Belonging is a funny thing. It’s widely regarded as a basic human need and part of our common experience. But whilst it’s a need which binds us all, it’s something we all experience uniquely: belonging doesn’t mean the same for everyone. In his book ‘Community: The Structure of Belonging’ Peter Block very accurately describes it as, ‘the experience of being at home in the broadest sense of the phrase’.
Whilst many find that home within a community, we can also find belonging within ourselves. It’s no secret that clothes and identity go hand in hand. There are many, many essays, books, think pieces and discussion boards on the subject. For some, clothes are an incidental; they get dressed in something agreeable, head out the door and forget about it. For others, clothes are a way of communicating who they are or even the thing which shapes who they are. I fall into the latter camp. Since causing my parent’s endless stress over which school trousers I deemed acceptable to wear, clothes have been the thing which helped me feel at ease in a world I didn’t always fit into.
If I were a Buzzfeed post I’d be ’27 Problems Only Introverts Will Understand’ and yet my affinity for bright colours surely screams ‘confident extrovert’. Despite often being singled out at school for being weird, rather than use clothes to fit in, I used them to stand out further.
By not belonging to a particular group or clique, I essentially belonged to myself and built a ‘home’ that didn’t rely upon a foundation of acceptance from others.
The strength I take from this sense of identity is undoubtedly why I see fashion or, more precisely, style as something much more than materialism. It allows us to break with any predetermined standards and become someone entirely of our own making.
Put me in something ‘normal’ by high street standards, for example blue skinny jeans, a white t-shirt and a pair of converse, and I will feel painfully out of place, awkward and, paradoxically, on show but let me loose in a pair of pink flares, a striped shirt, silver boots and a shit tonne of jewellery and I experience the same familiarity and sense of relief as I do when I step through my front door. It’s a paradox that I’m sure would quickly unravel a whole lot of complex emotional business but I’ve got four deadlines today and delving deep into my psyche fortunately, isn’t one of them so let’s move swiftly onwards…
In a world where women are dictated to, labelled and categorised, finding our own sense of belonging is important in shaking off those expectations. We can embrace a vision of classic femininity or steadfastly reject it and substitute our own version. Clothes can be a protest; they can show an alliance with a cultural movement, they can disrupt a stereotype and start a discussion.
A sense of belonging doesn’t come in a standard format; it’s wherever you want it to be. I just happened to find mine in my wardrobe.