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Why I Dress Differently As A Wife

Last week, I bought a dress without trying it on. It’s emerald green, short, clingy and fringed. As soon as I saw it on the rack, my brain said ‘That’s mad. Buy it.’ I thought that it might make me look like a plump, exotic bird, and I was right. It’s completely unflattering, but it’s decadent and fun. And I don’t think I’d have the guts to wear it if I wasn’t somebody’s wife.

This year I turned 30 and got married, two life events that usually signal the start of a more sensible sartorial era. On paper, I am a grown up, and I should be dressing accordingly in smart separates, muted colours and ‘investment pieces’. Admittedly, I love the idea of a chic capsule wardrobe, but although my head tells me I should aim to look smart and pulled together, my heart wants sequins and fake fur, neon nails, ear cuffs and formal floral ballgowns paired with muddy Converse. I looked more grown up when I was a single twenty-something than I do now.
Courtesy of Daisy Buchanan
Before I met my husband, I dressed like Kate Middleton. Admittedly the high street was so in thrall to the Kate Effect at the time that it was difficult not to resemble the Duchess of Cambridge. I never deliberately set out to look like a lady-in-waiting, but a lack of confidence and an all-consuming feeling of self consciousness forced me to play it safe. I cinched my waist as if Gok Wan was about to start doing spot checks on me. I limped everywhere, ungainly in ‘dainty’ heels. My handbags were the size of suitcases, because I had to take emergency flats everywhere I went. Everything in my wardrobe felt formal, fitted and worst of all, ‘flattering’.

When I fell in love with Dale, I had a wardrobe wobble. For the first time, I felt so adored and sure of him that I had total style freedom. He was interested in fashion and art. I knew he wouldn’t go off me if I stopped dressing like Joanie from Mad Men and started experimenting with the looks I’d always longed to try. For a little while, I didn’t know where to start. I spent a lot of time staring at my fitted frocks murmuring “Who am I?”, like Derek Zoolander. Dale gently encouraged me, with an almost psychic knowledge of what would suit my mood as well as my body. Here a blue serge blazer with a luminous yellow lining, there a black sequinned cocktail dress, a pair of Topshop Startrite sandals for grown ups, a fur hood. He never said he wanted to dress me, but he helped me discover that I had the courage and confidence to dress myself.
I know I might be in the minority. My friend Eleni, 29, says, "I enjoy dressing up much more when I’m single. I’ve just broken up with a very conservative guy who took me to a lot of work functions, and I always ended up in a sort of uniform – a fitted dress and court shoes. Occasionally he’d make comments about my clothes when we were going to be in a formal setting – ‘That’s a lot of cleavage, maybe you should wear a cardigan,’ or ‘Wow, that’s... bright.’ It’s only now that we’re not together that I realise sartorially, I was being told, politely, to shut up. Without realising, I got bored of shopping when we were together. Now it’s like my fashion tastebuds have come back – in the last month, I’ve bought a silver lame jumpsuit, neon clogs and a cape."

Marni, 31, says that when she’s with someone, she feels safer when it comes to dressing sexily. "It’s not as if I’m on a mission to get my tits out, but some of my favourite dresses are quite low cut, and I avoid them when I’m single because I’m so worried about being accused of wanting attention. When I’m in a relationship and it’s clear that I’m not looking to pull, I’m more comfortable with a bit of cleavage."
Clinical psychologist Dr Jennifer Baumgartner has written a book called What Your Clothes Reveal About You. She explains that dressing in a way that doesn’t let you express your personality will hold you back: ‘The worst clothing is the kind that tries to undo, ignore or hide where or who you are, or the kind that shows you didn’t pay attention to your body/age/situation… [these clothes] send the wrong message."

Relationship expert Benjamin Pine adds, "If you want to have a successful relationship, you have to dress for yourself before you dress for your partner. If you’re wearing clothes that bring you joy, you’ll feel confident, happy and sexy. If you feel as though your partner is imposing a dress code on you, you’ll feel resentful at best, and lost at worst."

If your partner pressures you to wear something that doesn’t feel right, they're probably the bad fit. There’s a strong chance that by our first anniversary I’ll be dressing like a circus performer, but I’ve never been happier and I think my outfit choices reflect that.