There’s little to be said for my fashion choices as a teenager. I was confused about what went with what, where to shop, what my tastes were, and whether or not I could pull off the same Pretty Little Thing dresses that my friends seemed to suit. Growing up in the era of Instagram just becoming a thing, where harsh contour and drawn on eyebrows were the expectation, when Topshop and Hollister were the pinnacle of style and where if you didn’t have expensive clothes and expertly applied fake-tan you were not it, I struggled. I faked my way through this time by sticking to a regime of black skinny jeans and by borrowing an outfit for house parties from my fashion-aware friends. I desperately wanted to fit in with the girls who knew what to wear and when to wear it but I simply couldn’t find a style that felt authentically me. Of course, everyone makes fashion mistakes as a teenager. I know that like me, many of the friends I grew up with look back on that time and cringe at themselves and their outfits. It’s a rite of passage, no one should be allowed to skip the awkward teenage years - its character building.
However, as I grew up and beyond the bounds of my small town I knew that the way I presented myself, through my clothes, makeup and all-round aesthetic just didn’t align with how I felt about myself on the inside. Looking over photographs from when my mum was a teenager in the 80s, when her and her friends would attend rock shows dressed head to toe in leather, with massive hair and black eyeliner, I wanted so badly to live in a world where I too could dress like I’d just stepped out of an Aerosmith music video. I knew my true passion for style lived in that aesthetic; black and leopard print and fishnets and leather, where something about that unpolished, almost androgynous aesthetic felt authentically me.
In my first year of University, where I studied Fashion Management and Communication, I made the conscious decision to make a fashion change. Turning to social media for inspiration, I actively searched for creators who aligned with the aesthetic I could so clearly see in my head but that I was not able to curate for myself in real life. This decision unconsciously altered the course of my fashion journey forever. I began to study fashion in an alternate way by creating vision boards on Instagram and Pinterest and thus using social media as a force for personal growth and positivity for the first time in my life, and thus I finally managed to put together a visual representation of the style I wanted to achieve. Then, when I realised that high-street stores in large did not stock the style of clothing that I was hunting for, I took it upon myself to curate a wardrobe of sustainable, second-hand pieces instead. At first, batting for the sustainable side was an uphill battle and I have definitely slipped up and fallen into the fast-fashion trap along the way. Building an entirely new wardrobe from scratch is neither cheap nor easy so I accepted early on that this transition would be a gradual process. Luckily, I live in Sheffield and have access to some incredible vintage and charity shops. I was able to immerse myself in this world by learning from slow-fashion social media, the staff in my favourite clothing stores and most importantly, trusting my own fashion instinct for the first time. The more energy I put into developing my own passions and style inspirations, the easier it became to shop for pieces that reflected my style. I slowly found a way to merge the dark grunge aesthetic with a more youthful, colourful style, allowing my tastes to evolve instead of attempting to fit to one fashion mould. More recently, my style has developed to incorporate much more colour, most prominently green in all shades - it makes me feel powerful and authentically myself. If you catch me walking around Sheffield city centre in neon green head to toe, mind your business. I also love adding a few staple elements to every outfit which signify that it’s mine, namely an excessive amount of gold jewellery, a fluffy bucket hat and black nail varnish. Always.
As I’ve progressed along the sustainable shopping journey, I’ve learnt how to make the process easy and enjoyable. If you’re looking for some advice on how to shop sustainably, look no further. Firstly - vision boards. I have no idea how people live without constantly pouring over imagery in order to find fashion inspiration so if you don’t, now is the time to start. I love to use Instagram for this, saving images that are visually encompassing of my style. This doesn’t have to just be fashion imagery, I advise saving everything from fashion, to art, to graphic design, colour palettes, film stills and graffiti - anything that sparks your imagination. I also suggest saving photos posted by people you follow if they portray a style you’d like to explore - if we follow each other and you’re wondering who keeps saving all your photos, it’s probably me - take it as a compliment.
With your vision board ready, it’s time to plan a vintage shopping day. Personally, I recommend Sheffield, Manchester’s northern quarter, or if you’re down South and have a little more time to explore, then London boasts some incredible vintage shops (the further South you go, the more likely you are to find some should-be-expensive, designer items in charity shops). Sustainable shopping is perfect for creating a personal style as there is no mass production of the pieces, ready to be bought and worn by you and the other 100 people who went into your local Urban Outfitters that day. It’s not unusual that you’ll head into a vintage store and get lucky by finding exactly what you want but often when I’m shopping, I go in with a general vision of what I’m after but without a specific item of clothing in mind. That way the clothes can jump out at you, and you can develop your style by trying on pieces you wouldn’t usually have chosen. The challenge of finding the perfect sustainable items is rewarded in knowing that no one else has that item, that you will stand out from the crowd in your purchase and that you’ve not contributed to the damaging impact of fast fashion on our planet. Win, win, win. Honestly, vintage shopping is half knowledge, half luck. It’s dependent on the day and where you go as to what you will find. I tend to find my clothing in vintage stores and kilo sales and my accessories in charity shops. Don’t forget that some vintage kilo sales only accept cash - it’s best to withdraw some on a shopping day, just in case.
No matter what, it is so important to keep in mind that moving away from fast-fashion and developing sustainable shopping habits is a gradual transition so don’t be hard on yourself if it takes some time. Start slow. Why not upload a few pieces to your Depop? For every item you sell, reinvest the money made into buying something second-hand for yourself. That way you’re not adding to landfill and you’re giving another sustainable shopper the chance to give a new lease of life to your old clothes.
Ultimately, the key to finding your personal style and wearing it with confidence is authenticity. When embarking on your sustainable fashion journey, remember that being yourself is sexy and you should never compromise on your style; it’s a reflection of you - your loves, your inspirations, your ideals and it deserves to be seen. There is freedom in being yourself through fashion because if you feel confident then you will look good no matter what you wear. So, whether you’re someone who has an out there garish style, if you love a simpler and more refined look or if you’re looking to uncover a whole new side of your own style, then be assured that there is a whole wardrobe of sustainable style out there waiting for you and you owe it to yourself to find it.”
Written by Hannah Foster