I can remember the first day of my freelance career so distinctly – perhaps because I took this selfie, which has since been shared among my girlfriends on WhatsApp more times than I can count. To this day, we continue to forward it to each other as a shorthand for feeling like we’ve fallen off the rails. Somehow, the image reflects that stomach-churning fear of the unknown – it's like a personalised emoji which instantly brings me back to that feeling of being so completely and utterly lost.
The edges of that day are still very sharp. I woke up around 9.30am – about 90 minutes later than my alarm had been set for my old job – watched an episode of Gilmore Girls and then looked at my screen. I'd had some kind emails from friends in the industry and I responded to them in an upbeat and consciously non-desperate tone. I then made scrambled eggs and avo, and posted it on Instagram with a motivational caption, which bore little relation to how I was really feeling.
Smile and the world smiles with you; get dressed and the world thinks you’re ready to do business
In truth, I was a bit of a mess. I'd done that convulsive crying thing, where you can't catch your breath in between sobs, a couple of nights before and, mentally, I was spinning. The strain of the next few weeks took a big physical toll. I stopped sleeping, skipped three periods and lost weight. I also kept getting recurring cold sores – basically, the stress played out on my face for everyone to see and there was no hiding my anxiety. Logically, there was no real reason to feel this way. I had money saved for three months’ salary and, very quickly, work started to come in. It was more an amorphous dread of standing on my own two feet – something that, in retrospect, I don’t think I believed I had the ability to do. It’s so easy to become institutionalised and feel rootless without a job title to define you.
It didn't help that I pretty much stopped getting dressed. The month before, I had been senior fashion features editor of Grazia magazine – a position I'd held for three years. Every day was a chance to express myself through fashion and I pretty much always went for it. But, in the weeks after I left my job, the only thing I was expressing was how infrequently I was washing my hair.
Of course, I pulled myself together for meetings and no one else knew how I looked at home. But it was the days when I was on my own that I let things slide and, at the beginning of setting up your own business, them's a lot of days.
After a while, I began to realise how important structure is. Not bothering to get dressed was a cosy treat at the beginning, but it soon became something that felt mopey and ill-disciplined.
Smile and the world smiles with you; get dressed and the world thinks you’re ready to do business. I can remember, one day sitting working in bed (another horrific habit, which I’m sorry to say I haven’t entirely grown out of) at 3pm, and catching sight of myself in my mirror – three-day-old fringe, my boyfriend’s sweatpants and a sloppy T-shirt – and just thinking, “Christ, is this what it’s come to?”
After I’d jumped into the shower and put a pair of heels on, I decided it was time to start being stricter with myself. Scheduling morning exercise before 7am became one of the lynchpins of that routine, and being showered and at least dressed in something that wasn’t a tracksuit/pyjamas/combo of the two before 9am was another. Relaxed-cut jeans and a nice sweater were fine, as were loungey separates, like softly tailored trousers and a good T-shirt – but actual nightwear was out. Even though no one would ever see me, it became so quickly evident that by not getting dressed, I was losing a part of my character. I mean, I’d made my career off the back of clothes – it made sense that I could never feel like myself if I wasn’t wearing them.
In this shoot, I’m wearing French Connection’s new-in collection – a line of polished, but comfortable, pieces that do all the things that I’ve realised at-home workwear needs to. A striped sweater is one of my working-from-home favourites – it’s timeless, easy and always looks great with jeans and a peacoat. The one I’m wearing here has a sweet buttoned detail at the shoulder, which is the kind of twist that can make a classic just that bit more special. I still think a fuss-free white T-shirt should be part of any at-home working wardrobe – but it does need a little jazzing up as I’ve styled here with these embroidered PJ-style trousers. And, while I’ve never worked in a suit environment, a great pair of smart trousers still talk – I team mine with an elegant, roomy blouse to keep things a little more casual.
The moral of the story is that what you wear really does affect how you feel and a great outfit can help you feel empowered. Jogging bottoms may be the uniform of Silicon Valley, but for me, slobbing around – even if no one else ever sees it – has a detrimental effect on my self-esteem. And, when you’re learning to stand on your own two feet, that is something you really do not need.