What happens when you dress like someone else?

Chloe wears the rainbow every day. Natasha is a confirmed colour-phobe. What started as a fun challenge – to wear each other’s clothes for a week – resulted in some startling, soul-searching discoveries for them both.

Chloe and Natasha with rail
Image: Victoria Adamson

How we dress is about so much more than choosing clothes: it’s how we express our personality – our identity – every single day. What we wear tells a story about who we are – serious, playful, rebellious, sophisticated. An outfit can say, ‘Look at me’, or ‘Don’t mess with me’. Colour plays a huge part: a dress in neon yellow broadcasts a very different vibe to the same style in beige.

Our clothes affect how we feel about ourselves, too. They can be mood-enhancing and confidence-boosting; that’s why we reach for certain favourites when we need a little lift. The right outfit can set the tone for a big day (or night out).

When you’ve found your ‘signature style’ – a way of dressing that makes you feel most you – it’s tempting to stay in your sartorial sweet spot. But sometimes you need a little push to try something new.

Natasha Tomalin-Hall and Chloe Sharp are YOU magazine staffers with polar opposite wardrobes. Natasha’s is a crisply curated, all-black affair. She never wears colour. Meanwhile, Chloe’s bulging wardrobes (plural) are a rainbow riot of clashing patterns and prints, with a lot of faux fur. The pair work together every day but what they wear couldn’t be more different. So we set them the ultimate challenge: swap wardrobes for a week.

Read on to find out what they learned about fashion, identity and self-confidence.

Chloe, 28, art director: Addicted to brights

Each of the four wardrobes I have at home is an absolute tip. I’m a magpie: I like colour, texture and anything iridescent or fluffy. Pink is my favourite shade but I also love lilac. My style influences are eclectic: a little bit 90s Spice Girl with a sprinkling of noughties Britney Spears. Growing up I always loved combining colours and patterns, much to my grandmother’s dismay. Whenever I went to visit her in my printed dress and tights she’d always change me into plain M&S clothes from a collection she kept just for me.

Whereas Natasha’s look is very polished and sophisticated, mine is probably more childish and extroverted – clashing prints, faux fur, patchwork, platform trainers. My idea of a formal shoe is a pair of mint-green mules.

I don’t really do ‘smart’ and I’ve found that even though I’ve climbed the career ladder quickly for my age, I’ve still had to prove myself in spite of my style. I don’t want to sacrifice my personality in order to be seen differently in the office.

Chloe with black clothes rail
Image: Victoria Adamson

Dress and boots, topshop.com

Channelling Natasha and wearing only black was really weird. Putting on the first outfit – a black blazer over a black blouse, with black trousers – I felt as though I was heading to a funeral. Colour influences my mood and I felt really flat all week. I clung to my red lipstick because I had to get a little colour in somewhere.

The first night I came home wearing Natasha’s floor-length black coat, my boyfriend asked me what was wrong – and why I was dressed like an extra from The Matrix. In the past he’s always been a bit shocked when I’ve worn smarter things to the office, because it isn’t really me. I know he found the whole week strange.

Usually, my outfits are quite eye-catching and people will comment on them, but no one noticed me and I definitely missed that. Although I felt more groomed and chic, it seemed as though I was playing dress-up and I stared enviously at people wearing colourful clothes. It was frustrating not being able to express myself.

I see why having an all-black uniform such as Natasha’s makes life simpler. I can be really indecisive and spend half an hour switching up elements of my outfit trying to find a look that works. During the style swap it took two minutes to get dressed.

Even though I’m jealous of how quickly she can get ready (and how tidy her wardrobe is compared to mine) I know I’m always going to reach for colour. What I wear is an extension of how I’m feeling each day. Although I like the idea of putting together outfits in a single colour – it’s very striking and makes a real statement – I think it would be cooler to do top-to-toe pink.

Natasha, 32, creative director: Allergic to colour

Five years ago I started dressing solely in black. I can pinpoint the exact moment I made the decision: I was at a networking event and spotted a man dressed top-to-toe in black. He oozed cool, grown-up confidence and I thought, ‘That’s who I want to be.’

I had just been promoted to a senior position at work but was struggling to feel like a ‘boss’ and was worried about being taken seriously. Something needed to shift and changing how I dressed felt like a good place to start. I culled all the colour, florals and prints from my wardrobe: only my black clothes survived the purge.

My new dress code instantly boosted my confidence. I looked sharper and more grown-up, which made me feel more authoritative. It sounds silly but I honestly felt as though I was better at my job.

Natasha with colourful clothes rail
Image: Victoria Adamson

Blazer, trousers and shoes, topshop.com

Black is now my daily uniform. I always feel chic, and it’s so easy. Everything in my wardrobe goes together and shopping online is simple: with one click I can filter out the colours. I don’t think black has to be boring: I like interesting details – an organza sleeve or a lace collar. I did wear white at my wedding, but my bridesmaids were in black.

At work, Chloe is the ray of sunshine and I’m the thundercloud – that’s what makes us a good team. Her style suits her but wearing her clothes for a week was horrible. I felt self-conscious and uncomfortable, like an entirely different person. Strangers would smile at me on the tube and I didn’t like it. People I know blanked me on the street – they just didn’t realise it was me. When I met my friends for drinks wearing purple trousers and a candy-pink blouse they were genuinely worried: ‘Who are you? What is going on?!’

My husband wears dark tones, too – forest green, navy – and I like the fact that we look chic when we’re out together. He laughed when he saw me in a green dress and furry fuchsia coat. By day three, though, he’d warmed to the colours.

The hardest part was feeling that I had lost some of my power. Turning up in the office wearing a pistachio trouser suit, three people told me that I looked ‘so young’. They meant it as a compliment but it touched on my old insecurity about being thought of as inexperienced. How I dress has become such a huge part of my identity; when I switched back to my trusty black, I noticed that I was much bossier in the office!

My wardrobe will be staying monochrome but I am more open-minded about the cut of clothes I wear. Usually I stick to form-fitting styles, but trying the looser, less structured shapes Chloe likes has made me rethink. Although she can keep her neon tights.

Chloe tries monochrome

Statement sleeve

Chloe in statement sleeves
Image: Victoria Adamson

Top, topshop.com. Trousers, arket.comShoes, office.co.uk

I wore this to a night out at a ball pit with friends and I felt so weird and overdressed being head to toe in black in a fun place like that. None of my friends really noticed I was dressed differently, but they all sensed something was off – one even asked if I was pregnant!

Flattering fit

Chloe in black dress
Image: Victoria Adamson

Dress, topshop.com. Boots, topshop.com.

This was Natasha’s favourite on me – she said it was really flattering – but something this fitted makes me feel physically uncomfortable. All the compliments I got made me doubt myself. Do I look a lot bigger in my normal clothes? I’d never wear this again. It isn’t me at all.

My kind of cut

Chloe in black dress
Image: Victoria Adamson

Dress, hm.com. Tights, falke.com. Boots, office.co.uk

At least this is a bit more of a ‘me’ shape. I wish I could style it with a pair of coloured tights and a bright coat, though. I also like the boots – although, again, I’d rather team them with a fun outfit to give them more life.

Mum’s favourite

Chloe in black suit
Image: Victoria Adamson

Blazer, zara.com. Top, topshop.com. Trousers, asos.com. Shoes, topshop.com

I wore this for dinner with my mum who was annoyingly complimentary about it. ‘Why don’t you always dress like this?’ she said. ‘You look so sophisticated and grown-up.’ I found this outfit the worst – so severe and serious. I really did feel that I was dressing in someone else’s clothes.

Natasha embraces the rainbow

Don’t heart this

Natasha in purple suit
Image: Victoria Adamson

Shirt, hm.com. Jacket and trousers, lazyoaf.com. Shoes, topshop.com

Chloe was most excited about me trying this outfit as she loved the pattern. I wore it for dinner with friends at a posh restaurant, but I felt like a little girl out with her parents. Used to seeing me in black, my friends weren’t impressed either – some said I looked like a clown.

The It-knit

Natasha in yellow jumper
Image: Victoria Adamson

Sweater, topshop.com. Trousers, asos.com. Sandals, office.co.uk

I felt more chic in this outfit than any of the others. I assumed that the looser knit would swamp me, but it felt quite good when I put it on. Even though the jumper was oversized it actually made me feel sexier than the other outfits did.

A dash of clash

Natasha in pink dress
Image: Victoria Adamson

Dress, asos.com. Tights, falke.com. Boots, topshop.com

I nipped out of the office at lunchtime to grab a sandwich when I was wearing this and spotted a friend in M&S. I waved at them – and they blanked me. It’s amazing that even though I was wearing so much colour, I felt invisible.

A definite no-no

Natasha in pink dress
Image: Victoria Adamson

Dress, lazyoaf.com. Shoes, topshop.com

I’ll be honest, I didn’t even last a morning in this. I had to take the dress off because I felt so stupid in it. Some people said it didn’t suit me, and I felt it made me look as though I was six months pregnant. My self-esteem was at an all-time low.

Life in technicolour

Chloe aged three
Clashing prints aged three, 1994. 
Chloe in Lisbon
Sizzling summer-holiday style in Lisbon. 
Chloe in pink suit
Wearing a corduroy suit in her favourite shade of eye-popping pink.
Chloe in faux fur
Chloe can’t resist texture and fluffy faux fur. 

Back to black

Natasha aged three
Already drawn to the dark side, aged three. 
Natasha in the woods
Head to toe in black for a winter walk. 
Natasha in the summer
Proving that summer dressing doesn’t have to be all about brights. 
Natasha in black outfit
Wearing her go-to style staple last spring.

Interviews by Hanna Woodside