2018 was one of the hardest years of my life (so far). The move to manufacturing was an extremely stressful and uncertain process, and it was a year of upheaval with friends/partners. Nothing felt secure, safe, or stable. I began to fall apart. The first thing I stop doing when I am very stressed is dressing up and being creative. The energy and time I’d normally dedicate to that gets directed towards survival, to making sure bills and staff are paid, to functioning. I spent a year in clothes I really didn’t love because I was in survival mode.
Survival Mode is where your focus is only on the immediate, not planning for the future or nostalgically gazing at the past. It’s keeping your head above water with every ounce of your strength while the world spins and boils around you. It’s something we often experience briefly during crisis but when the period of survival mode extends it can really shake your sense of self, your feelings of safety. These feelings can take some time (and often therapy) to dissipate.
I’m finally resurfacing from the Very Bad Year, almost nine months later, and returning to my weird wardrobe. Fashion for me is part of my art, it’s a way of playing with color and texture and perception every day, a way of honing my creative eye and work. I feel most myself dressed up, armed and ready to face the world.
Here are some things that have helped guide me back from Survival Mode, and to playing with my clothes and style again. This might be useful advice if you’ve taken a break from dressing up and creating due to illness, mourning, or the birth of a child, or really any large life changes when you’re priorities have had to shift temporarily.
-Remember it’s Not Frivolous To Dress Up! There are some deeply sexist roots in the idea that spending time on your appearance or experimenting with your self presentation are “frivolous” or “shallow” pursuits. Basically any time mostly women did something in the past men called it silly and degraded it, it’s a method of control, of diminishing the value of these activities. Don’t buy into that shit. If it brings you joy and makes you feel confident to dress up then that’s enough of a reason to do it. Sometimes simply looking like “yourself” can help you power through tough days and events, and that isn’t insignificant.
-Pursue Joy! I find great joy in clothes, in playing with textiles that aren’t “clothing” and wearing them in interesting ways. If dressing up or expressing yourself creatively makes you excited and passionate it’s worth it! Even when your life feels like it’s burning down around you there can be some solace in taking the time to “arm” yourself aesthetically as often as your energy allows.
-Forgive Yourself. This was a big one for me. I felt like I’d failed myself not dressing up and experimenting for so long, that I’d worked so hard to build a life where those passions were centered and now I was letting them slip away because I was terrified and stressed. It’s okay. Sometimes your energy has to go to other places, sometimes the press of life on you is too much to allow for play. These things happen, and you aren’t “failing” if you let something fall from the forefront while managing upheaval. What matters is that at the end of it you stand up and reach back towards the best parts of yourself, to accept that it happened and move forward towards joy and creativity as best you can.
-Your Style Might Change. Major life events and stress can change who you are, which means your style might change. Maybe the aesthetics and themes you loved before don’t hold the same appeal, and that’s alright! You get to explore yourself and play creatively to find a new style avenue. Re-framing it as a new experience and less like a loss helps I find.
-You Might Stumble. As you regain your footing creatively you might mess up a bit. Your eye won’t be as trained as it was when you were exercising it every day, but the only way to retrain it is to use it. So you wear something that doesn’t quite work, so you make some art that doesn’t look it’s best- you still created something- and that’s more than you would have done if you let the fear of fucking it up stop you. It won’t be long before you’re back to being as sharp as you were before!
Maybe these tips will help you return to a creative practice after a major life event or a Very Bad Year of your own.