Fashion Impostor Syndrome

Fashion Impostor Syndrome

Lesego Komane

What is it? Why expensive designer clothes can be bad for your health. Yes you, keep reading.

Recently I have ditched smart designer brands, because they make me feel they’re too good for me. At one time I owned several designer items, 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. I mean after all Sandton Diamond Walk is like home mos.

Obviously I was seduced by the look of these things, but I was also banking on them giving me an instant upgrade: ‘Ah the Fendi Bag/Louis Vuitton Scarf combo is communicating akere, yes we see you, come through to the Taboo VIP area madam and make yourself at home.’

These designer items 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?’ this seemed to be saying: ‘I need one with long blonde wig, a camel cashmere coat, 5in heels and a size zero figure. Someone has dropped me in the wrong life.’ Status and me were a misfit; they made me feel like a fraud.

My friend 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.

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 a sore thumb.

You wear it out one night for supper with friends and they want to know why you’ve come dressed so over the top 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, but for us fashion civilians it is extremely unrelaxing navigating our real lives in delicious designer wear.

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 Louis Vuitton 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.

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?

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.

Lesego Komane