Creating looks for her Italian vacation and the 'gram, Danielle Bowler sees a clearer image of herself
When I bought a printed Missguided two-piece, I started referring to it as my 'Italy Outfit'. With its silky texture and sense of ease, the crop top and high-waist pants communicated a sense of 'somewhere else' and something different than the concrete edge of Johannesburg and the constant clench of my teeth. It was escape embedded in fabric; a tailored exodus from daily difficulties I was confronting.
Those items of clothing have a transportive quality, in the way that fashion can communicate a vast range of meanings as it settles on our skin. As I clicked 'add to cart', I saw that outfit on a beach in Cinque Terre; I imagined wearing it while eating gelato and dreamed of sitting on sidewalks sipping espresso as it draped around my body. Preparing for the idea of Rome, I found myself building a travel wardrobe around a projection of difference and newness (and serving, of course).
The trip took place in a lacuna; a transitional space that would inaugurate a new era of my life, as I changed professions and joined the world of fashion magazines. I didn't fully know it then, but there was a way that I was communicating with myself through style, conducting an intuitive conversation about who I am and who I want to be through the clothing I was selecting. I gravitated towards pieces that had a sense of fun, power and freedom – in the way I understood that translation – but also required practicality and ease from clothing I would be walking multiple kilometres in daily, with everything needing to work with two pairs of sneakers.
I formatted this fashion plan through structure, lists and spread-sheets. One of my favourite parts of travelling is the planning that goes into creating the looks as fashion becomes language. The idea of entering a new professional space and different physical place presented an opportunity to try new trends and ask questions about the evolution of my style. I find myself gravitating towards matching sets and suits for easy simplicity, and for the trip purchased a waist-bag – the common travel staple that has been given a modern update in 2018. In retrospect, that newness is something I crave with the shift my life is going through, sometimes wanting the change to be absolute and flawless in impossible way that does not account for the grainy textures of life and the natural overlaps of our existence.
Preparing for the trip, I kept a mental diary of outfits – creating a series of looks with heightened intension. I knew that I would be sharing images of myself in this clothing, conscious of my love for social media, but also subconsciously understood the release or revolution that I required this trip and clothing to provide. Great expectations.
However we cannot ignore that the idea of creating and curating for the 'gram (or even just with it in mind) can cause a sense of pressure to project an idea or serve and slay in pictorial perfection, while also simply being a source of fun and entertainment. It is a challenge that many people who make a living off digital content creation face daily and one that many of us who share parts of our lives online confront in varying degrees. The gap between what is projected with an image and the experience can be vastly different, and particularly when anything we do, say or post has an audience and a set of collectively and contextually understood demands.
Throughout my trip, I found myself thinking about how the way we travel in the digital age is different: a change that I've felt in the gap between one of my first trips and this one. Then, Instagram was relatively new. I took a few images, with less aesthetic pressure on myself and the framing of the images. Now, much goes into the construction of a fire image. We consider backdrop, setting, framing, quality and mood with much greater emphasis. It can feel like a lot to contemplate when shooting an image – and I often remind myself to let go and just have fun with it, rather than holding myself to an ideal or overthinking the documenting of a moment, look or feeling.
In documenting my travel, I didn't want to just shoot an outfit. I wanted it to have a sense of place and time. I longed to lock in a memory. Looking at myself standing on the Spanish Steps in a spotted suit will always remind me of the first time I bought Fenty Beauty and the taste of pistachio gelato. But above that it reminds me of the sense of power and self that I felt as I touched the edges of this transformative moment in my life.
As I look at the images from my trip, I realise that I was not just creating looks for an Italian vacation or for the 'gram, but creating an image of myself, one that can seem blurry and out of focus as I continue to grow, change and shift, but that I so deeply need to see myself more clearly. It is style as selfhood, and a space where looks turn into expressive and expansive personal revelations.