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How Changing How I Dressed Helped My Mental Health

Fashion has never really been my strong point, especially as a young physics graduate about to embark on a doctoral degree. My dress sense revolved around sports hoodies, loose jeans, a few t-shirts and some casual shoes/trainers.

I felt young and a little insecure. It seemed if I dressed more professionally, the work I was doing would be serious. And I didn’t want it to be. Being able to dress like I did as an undergraduate helped me to feel comfortable, helped the work feel a little less serious and helped me to bond with my new doctoral colleagues (who dressed similarly). This all changed when I became very ill a year into my doctorate.

Mental illness changes pretty much every aspect of life for any individual unfortunate to go through such an experience. It is often horrible, ugly, debilitating and (perhaps most importantly) poorly understood. While terrifying, I believe what comes out of them is unquestionably beautiful. I learned a lot about myself and what it means to be alive. Counseling and meditation helped me find the beauty within the darkness. I became a different person after my crisis.

However, when I returned to the doctoral program, my dress sense didn’t reflect the change. I was still wearing the same hoodies and jeans I wore when I was 21. And it didn’t feel right. I wasn’t a kid anymore, but I looked like one. I was no longer insecure, but others would still talk to me as if I was. I wanted my opinion valued, yet found others not treating me seriously. I became very frustrated.

I realized my dress and fashion sense needed to change to be treated like the person I had become. I needed to dress how I felt. The work no longer scared me; I was confident, assured and relaxed. In short, I felt a bit more professional.

I didn’t feel corporate. I don’t think I will ever feel fully comfortable in a suit. However, I did ditch the college wardrobe. I got some polished navy-blue smart shoes, plain work-like crew neck jumpers and much smarter, better fitting, dark jeans. How I felt and how I looked now matched.

It was only a small shift in style, but I was astonished at the difference it made in the workplace. I was being treated more professionally and seriously. I realized how one looks can affect how others treat you.

In future jobs, I may be more restricted in the clothes I can wear (which may mean the dreaded suit and tie!). However, I have learned there is always room to tinker, so I won’t hesitate to update my wardrobe when I get that uncomfortable feeling in the clothes I wear at work.

Unsplash image by Silviu Beniamin Tofan