Iam perched on my bed, surrounded by clothes which have been thrown haphazardly, scrunched and inside out. The sartorial mess reflects my frazzled state of mind as the piles of clothes become mountains in my mind, insurmountable and overwhelming. Looming over me is the dreaded question I have grown accustomed to facing every morning: what on earth am I going to wear today?

Frantically, I have tried on outfit after outfit, becoming increasingly panicked as I stand in front of my mirror, wardrobe doors flung open, my clothes ripped off their hangers, sprawled and rejected on my bed. It feels like the kind of day where I need the perfect outfit in order to function, to give myself the essential boost of confidence to go outside. As I try on different versions of myself and scrutinise my reflection, it simply feels like nothing fits right, and I lose confidence even in my usual favourites, which become distorted in the mirror. Eventually I end up on the bed too: crumpled, like my clothes, by wardrobe anxiety.

The time ticks by incessantly. I need to leave! Dispirited, I return to the original outfit I’d been planning to wear, because otherwise I would have been late. But after the panic of trying on everything I own, it’s impossible to relax or regain confidence. As I step through town, self-consciousness consumes me, and my confidence drains further as I pass other students on the street, all seemingly dressed so much better than me.

“perhaps this pressure to look our best is worse in Cambridge, where so many of us are perfectionists”

For so many of us, what we are wearing impacts our self-confidence, whether at a club, a formal or a supervision. Even in the library I feel like I work best when I am confident in my appearance and my clothes. On the days when anxiety seeps into our wardrobes, the pressure of choosing the perfect outfit can become overwhelming. This feels especially true as we crawl out of the pandemic and try to return to a more normal Cambridge term. As someone who loves fashion, I’m excited about dressing with purpose again, but at the same time, the thought of in-person lectures and supervisions feels stressful. On Zoom, only our top halves were revealed and, like so many others, most of the time last year I wore my pyjama bottoms underneath. Now my entire outfit matters again, and I can already see myself having moments of panic when nothing I own will look good enough.

Perhaps this pressure to look our best is worse in Cambridge, where so many of us are perfectionists. As a woman, I also fall victim to the social pressures of looking perfect everyday. Coming back to Cambridge each term can feel like a chance to reinvent ourselves through our clothes: ‘this term I will be more organised, act more confident, have more fun — I just need the right outfits for every occasion.’ In this way, university transforms into a fashion show, and walking across Sidgwick site is like modelling on the runway, where we each display our Cambridge identities. It can even feel as if we are in competition with each other to dress the best, from costumes at bop to our everyday lecture looks. Paradoxically, even though we all strive for individuality in our outfits, the easiest choices for me are the ones that best allow me to blend in with the other humanities students: I want to look and feel like myself, but I also want to fit in at Sidgwick.

“it can be challenging to decide how to present ourselves each day and how much we want to tell the world about ourselves”

This means that outfit planning can become an unwelcome obsession, as my mind fixates on potential new looks. When I see others in outfits I want, or see items I love in the shops, these clothes stay in the back of my mind, and potential new purchases turn into projections of the person I could be: with that dress, or those jeans, I’d surely be the ideal version of myself and I’d never have this fashion anxiety again.


Mountain View

An ode to the tote

Of course, no new clothes can make anxiety disappear entirely. Deep down I know that I love the carefully curated items in my wardrobe, but on days of low self-confidence, I still doubt my reflection. How we dress showcases our identities to the world, and so it follows that it is difficult to choose an outfit sometimes: it can be challenging to decide how to present ourselves each day and how much we want to tell the world about ourselves through our fashion choices. This is especially difficult when we are already feeling overwhelmed, each trying to define our identities at university and looking to the millions of uni lookbooks for inspiration.

As I realise this and readjust to my Cambridge routine, I’m trying to remember to be kind to myself: not every day has to be one where my outfit is immaculate. Fashion is beautiful because it can be so personal, but there are bound to be days when our clothes will not reflect how we are feeling accurately enough. Maybe some days are simply meant to be pyjama days, and that’s completely okay.