Fashioning Confidence: How Colourful Clothes Helped Me Claim Space

A challenge about taking up space with the clothes we wear, and finding a voice through colour

Words and collages by Isabel Webb; Photography by Sophia Gaede


Although I’m hardly a wallflower when it comes to dressing, a lot of the time I also hold myself back. I’ve noticed that I tone down my most conspicuous tops with black jeans, ditch the flamboyant  accessories as I rush out of the house and continuously dismiss certain items because I just don’t know how to wear them. I wonder if it's a question of taking up space; if sometimes my clothes draw too much attention to me on days when I don't feel confident enough or ‘worthy’ of the space.

So, for one week I challenged myself to push the boundaries. The shoes bought on a whim would finally get their star turn. The earrings I had forgotten about would dangle free and uninhibited. My initial urge to cower in a corner wearing all black would be firmly ignored. And somewhere, in a sea of colours louder than my voice, I might just find some confidence.

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Fifteen-year-old me was something of a magpie. My friend and I used to rock up to antiques fairs at weekend and trawl through stall-upon-stall of bric-a-brac to find hidden treasures. These brooches have been adorning my bookshelves ever since, largely unworn due to how excessive they can feel for an average day of running errands and haunting the library. But, I actually really liked this look, and somehow wearing three brooches together (although one is technically an estranged earring fastened with a safety pin) made them feel less ostentatious. The beret presented its own challenges: I’m not normally a hat person, and the beret raised the question of what to do when you go indoors. I soon realised that the red line it left across my forehead was not a good look, so it stayed firmly planted (‘casually perched’) on my head all day.


I look really tired in this photo and that’s because I was. Tuesday was a pretty dull day, and whilst I was still partially boycotting colour here, the snazzy shoes did brighten up my day a little. This was the first time they had gone out for a spin, and I didn’t get very far (they’re not the comfiest kicks in the cupboard). That said, I really liked how prim this look was and it made me feel like the kind of person who spends their days mooching around galleries.


This top is one of my favourites, but it needs ironing before every wear and that’s normally beyond my early morning capacity. I finally made the effort this week and it made my Wednesday in the library feel like a Friday on the beach. The earrings were mostly just my attempt to balance out those ballooning sleeves, but they also make me feel all cultured and arty because I bought them at the V&A. I guess I was dressing aspirationally in that sense. The unexpected consequence of this outfit was that it made me take up space, not just physically (those sleeves are BIG), but also emotionally. It gave me a nudge when my self-confidence started to ebb and stopped me from shrinking into the background as soon as my energy started to fade.


Most of the clothes I buy are second-hand or high street, but this Shrimps coat was a treat to myself after a really hard time, and therefore makes me smile every time I wear it. Between the pink faux-fur collar and the animal print (though which animal I have no idea), it’s pretty out-there, so it’s not the kind of coat I can wear everyday. But the most challenging part of this outfit was the necklaces. I normally find them too fussy and my complete lack of jewellery organisation means they took about twenty minutes to untangle. Whilst they looked quite cool standing still, every time I moved I was reminded why I don’t do necklaces. Fun for a day, but I don’t think they’ll become a permanent fixture.


Wearing white trousers past October can feel quite brazen, as if you’re taunting the inevitable English mud, but this challenge was craving some white flares. The blazer I paired them with was a kilo-sale find, and hasn’t seen much wear since I pulled it out of the bargain bin. Admittedly, this is more of an evening look, and I didn’t feel entirely comfortable in it until sunset. What I did love about this look though was the red lipstick. It’s called ‘Lady Balls’ and I think that sums up how it made me feel pretty well. I’d been apprehensive about red lips, but by the end of the week it had become my signature.


This outfit was my favourite by far and I think it shows in the photo. The skirt - which is Kenzo Kids but somehow wound up at Portobello Road market - has an unparalleled way of brightening a dreary day. It’s like a beaming middle finger raised to the lack of sunshine. There’s not really much else to say on that one.


I love this dress. It’s insanely comfortable for something that looks so good and the colour/print combination is (in my humble opinion) one of the best things I’ve spotted in Zara for the last three years. Normally, I do it a slight disservice by covering the top half in a bulky jumper (my lazy attempt to make it appropriate for daytime), but this cute little jacket shows off the dress in all its glory. Of course, my new favourite lipstick made a reappearance, and I topped the look off with another pair of V&A earrings (can you tell I’m a little obsessed?).

By Sunday, I had gotten into the swing of dressing up. In fact, I actually felt more productive having wholeheartedly committed to my outfits. And whilst wearing heels on a daily basis still seems like something only steel-toed, taxi-takers can maintain, it was nice to let my lesser-worn shoes see some sunlight. By the end of the week, I fell into the stride of confident clothing choices (albeit a slightly slower stride than my usual trainers would allow for). Overall, I didn’t feel as self-conscious as I thought I would. I suppose that living in London, where people tend to express their identities more freely, it was easier to explore a different aesthetic. But the small changes I made had a bigger impact on my mood than I thought they would. I felt more confident, less restricted by other people’s opinions and just generally happier when I was wearing brighter colours. This challenge cracked the invisible wall I had built in my head and has given new life to some items I’d long since given up on. I might just keep dressing this way...

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Isabel Webb