In August 2020, I hit a turning point. Endless days of being locked in my house caused the novelty of wearing comfy (and slightly sloppy) clothes to wear thin.
I’m sure it's a sentiment held by many. When I revisited my “outside” wardrobe, I felt deflated. Nothing was calling my name. My jeans and cute knits of winter's past made me feel just as uninspired as the PJs and trackies I’d been wearing on repeat.
Up until this point, I’d been content with my style, but the prospect of emerging from lockdown and venturing further than 5km from my house made me realise that was no longer the case.
I overhauled everything, spending all the money I would have normally put towards tickets, food and coffee, on dresses with colourful prints, sequined bomber jackets, tulle skirts and brightly coloured tights.
Putting these new pieces on made me feel true happiness. Wearing a dress covered in donuts made going for a walk more fun, as did teaching zoom classes covered in bookworms. And my cardigan decked out in pom-poms? It lifted my spirits an immeasurable amount.
That feeling of fashion-induced joy remained a constant as we moved back out into the real world. I finally felt comfortable in my skin. I embraced a part of myself that I was keeping hidden under cream jumpers and black dresses that simply did the job.
I noticed something else too. As I started embracing life dressing differently outside of my bubble, using public transport again and going to cafes and events, people began to comment. That’s something I’m used to. I’m disabled.
People always have something to say about that: They might ask about my guide dog. Or perhaps they’re curious about how I know when to get off the tram. Maybe they decide that knowing me for 10 seconds entitles them to ask what happened to me.
One of the most common questions I get is, “How do you get dressed?” It seems that to so many people, being blind makes putting on an outfit impossible.
I can’t see people’s double-takes when they see me. But I know they are happening.
I’ve noticed that my colourful ensembles cause some people to comment differently. Questions like, “How do you get dressed?” are less frequent, and instead, I’m greeted with, “I love your earrings. Are they gummy bears?” Or, “Where did you get that dress?” and “Do you dress like this every day? It’s so bright, you must make people smile all the time.” This change has been so welcome and I put that down to my new intention-led approach to style.
It causes people to see past the immediate fact that I’m blind and use a guide dog. Instead, they see a person who chooses to wear a dress printed with rockets or a Bubble O’Bill pendant necklace. And that is often a better conversation starter.
This new lease on my style does cause some internal conflict though. I think we can all agree (especially after the last 18 months) there are some days when you simply don’t feel like colour and pom-poms and sequins.
I am blind and proud of my disabled identity but sometimes it is the only thing people seem to see, and that kind of sucks, because there are so many other interesting things about me.
I don’t want to feel like I am being defined by the way I dress, and I don’t want to feel obliged to dress in a ‘fun’ way just to prove to people that I’m more than my disability.
I don’t dress the way I do for anyone except me and style shouldn’t have to act as this shield, or a learning tool for the public.
The truth is, curating this mismatched, toddler meets librarian chic doesn’t come easy when you can’t see. It takes time, patience and the help of some assistive gadgets, not to mention other people’s eyes sometimes. But for me, that’s nothing, because it brings me so much joy. And I’m happy to talk, explain and open up about it because I’m aware that it’s genuinely interesting.
Ultimately, I want to be more than what you see on the surface. At the end of the day, I’m just an average gal who takes great pleasure in colourful cardies, voluminous skirts, novelty earrings and feeling great about herself.