english girl at home

A Sewing & Knitting Blog, Made in Birmingham, England

Wardrobe & Identity

11 Comments

Me

I always enjoy blog posts which reveal a little about the writer, and have been meaning to write something a bit more reflective for a while now. I’m interested in the role clothing can play in expressing identity, and thought I’d share a few examples from personal experience:

Clothing has always been important to me.

I had two obsessions while at junior school; I desperately wanted a dog, and I desperately wanted to wake up one day as a boy.

I don’t analyse the second of those obsessions, where it came from and why it left me as I approached finishing junior school; I think there is a danger of devaluing and explaining away the emotions in the process of analysing them. I suspect, in part at least, I had subconsciously assimilated a limiting view of what is was to be a woman, and was attempting to circumvent it. I read a lot of Enid Blyton (actually obsessively – I had hundreds of her books and a picture of her in my room) and books of that era, where the only girls who did anything of interest wanted to be boys.

Joe, Char & Steven

While awaiting my overnight transformation, I nagged my mom to have my hair cut short, and only buy me boy’s clothes. She consented to both, with the exception of underwear; boxer shorts were a step too far. It was important to me that the garments weren’t simply not explicitly feminine, but that they were purchased from the boy’s section of the clothes store. I had a zealous commitment to my dress code, which speaks of my desire to prove my seriousness to others, and to myself.

Joe, Char & Steven

In my experience, while young children are extremely accepting of difference, teenagers are pack animals; during secondary school, clothing was important as a means of fitting in. I remember a few occasions where friends and I bought the same t-shirt, which involved making a solemn pact never to wear them at the same time. Even in school, where we wore a uniform, it was important to be aware of the current tweaks to that uniform required to fit in; for example, this week, you might need to wear your tie backwards and extra short.

Me

As a teenager, clothing was also about declaring our musical affiliations. I was an indie-kid, and Damon Albarn was my style icon (as well as my main celebrity crush). A treasured possession was a grey Kappa jacket, the closest I could find (pre internet shopping) to a blue jacket which Damon was photographed in. I wore a silver identity bracelet because Damon did, and would have killed for the jacket he wore in the Parklife video.

Family Photo
A rare photo of the Kappa jacket

Towards the end of secondary school, and through sixth form, my friends and I expressed our lack of interest in fitting in, by adopting wardrobes of the least flattering and most ill fitting clothing possible. Thankfully, our fleeces and jeans era was short lived, and minimal photographic evidence of that period survives.

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Author: Charlotte

Sewist, crafter & blogger, based in Birmingham, England. I'm spending the year growing and gathering to create natural dyes and enhance my sewing projects. Find me at www.englishgirlathome.com

11 thoughts on “Wardrobe & Identity

  1. What a lovely post! I completely agree that the most interesting posts are the ones that reveal something about the author. I don’t think I understood how to express myself with clothes until I started sewing – before that, it was all about fitting in a wanting to look normal. What a waste! 😉

  2. Really enjoyed this! I hope to hear more about your sartorial journey and how fascinating to read that you were so set on being a boy because of cultural influences.

  3. This was a lovely read! I feel like I only started experimenting with style after I turned 18, before that I went to a school that didn’t really appreciate people who ‘stood out’ and I didn’t have the confidence to face that, so spent most of that time trying not to get noticed at all. My childhood and teenage years are just a bland parade of jeans, t-shirts and beige (shudder!). I got more interested in clothing after moving to the city and going to art school, but sewing really made me think about what I wanted to wear and why! I think it’s because you invest so much more time into making a garment than buying it, so you kind of want to be sure it’s going to be worn & loved.

    I love reading stories like these, so keep them coming if you have more!

  4. An interesting read – I think the phrase “assimilated a limiting view of what is was to be a woman” certainly chimed with me. I remember being an awkward kid who always gravitated to the company of boys as I was interested in dinosaurs, science, computers. I always sewed as a child too. Of course, no-one reassures you that we don’t all need to fit a stereotype. I think as we age our lives slot into place, we find like minded people and grow in confidence. It becomes easier to be ourselves and what we wear is an extension of this.

  5. I really enjoyed this. Like you, I had very definite tastes from a young age. As I moved into middle school, I actually got really weird about things to the point of needing the fabric content on my separates to be the same. I might write a similar post if I can get my hands on old photos.

  6. I also enjoy reading this kind of thoughtful post, and what past life experiences influenced your thoughts about clothing and self-image. I hope you’ll write a second part about how you got into sewing and how that changed your perspective on fashion?

  7. Thank you for sharing. This was a very interesting post.

  8. Thank you for this post. Certainly every kid feels weird about one thing in her life, yet we are sure this is an individual experience!

    I’m sure I had many odd clothing choices as a child, but it was during my teens that I started wearing only natural fibers. Everything else seemed itchy or plasticy.

    One thing I notice about your photos is orange! You look great in orange.

  9. Your peers’ attitude to clothing sounds exactly like the atmosphere at my secondary school. Among the girls at least, there was an obsessive attention to detail about the shoes you wore, the way you wore your tie (!) and even the carrier bag you used for your PE kit. Those who didn’t conform were ridiculed and ostracised. I am so glad those days are behind me, and that people no longer judge me by the labels on my clothes. I can also remember thinking it looked a lot easier to be a boy, aged 11 or so, and consequently I loved the Song of the Lioness stories by Tamora Pierce – until I felt more comfortable in my own skin.

  10. Such an interesting post and you reminded me that I was also a fan of Enid Blyton and also tried to be a boy but wasn’t allowed to be! My mother very firmly had me in dresses and by the time I was old enough to assert myself I was in boarding school with no choices!!

  11. A great read. I remember us all plotting to wear the same t-shirts on the same day to look the same. Our uniform was strict with certain skirts to show which year you were in, but the more you rolleditatthe top, the cooler you were!

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