Scroll through Francesca Perks' Instagram profile between March and August 2020 and you won’t see her wearing anything but pastels. Cast your mind back to those early pandemic days and you'll remember that this wasn’t out of the ordinary. Pastels were a moment. So when Manchester-based Perks filled her wardrobe, seemingly overnight, with all the lilac cardigans, mint green dresses and pastel shades one could imagine, it was just another season in a content creator’s life.
Then one day she decided to sell all of it.
"I remember waking up, looking at my wardrobe and thinking, I can't think of anything worse than wearing a pastel ever again," she says. "I felt a visceral response, like, No, you're done with that now."
With over 100,000 followers on TikTok and 60,000 on Instagram, 24-year-old Perks has been creating fashion content for years, professionally since quitting university and finding a community on Instagram. She shares everything from captions about body acceptance to outfit of the day videos inspired by the latest trends – many of which she now identifies as periods of hyperfixation.
Just before her blonde-haired, pastel phase during early lockdown, Perks flaunted a ginger bob and wore lots of '70s-inspired clothes, mainly in darker, tonal shades. "The change is so jarring that you would assume it was someone else's account," she says while scrolling through her own feed over the phone.
"Then, around this time last year, I was obsessed with having every single bright and colourful thing in my wardrobe... To the point I didn't actually own basics," she says. "If someone were to ask me to go to the Co-op to get them a pint of milk, I would be absolutely flummoxed as to how to build an outfit that was acceptable."
While Perks says she’s always been bold with her fashion choices – and her job as an influencer is made possible partly because of that – it wasn't until the COVID lockdowns, when ADHD TikTok was booming, that she started to piece together some of her behaviours.
"I just thought that that was just me being a word that's always come up a lot with me through the years: indecisive," says Perks. But when she posted her first video on TikTok and it went viral around the same time as her diagnosis, she immediately felt like she needed to do things differently on the app.
"I had this foundation of what could be an amazing community. I didn't want to go into it with a ginormous amount of reoccurring hauls and reinvention so it really made me think about my personal style."
According to psychotherapist Hannah Martin, people with ADHD are "absolutely" susceptible to the cycle of trends. "When you have ADHD, you are very energetic, you're very severely enthusiastic about things, your executive function is not that great," says Martin, who has ADHD herself.
"Let's say there's a new trend that's come out and you get really excited about it. Your entire brain will focus on it. You'll go down rabbit holes, you'll look up everything online – in that present moment, you will be the biggest enthusiast you know about that trend. And then two days later, you're not interested."
Describing exactly what happened to Perks when she immediately sold all her pastel clothing, Martin says that the switch really can be that quick. "With ADHD, your brain likes constant stimulation and you're looking for that kind of dopamine rush all the time."
In recent years, and particularly during the pandemic, more and more women have been diagnosed with ADHD. Historically the disorder, which can cause impulsiveness, distraction and forgetfulness in adults, has gone unnoticed among women and girls – who are diagnosed at a ratio of one girl to every three boys – with many cases getting lost in the system. Now, many are playing catch-up in understanding lifelong behaviours that they thought were simply individual quirks.
Erica Vonderwall, a London-based digital marketer who was diagnosed with ADHD last year, realised that her hyperactivity tendencies (paired with inattentiveness) are part of the reason she owns dozens of the same products in various colours, including over 100 midi dresses, 19 headbands and the same exact pair of dungarees in four different shades.
Following her diagnosis and after years of speculation, Vonderwall's hyperfixation on specific styles and her impulse shopping habits have become clear as day, the latter having decreased in line with her prescribed dosage of methylphenidate.
"I’m always on the hunt for dopamine and spending money is one surefire way of getting that so I have a long-term issue with impulse shopping," she says. "The meds curb that so I no longer spend hours scouring websites for dresses to make me feel good, which is nice."
Cycling through trends since her early 20s (when she first had disposable income) to then having that multiplied when brands started gifting her products, Perks says she's not always been proud of her quick, consumerist habits.
"I felt so guilty that I was following trends to that speed and that kind of velocity. But I couldn't understand why it felt so innately right for me to move on every time. It wasn't just lingering. It felt innate. Like, Right: change now."
Is it completely her fault though? Doesn't the fashion industry condition us to overconsume from childhood? In 2022 we're only just starting to pull ourselves out of the capitalist trenches through conversations about sustainability and circularity. It's likely that many people without ADHD are having these revelations, too.
As Martin points out: "Everything online is set up to encourage impulse purchases. Companies will do things like 'Five left', you know, '30 people viewed this in the last hour', which is meant to force us into that funnel because they know that if we switch off their site to go do something else, that instant desire is gone."
Martin suggests pausing before hitting the trigger on something new. Even with ADHD, you still have a higher cortex in your brain telling you that you don’t need that new thing.
Perks admits that her habits are definitely not sustainable but in terms of personal style, it’s not all bad. "The word 'phase' is often presented as a negative one. But you're not going into it thinking that it’s just a trend or that it’s fleeting," she says. "You put your all into it because in your brain you truly believe that that is who you are."
And at the end of the day, isn’t that personal style?
As she continues to take bits and pieces from past hyperfixations and proudly thrifts a huge portion of her wardrobe, Perks is grateful for this newfound celebration of personal style which spaces like TikTok are facilitating.
While continuing to attend therapy, and understanding that her hyperfixations won’t just go away, she’ll continue to celebrate being herself. And that in itself is more than any micro trend can offer.