warmth and protection, identity, and special occasion. I thought about how I wear clothes to survive -- in every sense of the word.
A little over a year ago, I was battling with dreadful bouts of depression and anxiety. I was wearing the same outfit comprised of black t-shirt + black sweats + grey cardigan for days. I had barely enough strength to go to my classes, and couldn’t prepare meals other than a constant diet tortilla chips and three kinds of storebought dip (salsa, hummus, beet dip). The only thing I’d drag myself out of bed for and actually enjoy doing was working at my university theatre’s costume shop for 4 hours a week.
“Clothes give you confidence and power to do things you might not be able to do otherwise. It puts you into a role.” - Young Kim
It was there that I -- to put it very cheesily -- found myself again. I was mesmerized at the way clothing has the power to transform and tell stories. Someone turned into a Little Stone for one show and the historical caliph Harun al-Rashid in the next. Another grew from a child in a tricycle into a 7-foot behemoth over the course of a single hour in one show. As a storyteller by nature and nurture, I was spellbound by this new way of channeling my craft. I applied to the theatre production and design program, focusing on costumes, and was accepted just before last summer.
Working with dedicated people to create, mend, and sort through gorgeous pieces of clothing made me forget the anxiety swarming in my mind. It lifted the heaviness that bogged down my heart. I started wearing colours again, which made my dad smile. I gravitated towards new silhouettes, different fabrics, and clashing patterns. I began cultivating a new identity. A new Mel with blue hair, groomed eyebrows, better curated accessories, platform shoes, and vibrant clothes. A new Mel that I actually enjoy being.
“Style, as opposed to fashion, is standing your ground, which at the end of the day is what individuality and intelligence are for me. You remain who you are - loyal to an identity that you’ve formulated for yourself.” - Masha Tupitsyn
I started squashing myself into a neat little box ever since people called me a “Fashion Disaster” in seventh grade, and I never left. When I started playing with my clothes again, I developed a new sense of self that I had lost along with countless hair ties and the asymmetrical, floral shirt I wore to my best friend’s 7th birthday party. I started telling stories again. I would wake up and think to myself, what do I want to convey to the world today? -- and I would put on my armour.
I have so much to live for, I’d tell my friends, look at all the cute outfits I haven’t worn yet! I often joke that if I look sloppy, it means that things haven’t gone well lately. But if I look even more put together than usual, it means that everything’s been miserable. And while I repeatedly joke about how seriously I take my aesthetic (as the kids say these days), all these quips are rooted in truth. When the heaviness returns, when the burning palpitations return, I too return to my wardrobe. I plan killer outfits for the next couple of days to have something to look forward to. I lather on my skincare routine. I fill in my brows, curl my lashes, either wear a swipe of bright lipstick or paint on hypersharp cat-eye eyeliner. I don my strongest suit and walk away with a slight spring in my step.
I face life, day in and day out, as ready as I’ll ever be. And once more, I survive.
“Dressing up was an essential, human, female behaviour and that it turned life into a celebration.” - Poppy Toland
(P.S. All quotes were taken from Women in Clothes by Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton, and Sheila Heti. A beautiful read for those intrigued by the stories behind the sartorial choices of hundreds of women from around the world.)