One of my favourite things in the world right now is my yellow coat. The lining has blue and white stripes and it randomly has the words “Ahoy There!” stitched on the inside. I get so much joy from that yellow coat – as much as one can really derive from an item of clothing – but there was a time when I never would have thought of getting it.
Yellow doesn’t suit me. I know this because my Mum once “had her colours done” and we’re both “a winter.” I’m a fairly pale human being, which means, as a rule, I look better in safer colours like blue, red (as long as it’s not “too orange-y”), charcoal grey and basically nothing too out-there or wishy-washy. And so over the years I’ve stuck to my little set of colours (and looked pretty flipping great, I might add) but never ever dared to pick up anything in yellow or peach or, dare I say it, khaki. Even if I loved the look of something, I would hear my mother’s voice in my head saying, “It’s not in our colours” and I wouldn’t even try.
Until one day my friend Jamie bought a really cool t-shirt and brought it round to show me. Yes it was yellow, but it had a fake front cover of a pulp magazine called “Attack of the Zombie Authors” with an undead mob of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and all my other favourites (I admit that I have a very niche and possibly incorrect understanding of the word “cool”). It was so awesome that – rules be damned – I decided I must wear it, and when Jamie left it at my house I decided to “borrow” it until he realised I was never going to give it back and so he let me keep it. What a star.
After that, everything was different. I started experimenting more with colours and layers and styles. I stopped caring (OK, fine, I cared much less) if something was too girly or not girly enough, if those jeans were acceptable for “a pear shape”, or if “blue and green should never be seen unless there’s a colour in-between”. Who gets to decide these things? Who’s the one that dictates brown and black don’t go together? Or that arms any thicker than matchsticks must be hidden under a cardigan at all times? I refuse to live my life dictated by the ghosts of Trinny and Susannah.
I used to love those makeover, transformation TV shows. Someone would have no idea how to dress, and suddenly they looked a million dollars because they had a little help figuring out what suited them. And those kinds of things can be helpful if you take their “rules” as “tips,” but we can’t let advice about the way we look dictate the way we see ourselves. Yes those rules kept me in safe sartorial territory. Yes they protected me from questioning looks, but they had also kept me from being creative, from expressing myself fully and from discovering new things that I loved. And you know the best thing Trinny and Susannah gave people on What Not to Wear? It wasn’t their rules; it was confidence. And I maintain that anyone looks great in basically anything as long as they wear it with pride.
Now, this may not seem like the deepest and most meaningful blog post I’ve ever written, and maybe it’s not. But I think we all go around living our lives with rules over our heads, rules that may well need to be broken. You may want to try something new, something creative or out-there or risky, but you’re worried it doesn’t “suit you”. Maybe you want to be a leader but the “rules” say you don’t have the right personality for the job. Maybe you want to do something you’d be really good at, but one-too-many people have called DIY “a man’s job” or said baking is “for girls” and so you’ve never tried. Why should we let other people make the rules?
I couldn’t actually afford my new yellow coat so I got it as a Christmas present…from my Mum. I asked her for it, and about a week before Christmas I had a dream that I opened my present to find she’d bought me the same coat, but in blue as it was more “in my colours.”* I must admit that I woke up a little bit worried I’d picked the wrong coat, or I’d picked the right one but I was going to get a few raised eyebrows about it. It’s not easy to do things your own way, and I think we all care about what other people think of us from time to time, but giving in to other people’s rules for life is giving into fear, into insecurity and into doing what’s easiest instead of what’s best for you.
So next time you think about doing something and stop yourself, ask yourself what rule it is you’re sticking to. Is it a rule with merit, or are you enslaved to the little voice in your head that says, “Are you sure that’s for you?” Maybe it isn’t for you, but maybe it is – and if you don’t try you’ll never know. Who cares if that dress isn’t “good for broad shoulders”? If you like it, and like yourself in it, buy the dress! Who cares if someone has told you you’re not “athletic enough?” Or “bold enough?” Or “clever enough?” Run the marathon. Start the business. Read the long and intellectual book. Whatever it is you find yourself itching to do, don’t be afraid of breaking a few rules.
*I told my mum this story on Christmas day. She admitted when she saw there was a blue version she did want to get that one instead, but I still got my yellow coat and I’ve had many a compliment since. Turns out, no one is really making you stick to those rules but you.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti