How I started experimenting with fashion without triggering my anxiety
A journey of befriending colours and prints
In the grand theatre of my personal growth, my foray into adult fashion could be likened to that dream — the one we’ve all had at some point. You are standing at the podium in your school’s auditorium, about to give a speech, only to look down and realise you’re naked. You want to run away, but your legs have turned to stone.
Since I entered the workforce, my wardrobe has had a steadfast allegiance to the safe and the ordinary. What I thought was required for professional settings.
I’m the kind of person who buys the same shirt in three colours so it becomes a no-brainer in my closet rotations. I pair my uniform of black pants and shirts with black flip flops, making up for my pheeka (in the words of my mother) look with a solid body and foot care routine.
Like a reader who refuses to venture beyond their comfort genre, I got comfortable in this fashion landscape of monochrome hues. With my outfits, I could blend seamlessly into any room – which is an ideal trait for furniture, not for a person trying to master networking. After all, research shows that what we wear greatly impacts how we feel and behave, and can be a useful tool to pep us up.
I hadn’t thought much about experimenting with fashion or adding some tadka to my #OOTD until something unexpected happened. My sister was gifted a printed shirt that caught my eye. The base was a creamy white, but it was covered in colourful snakes (which I love) featuring evil eyes (my kryptonite) and the slightest of gold accents. Before she could protest, I swiped the shirt and wore it so much that the sleeves shrank from being tossed around in the washing machine. This surprise infiltrator opened up other possibilities. Was I finally willing to try experimenting with fashion?
Testing one element at a time, I opened my mind to the possibility of more shades existing on the colour wheel beyond black and beige. Patterns slowly became allies instead of enemies. All this without forcing myself to stray too far from my original grumpy please-don’t-approach-me-I’m-tired personality.
There’s more than one black
We grew up hearing that black is a safe colour; it’s flattering on everyone and slimming. Mostly, the latter has stuck on in every ‘90s kid’s head, having grown up in the age of size zeroes and heroin chic without the fashion and body confidence that Gen Z has cultivated (millennials paved the way, but I’m still jealous).
Nothing will pry my black clothes from my hands, but with growth on my mind, I tried to play around with silhouettes and textures to add some dynamism to my look.
My failsafe outfit for when I make a rare appearance at social gatherings is now a blue-black set featuring a kurta style top with dhoti pants and a long cover-up – the layers add flair to the otherwise monotone outfit, while the silken fabric elevates the whole look. Unfortunately, it sold out quickly, so my instinct to buy the set in every available colour was thwarted.
I started to replace my standard black pants with pants that had texture and silhouette variation – some crinkled, another with flared-out bottoms and one with animal print that was one shade lighter than the colour of the pants. It’s so subtle you can barely see the print, but you know that something is going on there that’s giving my outfit some edge.
Pyjamas you can leave the house in
It shouldn’t have taken me this long to realise that most co-ord sets are basically socially acceptable pyjamas.
The fit was right, all this time. Oversized top and loose pants that drown my body in a fabric avalanche? My favourite.
It’s a low-effort, polished and put-together look that’s visually appealing. The comfort factor drew me in, and I stayed for the colours and tie-dye.
The price tags at first were a shock. Am I really going to pay ₹8,000 for one outfit? Then I realised I was thinking of it as one block. But co-ord sets are more like empty Scrabble tiles that you slot with any clothing items. You get versatility and the same number on the bill if you buy a good quality shirt and pair of pants separately rather than in a set.
Making a statement
Reading fashion stories about statement pieces, I imagined neon pants, massive tote bags and necklaces that would have people admiring your neck strength.
I found my way to make a statement that would catch people’s eyes without me feeling like a single mooli in a field of carrots.
For me, it was all the heirloom earrings and rings my mum has tried to get me to wear over the years. Accessories can subtly impact your outfit, giving it a sense of newness without triggering your anxiety. I tried finding unique and quirky earrings that would speak more to a stranger than I would ever want to.
Lipstick colours that would make nani whisper a prayer for my well-being.
Even on the days when I can’t be bothered to change out of tights and a t-shirt that’s four sizes too big, I put on mismatched earrings and deep red lipstick.
I manage to make a statement while experimenting with fashion without putting myself in a space of discomfort. It helps me feel like I know what I’m doing, even when I don’t.
Elevating my signature by experimenting with fashion
Somewhere along my journey of experimenting with fashion, I created a signature style. The few pieces of ‘office clothes’ that I mix and match through the week, termed a capsule wardrobe by my Editor, made me feel more fashionable than ever. They were, in fact, intentionally designed items that could be effortlessly swapped to maximise the number of outfits I get out of them.
I realised I already had a signature style the day I changed into a sleeveless top for a shoot and my coworker exclaimed, “You have…arms…”
I’m not going to abandon my shirt-pant look any time soon. I just needed to inject some of my personality into it, even the quirks I consider unprofessional.
This process allowed me to weave my comfort zone with threads of the familiar and unfamiliar alike to create a fabric that is my own. When I considered experimenting with fashion, I didn’t expect to find myself as the protagonist in a narrative of cautious steps, occasional leaps of faith and an abundance of apprehension. Is the next step in this journey trying to spend a month in Crocs? Who knows, but it would have been a firm no before this. Now it’s more like… no, with a side of scrolling through their website to check out the different designs.