Recently in my Inspire column I let slip that I have ditched smart designer handbags, because they make me feel they’re too good for me.
At one time I owned several designer bags, one after the other, and I really liked them — the way you can like a high maintenance girlfriend until you realise you have nothing in common and she makes you feel inadequate.
Obviously I was seduced by the look of these bags (I wasn’t alone, this was the height of It Bag fever), but I was also banking on them giving me an instant upgrade: ‘Ah the Fendi baguette/Mulberry Bayswater, yes we see, come through to the VIP area madam and make yourself at home.’
The bags were supposed to raise me up, mark me out as a discerning person — that is part of the deal, after all — but most of the time I felt like the lady-in-waiting carrying the train. ‘What am I doing with Her?’ the bag seemed to be saying: ‘I need one with long Afghan blonde hair, a camel cashmere coat, 5in heels and a size zero figure. Someone has dropped me in the wrong life.’ Status bags and me were a misfit; they made me feel like a fraud.
Shane Watson recently revealed that she’s ditched designer handbags because they feel too good for her, the admission comes as research reveals a third of us suffer from Fashion Imposter Syndrome, pictured: Classic Chanel chic
Turns out I am not alone. For anyone out there who has ever felt they’re not living up to their accessories and clothes, this is a now recognized syndrome known as Fashion Imposter Syndrome (FIS) which affects two thirds of us — according to Boston College and Harvard Business School’s research findings.
Seventy-five per cent, regardless of their income level, reported feeling that sporting a luxury buy made them feel ‘inauthentic’. They bought something fabulous, as you do, only to discover its very fabulousness made them feel unworthy.
Oh yes, we know that FIS feeling only too well. You think the shiny new article (the dress, the skirt, whatever) is amazing and you want it to be You. You look good in it, or you really like the buckle, or the smell and rustle of it, or it reminds you of something you saw in a magazine when you were 18, and wanted it so badly it made your throat hurt.
But then you bring it home and put it away and it’s all alone in your otherwise solidly mid-market wardrobe, sticking out like Charlize Theron at a carboot sale.
You wear it out one night for supper with friends and they want to know why you’ve come dressed as Gillian Anderson in The Fall (it’s a buttery leather pencil skirt) and even before that you feel like you’re letting down the skirt by wearing it like a clumsy pretender.
Then there’s the basic fact of you being terrified of something happening to your VIP purchase. Women who wear expensive clothes don’t think twice for obvious reasons: (they can phone for another! They have three already! They are not getting the bus in a greasy downpour! They don’t have a dog that gets over-excited when you walk through the door and might well ladder £500 worth of chiffon sleeve!), but for us fashion civilians it is extremely unrelaxing navigating our real lives in delicious designer wear.
Shane said people often don’t wear their VIP purchases, although ‘Buying Up’ does work if the item is in your fashion comfort zone (file image)
There are hazards everywhere. We are walking hazards, ourselves, unused to the slippery restricted movements required if you’re wearing money.
More often — I’ve found — you just don’t wear whatever it is, ever. The one occasion you might have, comes and goes, because when the day arrives there is an easier option that always works without you having to step up, shape up, groom up and shop for new shoes. You don’t want to be slob-shamed by your own clothes.
To be clear, ‘Buying Up’ does work, of course it does, so long as the item in question is in your fashion comfort zone, a quality example of something you already wear, rather than a leap into the fashion unknown.
If you buy a Saint Laurent velvet tuxedo, and you like to wear tuxedos as a rule, it will not produce a case of FIS — you will just go about your business looking 70 per cent sharper, chicer and more shapely and bolstered in the shoulders than you ever did in your old Mango one.
If, on the other hand, you buy a long Missoni dress, but you are too shy to wear it to the party at the weekend (because it feels way too much) and end up wearing a tuxedo instead, that’s an FIS purchase. Buying Up if you just fancy something but have no means of integrating into your real life will lead, inevitably, to FIS.
British style expert Shane, has stopped buying for the life that she doesn’t have and the shape she doesn’t have, pictured: Fendi bags
You can cure yourself of this one, and I speak from experience. Once upon a time I had a wardrobe full of unworn gold lame trousers and floaty maxis, clothes I loved the idea of and thought I might have the occasion to wear one day.
Now I know I am never wearing a diaphanous maxi dress on a holiday in Diani Beach in Africa (sort of where I had pictured it) because I have been on that holiday and what I wore in the evening — of course — was floppy trousers and a T-shirt, or a Ghost slip dress.
Experience is the cure, eventually. Buying for the life I don’t have and never will, the shape I don’t have and never will, the foot arch tolerance I don’t possess, has all but stopped.
There was a time when — encouraged by the staff at Manolo Blahnik I may say (‘take a couple of Nurofen babe’) — I thought nothing of buying shoes half a size too small, hoping for a miraculous stretch effect if I wore them with two pairs of socks around the house. Those days are over.
The real problem, the habit which is much harder to break than Buying Up, is buying to Put Aside for the occasion which will happen, at some point. This doesn’t go away with age, because it appeals to the practical part of our brains (get ahead of the problem), plus our fear of not having the right thing to wear. Put Aside shopping feels thoroughly sensible, because isn’t being an adult all about planning for a rainy day?
Shane said buying a dress in The Kooples sale last year for a party she might plan, is arguably her worst Put Aside error (file image)
In fact this is terrible fashion practice. Every time I’ve Put Aside shopped — rather than bought with the intention of wearing at the weekend — the article has never emerged from its dress bag.
I’ve actually got too old to wear the unworn lemon yellow dress I bought three years ago, thinking it would be great for some smart daytime thing in six months time.
That happens; things that look fresh turn frumpy on you, sometimes in less than a year. Or go out of fashion. The lacey dress I snapped up thinking ‘I’ll be wearing this to parties forever’ within months looked like something you’d only wear if you were employed by Roger Ailes.
But arguably the worst Put Aside error is a pretty recent one. I have in my wardrobe a dress bought in The Kooples Sale last year which is very Biba mid-Seventies: looking at it sends me skeltering down the years, into the labyrinth of Kensington Market, out again reeking of patchouli and onto Biba, wearing a knit cloche hat, an embroidered Afghan jacket and nibbled Mary Quant plum nail varnish. I bought it to put aside for the party I might be planning to give with a possibly Seventies theme. I know. Not good enough.
So, here’s to better shopping practice. No more shopping for the life you don’t have, in the budget bracket you can’t afford — thereby inducing a bad case of FIS — and never again Putting Aside for a real or fake occasion. Good luck.
MOOD FOOD: Butternut squash to beat the blues
Nutritionist Amanda Hamilton advises boosting your immune system with butternut squash (file image)
Nutritionist Amanda Hamilton shows how to manage your mood with food…
It’s winter and there’s no better time to tuck into a hearty butternut squash. They’re bursting with Vitamin C and carotene, which help to boost the immune system — ideal during these cold months.
Plus, they’re packed with potassium: studies have found a link between a deficiency in this mineral and increased levels of weakness and fatigue.
Also, a butternut squash is comprised of more than 86 per cent water, which makes it super hydrating. Try baking it in the oven, as a delicious and colourful, mood-boosting alternative to a baked potato.