How My Personal Style Has Changed Now That I’m A Digital Nomad

Photo Courtesy of Hannah Shewan Stevens.
This April, I boarded a one-way flight from London to Bangkok in Thailand to start my life as a full-time digital nomad. I gave up a cosy rented home in Birmingham to pursue my dream of travelling and working as a freelance journalist throughout South East Asia. In the six months since, it’s been a life-changing adventure that among many other things — has forced me to explore and reconstruct my fashion identity
While the meaning of personal style continues to shift with every new TikTok trend, this is nothing new for me considering my style has gone through many evolutions since puberty struck. Starting as a pre-teen goth, I have spun through cycles of the classic emo kid and grunge rocker, experimented with hippie 70s 'fits and leaned into smart casual as a young professional. 
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By the time I left for Thailand, I had settled on a blend of my favourite things: vibrant colours and goth-rock style. My wardrobe centred around black and lace pieces, choker necklaces and a whole rainbow of patterned skirts and dresses. I loved living out of my overpacked wardrobe, and my body confidence was at an all-time high. But with no return date in mind and just a single suitcase for all of my belongings, figuring out what my style would look like on the road felt so overwhelming that I couldn’t even picture it myself. 
The stress of narrowing down my clothes into a nomad's capsule wardrobe didn’t cross my mind until the time came to put everything into storage, which set off sparks of anxiety. Donating beloved pieces like my favourite party dress (it would have no place in my travels), and storing clothes that could never survive tropical climates, like my trusty Dr. Martens and rainbow dungarees, felt both therapeutic and frantic. I even recruited my mum to help enforce strict rules. Now, months into what I see as a lifelong journey, here is everything I’ve learned about rebuilding my fashion identity with less.  

1) Practicality and versatility reign supreme

While packing my suitcase, I selected a handful of tops, skirts, dresses, and leggings, as well as some trusty chub rub shorts, to come with me. Narrowing it all down required considering practicality above style, focusing on the lightest and most compact pieces. That being said, this haphazard packing meant that I made a ton of mistakes — while I assumed I could dress as I did at home, nomadic life actually requires more fashion compromises than you’d think. 
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While exploring Bangkok, I realised that too many of my pieces were inappropriate for the humidity and sun, while others weren’t worth carrying because they only made one outfit. Travelling in countries where the impact of climate change is a lot higher than in the West — and where fast fashion is playing a key role in speeding that up — has made me hyper-aware of the impact my style choices can have. So, I've now selected even more pieces that I know won't get any wear and donated them, or sold them to locals and other travellers. 
Photo courtesy of Annabel Cheeseman

2) Don’t be afraid to experiment with what you have

“Digital nomad travelling really makes you find your own style,” says fellow digital nomad Annabel Cheeseman, who is working and travelling in Thailand from her base in Bali, Indonesia. “It pushes you to find new ways to combine things and also have a lower impact on the earth. It forces you to get over the mindset to buy something new for an event or that you can’t re-wear outfits in photos.”
While I swiftly accepted the need for practicality over fashion, it took months before I found a true sense of style again. I struggled without a multitude of options and my style shrunk until it ricocheted between just two outfits: a floral mini skirt and purple crop top, and a pair of lilac culottes with a matching shirt. 
Realising that my confidence was taking a dip as well, I challenged myself to experiment more, interchanging tops, skirts and accessories to breathe life back into my style. Now, I’ve settled on a blend of colourful skirts, patterned shirts and vibrant crop tops — with a black lace shawl being my wardrobe’s centrepiece (it goes with everything!). Limited choices will always force creativity, and for me it’s forged a stronger connection to my own fashion identity. 
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“Having a capsule wardrobe, there’s less choice, and less choice fatigue as well,” says Annabel. “I’m not spending an hour and a half finding the best outfit because I’ve got 12. It’s simple, you go with what you’ve got and that works for me and it’s actually a lot more enjoyable.”

3) Determine what you want your clothes to say 

Defining my fashion identity in this restricted way required me to reassess what my clothes mean to me. Before travelling, I needed every outfit to deliver a clear and coherent message about who I was. Now, my nomadic rainbow wardrobe prioritises comfort, and communicates the tranquillity and happiness I feel in this new lifestyle.
The occasional colour clashes and bold combinations may appear messy and inconsistent to others, but to me they make perfect sense. Like my favourite patterned shirt I bought from a hostel in Pai, paired with an equally vibrant red floral skirt. Then there is my travelling goth outfit — simple black choker with a heart detail, black lace shawl, shorts and crop top, all of which pay homage to my rocker roots back home. 
Sure, there are times when I open my suitcase and despair at my limited outfit choices compared to what my wardrobe looked like back home, but the joy that I never thought could be possible from a tiny wardrobe overshadows most tinges of boredom. There are items in storage that I miss desperately, but I no longer need to wear them to reflect who I am. 
As I continue to travel and work across Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, my personal style, above all else, is now defined by flexibility — which is something we don’t talk enough about, digital nomad or not. Without it my life would be impossible to manage, so I look forward to seeing my style continue to evolve, just as my lifestyle does.
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