Finding confidence via fashion: escaping anxiety through menswear and style

I grew up in cold, rural, middle-of-nowhere Scotland as a terribly anxious child and teenager. Long curly hair and a reserved persona tried and failed to mask a swathe of insecurity that was extraordinarily difficult to overcome as a young man, either for not wanting to speak about it, not knowing how, or both.

This stemmed mostly from a complicated and negative relationship with my own appearance, and confronting anything to do with anxiety or insecurity was always daunting for me.

Throughout my adolescence, I never wanted any attention, doing my best to avoid photographs and nearly breaking down when asked to present in front of a class at school. There was comfort in blending away into a background, without scrutiny or comments from others.

This thought process was also shown in what I wore, very plain silhouettes and drab shades of grey and brown being most of what I found myself wearing at the time, as clothing so often reflects the wearer’s personality and mood, for better or for worse.

Making my way into adulthood in an era of constant pressure from social media to compare myself to those I saw online truly was crushing for a time. Ruthlessly analysing flaws of mine to compare to influencers and models became habitual, a self-destructive loop that led to periods of disordered eating, poor self-worth and becoming a pit of negative emotion I couldn’t seem to claw my way out of.

Then covid hit. The seemingly endless sea of extra time and sudden lack of purpose left me feeling very lost for a while, just as it did for so many others. However, at some point during the multiple-year period of sitting scrolling through social media in my room, I began to build an interest in sneakers.

This was spurred by a pair of red and blue suede Air Jordan 1s (which I have since outgrown and donated to a charity shop) I had bought a year or so prior, which got an approving reaction from a friend at the time.

I still have a fondness for the early days of lockdown messaging back and forth with him, sending pictures and links relating to sneakers neither of us could afford, but simply enjoying ogling at them and daydreaming.

A very similar pair of Jordans to mine, Photo credit: Alamy

This was something of a turning point as I set to reclaim my self-worth. What was initially just wanting to own nice shoes became wanting to look better in other aspects which then led to looking at fashion more as an expressive medium.  I watched documentaries about artists like Alexander McQueen and Margiela, and YouTube videos on more niche designers like Rick Owens and Jun Takahashi. Despite not really comprehending the deeper meaning and impact of their works I quickly became fascinated.

The process of finding a personal style was rocky at first as it is for nearly anyone without an unlimited budget, experiments in colour, silhouette, androgyny and trying aspects of different subcultures all resulted in varying levels of success.

After a while, I started to settle on fairly minimal all-black outfits, not anything outlandish but clean, refined, and unproblematic. I feel my style now projects how I want to be perceived: well-put together with a bit of an edge.

To epitomise the sort of outfit I feel most at home and confident in comes down to silhouette. A cropped jacket and shirt, long flowy trousers or jeans and a chunkier shoe make up my go-to proportions for an outfit I feel most confident wearing.

Designers like Rick Owens and Yohji Yamamoto provide this look perfectly, however, a full wardrobe of their work is more expensive than I can justify right now, so I snag up deals on their pieces when I can.

In a way, I think how enamoured I am by fashion isn’t entirely about clothing. Having a “journey” into fashion is a cliché by this point but, if I had one, it led to taking better care of myself in other aspects of life too. I began working out, started a skincare routine, practiced being more mindful all due to the gained confidence from feeling like I looked good in clothes. So I am almost indebted to that transformative aspect.

I think that is why I will always argue that fashion is the most impactful form of art. The effect of simply feeling good wearing something can have is incredible and can lead to so much more. I’m forever grateful for the effect this wonderful medium has had on me, since without it I would be in worse shape, maybe not even at university and undoubtedly have much worse mental health and self-esteem.


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