“Do you know what I love about fashion?” Jude asked as they sat in their seats in the now not-so-crowded theatre.

“No, I don’t,” Eric replied. The two had come to watch a play, and were waiting out the intermission inside the theatre. They didn’t need fresh air nor were they hungry for overpriced snacks. The only thing that would have got them out of their seats was the pork ribs at the theatre’s restaurant, and there wasn’t enough time to get through a rack of those.

“I’ll ignore the rudeness I hear in your voice and answer my question anyway. I love that it can teach you about yourself.”

“Here you go again, finding meaning in something that doesn’t actually have it or need it.”

“Again, I’ll ignore your condescending tone and explain myself. This isn’t one of my usual philosophical epiphanies.”

“Oh really? And why is this different?”

“I’m getting to that. If you’d be less rude and practice patience and understanding you’ll find out why in a few minutes.”

“I’m sorry,” Eric said, not at all apologetic. “Please. The floor is yours.”

“I don’t appreciate your attitude. How are we even friends?”

“We’re friends because without me you’d be get in trouble with everyone over the dumb stuff you say.”

“So you pity me? How sweet. I’m touched.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“Anyway, as I was saying, this is different because I can actually back it up. In fact, it’s something I’ve experienced. I even have just the example for it.”

“I’m listening. And don’t use big words and fancy language to try and convince me. I know your tricks.”

“Just listen. I think fashion allows people to discover more about not just fashion itself, or apparel, or style, or all those things we normally associate with fashion, but about themselves. There’s so much that I learnt about myself through fashion.

“There’s so much I discovered about the person that I was and am.”

“Is that so?” Eric said. “Pray tell.” A man and woman who seemed to be too comfortable with each other to be brother and sister, excused themselves as they passed in front of them. The man held hot dogs underneath his t-shirt, apparently in an effort to subvert the “No food or drink in the theatre” rule. Two soda bottles stuck out of the woman’s handbag.

“A partnership of criminals,” Jude said. “How sweet.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Anyway, you know how you can get stuck in your habits and get comfortable? I realised that one way I beat that, one way I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, was by trying and wearing clothes I normally wouldn’t have. And it’s not that I did it to get out of my comfort zone. I mean yes, it was in the back of my head that that’s what I was doing, but that wasn’t the motivation for it. I just realised I needed to make a change. This realisation may have come as a result of being told by a dear but heartless friend that I had been wearing the same clothes for so long that it was as if I had a uniform.”

“They were right. It’s like you were a cartoon character. Jeans and a white T-shirt almost every day.”

“Don’t hate, I still looked good.”

“Keep telling yourself that.”

“It’s the truth. But once I changed my wardrobe and started to wear different clothes, I got the confidence to change other things as well. Because I’d started to build confidence to wear what I wanted or to try different clothes despite what people might think of me, I gained confidence in other areas of my life as well. I gained the confidence to go out and try new stuff, stuff I’d only been thinking of doing but had never got around to doing, like taking a dance class. I tried things I wouldn’t have thought of doing, like auditioning for a play. I can’t believe I was cast. I got more confident and started to carry myself that way. I got better at interacting with people, having conversations, making friends, networking, and being in unfamiliar situations.”

“Sounds wonderful.” There was seven minutes of the intermission left and more people began to stream back into the theatre.

“It was, you wet blanket. But like I said, I didn’t just get out of my comfort zone, I also got to learn more about myself. I learnt that I dress for others, even though I’d convinced myself otherwise. I was concerned about what people thought of me and my fashion choices. I was eager to please, which is part of why I wore the same thing all the time. There was less to think about and less stress wondering about whether people would like what I was wearing or not. And because I was dressing for others, I was dressing the same as so many other people. I was buying what was trendy, which isn’t bad, but it wasn’t always what I liked or would want to wear.

“Exploring and experimenting with fashion let me wear what I liked, when I pleased,” Jude continued.

It gave me a little agency over my sense of style.

“It helped me get over my people-pleasing habits. I started to make more independent choices not just in fashion, but in other areas of my life as well. But there was something else that fashion did for me that I hadn’t been aware of.”

“Is it that you’re a massive idiot?”

“I think you’re confusing me with yourself. Stick with me here. I know your brain struggles to process sentences with more than four words, but try not to get left behind.”

“Goodness. You kiss your girlfriend with that mouth?”

“I do.” A girl ran in front of them, dragging her little brother behind her. Joel and Eric watched as they made their way to the end of the row and plopped themselves in seats between a man and a woman who looked very much like them.

“Those must be their parents,” Joel said.

“Nooooooooooo. You think so?”

“Be nice for once. Back to our conversation, and here’s the example I was telling you about. This show we’re watching here; part of what makes the characters the actors are playing is the costumes. The costumes allow the actors to inhabit the lives of the characters they play intimately. They can leave themselves behind and play a role. Clothes in the real world can have that effect on a person as well. They can help you channel something, confidence or glamour or sexiness, that may not necessarily be you, but that you can use to fulfill a role you’re playing too. Think of celebrities on red carpets. I’m sure that’s the approach they take. You’d never be able to tell that Normani, and this is hypothetical, is a demure introvert when you see the fierce popstar on the red carpet.”

“Very interesting,” Eric said as more people began to file into the theatre. The intermission was nearly over and almost everyone was back in their seats. “What else did you find out?”

“I found out what clothes look best on me, what colours were most flattering, and which sizes fit me best. I learnt more about my body and how when I’m in shape clothes seemed to fit me better and looked better on me as well. I learnt more about my own body as well. I realised that the reason I struggled to find shirts that fit me perfectly was because I have broader than average shoulders and long arms. And my goodness, I learned so much about fashion. I could give a lecture on it.”

“Spare me,” Eric said as the exits in the theatre were closed and the lights switched off. A hush fell over the audience.

“Don’t worry, I’ll tell you after the show,” Jude said as the curtain on stage slowly opened. “I know you’re curious.”