Rihanna Has Admitted A Rarely-Acknowledged Truth: Fashion Can Feel Like A Competitive Battleground Sometimes

Because who else still shops with a trio of mental mean girls with them?


by Daisy Buchanan |
Published on

If Jennifer Lawrence had won CFDA's Fashion Icon Award this year, I’d bet dollars to donuts she would have come up with an adorable, conveniently-wrapped, take-home quote for our gossip party bags. Something like: ‘Oh, fashion? I just pick the dresses that don’t get too ripped when I fall over in them!’ Or: ‘I like to wear stuff that can handle a few visits to In-N-Out Burger.’ But our winner was Rihanna instead who, in her stunning sparkles, commented on her fashion icon status: ’As far as I could remember, fashion has always been my defence mechanism. Even as a child, I remember thinking, "She can beat me, but she cannot beat my outfit."'

Now that is probably the exact attitude you need if you’re going to wear a dress that shows your nipples in front of Anna Wintour. And I love Rihanna’s uncompromising confidence, and her total commitment to style. If anyone should profit from the way Rihanna has crafted her image, it’s Rihanna. She has no obligation to make anyone feel good about themselves – especially not women living in South London who buy Baconnaise ‘for a joke’ and then spend their evenings dipping Kraft Cheese Singles into the jar. But, the fact is, I will never, ever beat anyone’s outfit.

Growing up, I planned to devote my existence to fashion as soon as I had the means to do so. On school trips to London, when everyone else was getting told off for sneaking off to the pub, I’d be in trouble for sneaking to some boutique on a Soho side street, because it was the only place you could buy the Babycham deer print sneakers I’d read about in Elle six months ago. (Internet shopping had not properly got going when I was 14.) I was a fash poindexter. I’d binge on books about Brioni and Balenciaga. My ultimate heroine was Diana Vreeland, the iconic former Vogue editor whose work showed me that if your own life is too boring, you must create your own legend. I was broke, my resources were limited, but I immersed myself in that world and I found it glorious, inspiring and uplifting.

Rihanna’s look has been widely described as ‘brave’ but for me, the bravest thing about her is that she’s prepared to admit that fashion isn’t always fun

But nowadays, as a non-fully-fledged grown-up, I don’t find fashion inspiring any more. I feel like it’s a club, where I haven’t a hope of getting past the doorman, and I was ludicrously naive to ever think I had a chance of making it to the VIP area. Fashion spreads and shopping make me feel poor and fat. (I spent a year saving up for a Sophie Hulme handbag, so I was gutted to find it being recommended to readers as an ‘affordable tote’.)

Living in London, I’m surrounded by incredibly stylish people. Some of them stand out, because they inhabit their outfits so well. Their clothes are just another layer of skin, and they live in a world where no one will question their right to wait for a bus in a pleather pinafore. But others dress with a sort of grim determination. In the morning, I can imagine them standing in front of their wardrobes thinking, ‘If I am not photographed by a street style blog today, will I really have worn clothes at all?’ Rihanna’s quote sharply brings us back to the fact that a lot of people dress for other people now, rather than to generate joy, or be admired, or make anyone happy. It's as if we dress to be judged. Often to me, it feels like fashion is like a driving test, and you don’t get points for doing anything right. If you make a mistake, you’ve immediately failed.

Often to me it feels like fashion is like a driving test, and you don’t get points for doing anything right. If you make a mistake, you’ve immediately failed

We’re always asking women why they wear what they wear, and more importantly, who they're wearing it for. Most of us will only ever admit that we dress for ourselves, even though it’s rarely entirely true. It’s pretty shocking to hear Rihanna being so open about the fact she dresses to impress and intimidate others, but it’s thrilling to hear her being so honest about such a contentious issue. And it’s reassuring to hear that she looks amazing because she has a game plan. There’s a reason that she always looks so hot, and it’s because she’s always working on it. She’s not profiting from luck, or an accidental sense of style. She’s earned every style accolade she receives.

On the other hand, when I shop, I take a trio of mental mean girls with me. They live in my head and frown at everything I pick up, dismissing it as ‘slutty’, ‘mumsy’ or ‘try hard’. When I dress for my body shape, I curse myself for being predictable. When I dress in the boxier avant-garde shapes I have started to love, I catch sight of myself in shop windows and wonder why the doctor behind me has shoved a cushion up their hospital scrubs.

Money is a factor. In a way, it was easier when I had none of it and spent daft, happy hours sewing beads on to New Look tank tops and looking for non-existent vintage Schiaparelli in the Sue Ryder bin. But now I fear that everything I buy is going to be an expensive mistake. There is a cream leather T-shirt hanging in my wardrobe that makes me feel paralysed with dread. It was too expensive not to wear but, when I put it on, I’m convinced I’m not pulling it off. And the combination of terror sweat and leather sweat does not make me popular at parties.

Rihanna, you deserve your fashion icon award. You’re one of the few daring women in a world where the rest of us have been scared into playing it safe.Rihanna’s look has been widely described as ‘brave’– but, for me, the bravest thing about her is that she’s prepared to admit that fashion isn’t always fun. If someone as beautiful and successful as RiRi will admit she uses fashion as a form of armour, perhaps we can all start being more open and honest about the fact that fashion doesn’t always make us feel good. If Rihanna is dressing up as a defence mechanism, maybe occasionally she feels as wobbly and weird as I do in my leather T-shirt. She’s started an important conversation, and maybe she can use her CFDA winner status to make fashion feel fun again for all of us.

Follow Daisy on Twitter @NotRollerGirl

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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