This is what happened when I wore my holiday wardrobe to the office

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Billie Bhatia
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Billie Bhatia Instagram yellow dress holiday wardrobe

Fashion writer Billie Bhatia only wears dark colours to work, even in the height of summer. Here’s how stepping out of her fashion comfort zone for one day changed her mindset entirely…

I love a holiday. Who doesn’t? The feeling of sun tickling my skin, sinking into a refreshing pool when it all gets too much, eating gelato for breakfast with no one to judge me for being a reckless adult. And the best part: a holiday wardrobe bursting with items full of colour that is so far removed from my everyday look. A holiday is, in short, a total escape.

For much of my adult life, or at least my working life, I have avoided colour. In fact, I have gone so far as to create a work uniform, consisting entirely of black trousers or black skirts, paired with a black/white/grey/navy tops (just call me fashion’s Mark Zuckerberg, minus the political controversies). The lack of colour in my work wardrobe is down to multiple factors, but the three main ones are:

  1. I don’t want to stand out. I already stand out enough (how many plus size women of colour in fashion do you know?) I want to blissfully blend in, and what better way to do that than in head-to-toe black?
  2. Shopping for fashion-forward clothes in my size is difficult. So, often, the best option is a black option.
  3. It’s really convenient. I am out and about a lot in my job and wearing clothes that I feel comfortable in makes moving around easier. (I also tend to spill my lunch, so lack of colour helps when trying to disguise your stains.)

See prime example, below. 

But as soon as I leave the country, I am free of all the self-imposed restraints of a work wardrobe. I embrace colour – in fact, I don’t just embrace it, I run to it, swathing myself in the brightest oranges, reds and yellows imaginable. 

It’s not just the colour. I embrace my body when I’m on holiday, as opposed to hiding it. Instead of my trusty denim jacket and midi length skirts, I wear sleeveless dresses with no regard for how much my arms jiggle or how much of my legs are on show, and I’m OK with it. Holiday me is essentially, an entirely different person. But why?

Maybe it’s because I’m lazy in my everyday dressing, or because I prefer to be inconspicuous in an industry where I’m already the anomaly. Or maybe it’s just because I live in fear of chafed thighs. But the more I thought about my split wardrobe personality, the more I thought: wouldn’t it be nice to wear both sides to the office?

In a bid to be more ‘holiday me’ during the working week, I trialled my ‘abroad’ wardrobe at home. I went for the brightest possible piece, an off-the-shoulder yellow dress that shines like holiday sun. Hey, if you are going to do something, best to commit, right?

As soon as I stepped out of my house, I hit a wall of anxiety. The journey to work was crippling. With every step I took, I felt like I was screaming directly into someone’s face, “Look at me! Look at me!” I was in constant fear that my dress would fly up and I would embarrass myself on the tube, and I worried about the way the wind blew the fabric flush against my body, highlighting every lump, bump and roll. I felt like a ‘loud and large’ beacon, and became convinced that everyone was staring at me – so much so that I couldn’t bear to ditch my sunglasses.

Yet when I wore the same dress just one week ago, I swooshed around like I was the Queen of Tuscany. I didn’t care whether it clung to my stomach, or if a gust of wind showed more of my leg than I had planned. In Italy, this dress made me feel cool, even chic.

I made it to a safe place, the office, and to little surprise people I noticed I wasn’t wearing black! One colleague called me a ‘ray of sunshine’, there was general love for the dress and, shock, people were complimentary on the colour. The dress, the anxiety, the fear of baring all was worth it, not because of the compliments (although sure, they helped) but because I felt like I actually was dressed for summer, I was embracing this season of sun as opposed to hiding my body in a black sack pretending that was what I wanted to wear. 

Dressing should not be an ordeal, but when England enters heatwave mode it certainly can be a challenge. I can’t promise to include every member of my holiday wardrobe into my work wardrobe – I won’t lie to you, it’s hard – but I’m certainly going to try.

My advice? Slip a pair of cycling shorts under your sundress and you’ll be ready to tackle the world one buoyant colour at a time. Or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

Images: @billie_bhatia Instagram