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Identity Crisis //When I become an expat, did I forget to bring myself?!

Identity Crisis //When I packed to become an expat, did I forget to bring myself?!

I packed my suitcase. Three to be exact.

I had heaps of clothes back home in London (if you know me, then this will come as no surprise!). Some tough decisions were made in terms of what I kept, brought, or took to the charity shop. The truth is, I had no idea what to bring with me when I relocated to Dubai. It felt like I was going on a really long holiday, yet knowing I’d have to go into the office and live a “normal” life at the same time!

Does this sound familiar at all?

It all starts with appearances…

When I think of my London-based style identity, I can describe it to a t. Career girl by day, Camden / Clapham girl by night. Kate Moss, Sienna Miller… just a couple of my LDN style icons. Weekend wear consisted of jeans, boots, plenty of layering to stylise looks, and possibly a black felt hat thrown in! Hmm, now try transferring that aesthetic to Dubai!

In addition to this, a large amount of my social life was built around my work and looking back on this now, my workwear was actually a major focal point of my overall style. Always dressing in an outfit which looked smart and still elevated enough to transfer to dinner and drinks if needed.

I was SO excited about my move here. Yet arriving in a beach destination such as Dubai, leaving behind a somewhat refined, urban city, and landing without a job, really did throw my style identity into question.

A few weeks in, I was very fortunate to land myself a corporate job. However, the fashion surprises didn’t end there! Arriving in DIFC during those first few days and weeks I was stunned to find that pretty much anything goes when it comes to (some, not all) corporate dressing. Not necessarily a terrible thing, yet still a bit of a shock to the system.

Clashing prints, tank tops, open-toe sandals. It was giving more Emily vibes than Sylvie. More Phoebe than Rachel. More Carrie than Samantha (and I can be a total Carrie outside of work!). It wasn’t bad, just different to what I was used to.

For weekends and evenings, I’d mainly packed for the beach or ultra-glam! If I hadn’t travelled to Dubai on business before, it would have been to come for a holiday. Turned out I had no idea what to wear to go for coffee, breakfast, a trip to the old town or the mall for an afternoon!

How can a small thing like clothes affect you?

Whether you are consciously aware of this or not, you no doubt developed a baseline understanding of your style identity at a young age. This has gradually evolved with you over time due to the experiences you’ve gained, places you’ve hung out, jobs you’ve worked in, celebrities or friends who’ve influenced you and so on.

This style becomes an extrinsic expression of your internal persona. No matter how stylised or style-conscious you believe you are, how you dress is an emblem of your personality and is certainly how people will digest who you are before you even open your mouth to speak.

You can be forgiven for not considering this nor thinking so deeply about how you dress, as in all honesty, most of us don’t. This is why it can come as a surprise to us when we start to doubt something we took for granted, such as how we dress. On top of this, most of us don’t handle unanticipated change particularly well, nor wish to feel like an outsider, especially when it comes to how we look.

Moving overseas is one of the biggest upheavals you can choose to put yourself through in life. Feeling pressure to fit into a world you don’t quite yet understand is both frustrating and can be pretty daunting.

So, where do we go when we relocate?

Our style is just one element of our identity which is thrown into question when we relocate overseas. Yet it is also one which can be massively underestimated in terms of its impact on us and our representation of how we are feeling deep down inside.

When attempting to navigate all the other challenges we experience with relocating such as a lack of support network, loneliness, stress, anxiety, and fear of the unknown… sometimes all you want are for the things which are known to you to be exactly that, known.

Craving familiarity is something I had never really anticipated when I came here. I’ve always been someone to try something new, do something scary, or put myself out of my comfort zone. No doubt if you’re reading this and you’ve taken the plunge to move overseas, you can resonate with this on some level. Yet I’d sort of underestimated just how much my certainty around knowing who I was would be affected by this movement.

How we dress is both a reflection and an expression of our personalities and moods. Earlier I gave you a definitive description of my style back home. Yet in contrast, I couldn’t tell you much about my aesthetic make-up or how and why I dressed the way I did during those first twelve months of living here. Previously I might have been a bit daring with the things I wore, which I’m pleased to say that I am again now. Yet during that first year, I would’ve done anything to blend in.

I was totally out of my comfort zone and in every way possible. Looking back on how I dressed when I first moved here, this was in fact, a big giveaway to some of the other challenges and confusion that lie beneath the surface.

How do we find ourselves again?

First up, acknowledging and appreciating yourself through this entire journey and disruption is an essential step to begin the process of introspection and rediscovery. It permits self-healing and self-exploration, helping you to overcome that feeling of whether this is perhaps a little self-pitying or indulgent. And by the way, it is not at all.

During your relocation you may find yourself questioning many things surrounding your motives and whether the decision was really right for you. Why did you move? Has it changed you? Like me, how should you look, dress, and behave in your new world?

Accepting there will be a period of confusion and knowing that it is okay to feel this way whilst you figure everything out means you’ll stop giving yourself such a hard time about it and take the time and space to gradually work things through.

Additionally, appreciating that identity evolves over time is a key consideration. It’s important to remember that you are still the same person. There may be parts of you you’ve left behind, but this doesn’t mean that you’ve entirely changed. Assessing your values and priorities can help you to understand how things might have shifted for you, but in essence, you are still you.

Reconnecting with your style identity

When it comes to style identity specifically, this is just one element of the confusion you might be feeling and to reiterate, it really can be a dead giveaway that there’s a bit more to explore about how you’re dealing with the highs and lows of becoming an expat.

Evolving your existing fashion sense and aesthetic from back home to suit your new environment is a great way to transition how you look and to ensure you feel like your authentic self.

Start by considering what you wore back home, the styles or trends you like and define which of these translates well into your new location. You can have fun exploring fashions you might not have considered before and those you’ve seen around you. Moving forward choose to balance what you’ve discovered you like, with looks and pieces you wore back home.

Creating an aesthetic which suits you in your new location without entirely abandoning your look and feel of old, is a comfortable and healthy balance. It will keep you feeling like yourself, whilst allowing you to develop your personal style into something that works for you and have fun whilst doing so!

Please remember, if you are suffering feelings of anxiety, depression, sadness or confusion since moving overseas, reach out and speak to someone who can help you to work through this. Becoming an expat can be an absolute joy and a blessing, but it is not without its challenges. Acknowledging this and seeking support can help you to resolve these concerns or questions, and put you back on track to enjoy the incredible jump in life you’ve been so brave to take.


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