By Zoë Boothby
When I became single for the first time in five years at the start of last year, I expected that some things would change for me. I didn’t go in for the break-up haircut, but I did start actually brushing it most days. I very quickly learnt the difference between swiping right and swiping left. I had a couple of very drunken weekends spent doing dumb things such as breaking into swimming pools. But there was one important discovery (or rediscovery) that I hadn’t expected: my love of fashion.
The day after the break-up, I went depression shopping (it’s a thing, I swear), and I bought a humungous bright red blanket scarf. I love blanket scarves: they are a very easy way to take your outfit from drab to fab with the added benefit of providing a cosy layer to snuggle your face into in the biting cold. And so this particular obnoxiously ostentatious scarf became a protective force. If I felt overwhelmed at any point, I could hide my tears in its welcoming nest. When I arrived back at my apartment that evening, I repurposed it as a blanket whilst I cried to my roommate. “That scarf is ridiculous,” she said, “but it’s so you.”
Although I was never someone who let my relationship define me, following a break-up you inevitably go through a questioning period. “Who am I now?”, you ask yourself, as if you even knew in the first place. You make promises to yourself; some you may keep but most you will inevitably break. I have been able to remain faithful to two of the promises I made, however. One: I promised myself that I would use this as an opportunity to be a better friend to all the people in my life. Instead of committing myself to one person, I would use that time to consolidate existing friendships, forge new ones, and reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in years. And two: I would try to work out who the hell I was now. I think it goes without saying that this newfound commitment to whole-hearted self-expression was most easily explored through my wardrobe.
I am annoyed by people who turn their nose up at fashion. Though changing seasonal trends are not for me, I completely understand the transformative power of clothes. If I oversleep and pull on any old jumper, I know I’m going to feel lethargic and tired all day. Yet, if I wake up (somewhat) on time, plan my outfit and matching accessories, and arm myself with an eyeliner flick, I know I’m going to be approximately 67.3% more productive and feel like I actually made something of my day.
And so last year I found myself digging through my wardrobe and pulling out clothes that hadn’t seen the light of day for six, maybe seven years. Some things I fell in love with again: a velvet blazer, a patterned silk shirt, bleached 80s Levis. Then again, there were a lot of pieces that begged me to ask: “What the hell was I thinking?”. But I didn’t let it bother me too much. Like being single, fashion is about making mistakes and learning from them. Sometimes it’s about putting yourself out there, if only to see what works and what doesn’t. Red suede boots? Of course. V neck dress with a little too much plunge? No thank you. Beautiful beards? Yes please. “Fluent in memes”? Not so much.
Sometimes I fail to push out the boat out as much as I would like to, and, like everyone, I definitely fall back on some key pieces. For me, floral tops are my safety net. I didn’t realise the extent of this until my Mum pointed it out to me one day this summer. I brushed it off with a, “Whatever Mum”, before proceeding to wear a different floral top for five days in a row. Five. When she brought it up again on day five, I relented. “Fine, I like florals. Sue me.” We can’t be totally fabulous every day – we all have good days and bad days.
Unsurprisingly, I still haven’t worked out who the hell I am. I’m starting to doubt that I ever will. But for now, I know that, as long as I’ve got a good bunch of people in my life (and an arsenal of floral prints), everything will be OK.
Photograph: Anna Gibbs