‘Never feeling catered for in clothes shops can be very lonely’

All the Lonely People: At 3ft 5in, shopping for clothes is a difficult experience, but my fashion blog and the improving options in small sizes have given me great confidence

Standing at 3ft 5, shopping proved to be a lonely experience for Sinead Burke when she was a teenager but she choose to turn it into a positive.

 
  • This week in Life & Style we will be exploring loneliness from every angle in our new series, All the Lonely People. We want to hear from readers about their experiences of loneliness. Are you lonely? Have you ever experienced feelings of isolation? What has helped you overcome those feelings? Email us at lonelypeople@irishtimes.com
  • If you have been affected by these issues, Alone helps older people who are homeless, socially isolated, living in deprivation or in crisis, 01-6791032, alone.ie. Jigsaw works with young people aged 12-25, jigsaw.ie. The Samaritans are available 24-7 on freephone 116123

 

All the lonely peopleAs a teenager, clothes shopping filled me with poisonous emotions: jealousy, envy, regret and disappointment. I wanted what others had, or at least had access to.

My choice was so limited and my personality and other people’s perceptions of me were coloured by my lack of sartorial selections. At 14, maybe I should not have been concerned about strangers’ opinions, but walking through endless rows of shops, boutiques and outlets while never feeling represented or accommodated can be a very lonely experience.

I stand 3ft 5in and, at almost 25 years old, I have an insatiable appetite for fashion. My hunger for it is not sated by the commentary of trends and what is “in” or “out” this week, but I am fascinated by the way clothes make me feel and the image and personality they permit me to exhibit to others.

On a dreary Monday morning, when tiredness flows through my consciousness, I pull out a fitted blazer, a simple blouse, my most comfortable jeans and black leather boots from the children’s department and, instantaneously, my confidence is restored and my work ethic is focused. Clothes are a malleable armour, defending us from the elements, our own emotions and others’.

Gaining confidence through skilful choice of clothing was not something that happened overnight. It took time, tenacity and patience. It also required huge amounts of honesty and support from family and friends.

 

Hard to reach

Picture your favourite physical place to shop for clothing. What height and size are the mannequins? At what height are the rails, the lock on the door of the changing-room, the hook in the changing room to hang your clothes on, the customer services desk and the till? They are all out of reach for me. Going shopping for clothes is designed to be a pleasurable experience, escapism even, but it further highlights my lack of independence and the physical challenges I face when attempting to indulge in the pastime that gives me the most satisfaction.

Online shopping has alleviated some of this frustration, but the euphoria of leaving a shop having made a tangible purchase is not quite equalled by hearing the postman push a too-large parcel through the too-small letterbox.

Thankfully, the general public are incredibly kind, and throughout my life I have called on hundreds of bystanders to pass me down that leopard-print coat, a must-have pussy-bow blouse or an eccentric pair of sunglasses. Each request has been met with kindness and understanding, which I am incredibly grateful for.

However, my expertise in fashion was cultivated online, through commentary and questions on my blog, Minnie Mélange. It began as a platform for me to spare my siblings and parents the endless dining-room conversations about the workings of Burberry and the marketing brilliance of Victoria Beckham.

They supported my ambition to learn as much about fashion as I could, but there is only so much a parent can hear about the tortured brilliance of Alexander McQueen before they recommend that you find a friend or write your thoughts down. Through the internet and social media, I have managed to do both.

 

Online platform

What once was a space for me to discuss topics such as whether a product or garment can be described as couture outside of Paris has transformed into an online platform for me to meet and interview the designers, editors, journalists and marketing executives who are the changemakers within the international fashion industry.

I am incredibly fortunate that these people agree to meet me. The learning and confidence I have acquired from these conversations is immeasurable.

Over the past decade, my confidence has grown and so too has the spectrum of my sartorial selections. Designers have embraced the creation of stylish clothes for celebrity children, and the high street has followed. Within my sizing of 9-10 years, I can now purchase a dress, slogan T-shirt or coat that mirrors a piece of typical womenswear. I can also purchase wedge and low-heeled Mary Jane shoes from many designer children’s collections, even at size 11. This has greatly benefited me but I am not naive to the ethical issues of designing clothes for younger people.

Shopping for clothes continues to be a physically difficult experience. I have seen some increase in the number of shops that provide an accessible dressing-room, but a gargantuan amount of work is yet to be done. I aspire to continue a conversation where industry leaders are challenged over what is deemed acceptable and accessible in fashion.

Clothes are not a frivolous subject, and the conversation around them should not be belittled. How we dress affects what we feel, what we do and who we are.

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