Thursday 26 April 2018

Throwing insecurities out of the closet to pursue stylish happiness

Stylist and fashion journalist Annmarie O'Connor tells us how her fashion foibles inspired her new self-help guide

Clothes and the woman: Stylist Annmarie O'Connor's book reveals how she used clothes to mask insecurities. Photo: Frank McGrath
Clothes and the woman: Stylist Annmarie O'Connor's book reveals how she used clothes to mask insecurities. Photo: Frank McGrath
Liadan Hynes

Liadan Hynes

'I am the youngest in a big family. Having always been shy, I've found it difficult to be heard among the big personalities around me. As I grew up, I found my voice visually through clothes. I overcompensated for years of silence with bold fashion statements."

Stylist and fashion journalist Annmarie O'Connor's recent book, The Happy Closet, Well-Being Is Well-Dressed, is a self-help guide to achieving an organised, clutter-free closet, which will in turn lead to a less anxious, more in-control self. It's an admirable mix of brutally honest personal testament and really practical tips on how to achieve closet contentment.

"I never really learned to deal with my insecurities," she explains, in a chapter that urges the reader to confess to whatever childhood hang-up is causing them to use their wardrobe as a security blanket. "Instead, I fed my fragile ego and desire to be accepted with my need to be seen."

Your closet is more than a collection of clothing, it's an accumulation of years of memories, she explains. And as such, it is weighted down with emotion.

The book is the product of both her work as a closet cleaner - helping private clients to declutter their wardrobes - and her own personal journey from self-confessed hoarder, trying to buy her way out of deep-seated insecurities, to her current well-dressed self.

"My closet was bursting at the seams, yet I didn't feel put-together and I couldn't understand why," explains Annmarie, whose theory is heavily influenced by her long-standing interest in mindfulness.

"It occurred to me one day as I was looking at myself in the mirror and I thought, 'You know what, I don't actually want all these clothes. I don't wear most of them.' It was the emotional pay off. It made me feel secure, because I was quite insecure."

Buying bold, statement clothing, what she had decided one should wear when working in fashion, had become a sort of protective armour, a way of being accepted into the fold.

"It was necessary," she says now of her detox. "It was draining my bank account, it was draining me."

Growing up in Long Island, Annmarie was the shy young sister to four garrulous older sisters, "loud New Yorkers.

"You have to fight for your air time," she laughs.

Her American father passed away when she was four and her Irish mother moved the family home to Ireland when Annmarie was 12. Having earned a degree in English and Italian in UCG, and an MA in literature, she spent her 20s holding down numerous jobs whilst pursuing a long-held dream to work in the fashion industry.

Living in London, she picked up bits of freelance styling and fashion writing work, "low or no pay, that kind of thing," she says bluntly.

Moving home to Ireland to go freelance, she decided to set up a blog, I Blog Fashion.

"I thought, 'well, this is going to be quiet for the first couple of months'," she laughs. Ironically, it was the blog that got her noticed and led to a full-time career in fashion.

"I had gone through so many jobs trying to find myself. Finally I got there. And you start comparing yourself. I was competing with this imagined version of myself, rather than the person that I was. This fashion editor that I thought I should be."

Working in fashion, she says, it's important to really know who you are.

Now 42, she says that whilst turning 40 wasn't necessarily the catalyst for the changes outlined in her book, it did cause her to take stock, a process that was both good and bad, but definitely uncomfortable.

"It was totally a turning point. I changed my hair. My hair used to be really short and black. I started wearing things I never would have looked at before. I loved The Matrix, I was dressing like Trinity. Leather and studs," she laughs.

Now, she loves her forties, but at the time, it was something of a shock. "I thought I'd be in my 30s forever. And I'm glad I'm not. Because there was a lot of figuring out in my 30s. Forties are a lot kinder."

Writing a book was a long-held ambition. "I always wanted to but I didn't know what the book was," she recalls. The idea came to her whilst out for a walk after meditating. "I went to Insomnia, I'll never forget, and I took a napkin, and started writing things down furiously. And then I pulled out a notebook, because I realised I had a notebook in my bag," she bursts out laughing.

She took three months off work, bar her fashion column, to write, living on savings, working from the home she currently shares with her eldest sister. Scary, as a freelancer, but worth it, she says. "I wanted it more than I wanted that work. I was like, 'this is it; this is the one shot deal'. Lets make it rain." Rain it might, but nowadays Annmarie, for one, will be perfectly, and practically dressed.

The Happy Closet, by Annmarie O Connor, €14.99, Gill & Macmillan

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