Personal Style Should Not be Work

Fashion should not be work. Fashion is a form of art – when art becomes work, it no longer is artistic.

Many women I know both in-person and through this blog seem to work too hard in becoming chic, fashionable or stylish. When style becomes frustrating, tiring, annoying or exasperating, it no longer exists. If a painter becomes so famous that he creates works of art in an assembly-line fashion, those paintings no longer are true art – they no longer hold part of the artist’s soul.

If style doesn’t come to you naturally, you are in the MAJORITY. Just as the majority of the population cannot sing, cannot sculpt, cannot dance well. It is something that you work on, and with passion it may grow to either a talent or something you enjoy behind closed doors. The problem with personal style is that it cannot be kept behind closed doors. Every day you are seen and judged by your wardrobe; and so the pressure for style skill is ever present.

If you stick to very simple basics in your wardrobe, dressing will be far simpler. So stovepipe jeans are in, as are platform sandals with dark hose. This does not mean they should be in your wardrobe. The hot color is yellow but just the thought of wearing that color makes you turn green, then for all means DO NOT WEAR IT. If you feel safest in a wardrobe of black and gray and denim, then until you feel more confident and skilled, there is no reason to venture into blue and red territory. Keep it very simple at first, stick with simple until you feel secure.

When you first ride a bike you have not only training wheels, but often a parent holding on to the back of the seat. The parent lets go, you wobble on the training wheels and then begin to feel steady. The training wheels are removed, but the parent is back to keep you straight. Once you have the hang of it, the parent lets go of the bike, you coast down the sidewalk and suddenly you can ride. Now, once you ride, you won’t be popping wheelies and jumping of 5’ cliffs in the mountains. You get acclimated to concrete and asphalt. You master turns and quick stops. After a long time perfecting your basic pedaling skills, you may move on to rougher terrain, or maybe tricks or long journeys. You will move from the standard bike to maybe a road model, one for trail rides, or one for BMX. Possibly you may find that you really don’t want to go farther than the occasional ride on the street and are perfectly happy with your first bike. You dabble in one style, find that you have a passion for it, and only then do you invest in the proper tools to follow that passion.

We women often try to be Lance Armstrong when we haven’t even taken off the training wheels. We want it all, and we want it now. We’ll buy every self-help book out there, subscribe to a dozen fashion magazines and TiVo What Not to Wear and how Do I Look. We go from a wardrobe of sweats to stilettos and complicated frocks. We feel frustrated and lost and hopeless.

Go back to my staples. These are simple items you can find at the local mall, big box retailer and often even a thrift store. If you are scared of color right now, then replace the colorful tops with muted shades. If you don’t ever wear jewelry, then hold off on the hoop earrings. Get some basic, well-made pieces that fit you properly and make you feel secure when you wear them. You have pieces that you can wear to work, to church, to pick up your son from pay group, to head to the grocery store. You have stepped from covering your body to dressing it. Stay at this point as long as you like, be it a couple months or a couple years. Don’t push it. There are things in life far more important than finding your proper colors or the It bag for the season.

You know you’re ready to take off those training wheels when you start admiring fashion in magazines, on TV and in stores. Like paintings, you can find beauty in a Dali, a Monet and a Warhol. The thing is to see which styles really capture you and tug at your soul. Is it the feminine lacy and sheer blouses in whites and pale shades this spring? Maybe it’s the yellow patent leather clutch in your recent fashion mag. Whatever it is that appeals to you, really think about it and how it connects to your personality. Slowly allow yourself to indulge in a piece of clothing or an accessory that you adore. Maybe it’s a modern silver bangle bracelet or a woven straw purse. Possibly it’s a biker-inspired leather jacket or a floral silk scarf for your throat. Take this one item and infuse it into your wardrobe. Examine your reflection before you leave for your day and in shop windows and restroom mirrors. Do you like what you see? Do you feel comfortable and yourself with this piece? If not, that’s okay. We all impulse shop. Take this as a learning experience and give the piece to a friend or donate it. Don’t hold on to it just because you bought it. Having items in your wardrobe that are wrong is far worse than having a miniscule wardrobe of things that are right.

When you wear this new piece, see what types of reactions you receive. Do people say you look as though you lost weight in that turquoise shade? Did a stranger compliment you on your necklace? Did someone ask you directions (this is a good one, because it often means that you seem to be confident and knowledgeable and approachable)?

You will see that your fashion tastes will most likely be in line with your tastes in movies, music, art and home décor. A person who loves Laura Ashley sheets will often like more feminine and delicate styles. One who loves indie flicks will often like styles that are one of a kind and have a funky, artsy vibe. If your favorite genre of music is rap, you may be drawn to strong lines and bold colors. Just because celebrities and models and fashionistas wear it does not mean you need to wear it too. The reason certain celebrities are celebrated for their style is because they have dressed to fit their personality, not a how-to book or a glossy page from Vogue.

As you begin to understand your personal style, your wardrobe will grow. You will make mistakes, you will get frustrated, you will occasionally feel lost. This happens with all aspects of your personality and life. If you can have a midlife crisis over the state of your life and your direction, so can you about your wardrobe. In college I lived at J. Crew. Lots of sundresses, chinos, polo shirts and cardigans tied around my neck. I was attracted to simple lines and neutral colors. My hair was long and wavy and often in a ponytail. Makeup was some mascara and a swipe of tinted lip balm. After college I got into a creative field and my wardrobe morphed with my tastes in music and books. Suddenly I had a lot of leather in my wardrobe; I counted six pairs of leather jeans and ten black turtlenecks at one time. I straightened my hair and dyed it a very very dark brown. I wore lots of animal prints and had my nails short and often a strange shade like dark green, black or silver. As I got older and got married and comfortable with myself, I saw my tastes change again. I liked natural fabrics with stretch that grazed over my curves and were comfortable. I mixed bright cheery colors with neutrals and began wearing almost only silver jewelry, much that was made by my Great Aunt or picked up on trips around the globe. I preferred a night in with the husband and a nice bottle of wine over an evening of club-hopping in the city. None of these changes were overnight, they were subtle transformations. Keep this in mind – your style will change based on your place in life. Be aware of how you tastes change with food or movies or music; this is often a way to help you know when it’s time to let your wardrobe catch up to your self.

Often we hold onto clothing because it reminds us of our past self. I’ll admit that I have red leather jeans hanging in my guest bedroom closet. They are three sizes smaller than what I wear now, and I look at them and see a very confident, strong me who was skinny, powerful, and a bit frightening. I feel that if I could wear those jeans again, maybe I could still be that person. But then I realize that I wouldn’t want to be that person. Now I am a calm, happy and comfortably confident person who doesn’t need a suit of armor to work a room. We all have that dress, pair of boots or jacket that reminds us of when we may have been thinner, happier or hipper. The thing is, you are not that person any more, and that’s okay. You can’t go back in time, and if you could you probably wouldn’t find the past to be as wonderful as you remember it to be. The only way to be happy now is to live in the now and that peasant skirt or leopard-print trench is holding you back from the person you can be. Celebrate the you are now by tuning into your interests, your passions, your loves and your unique personality. Find objects and garments that show you off. If you tune into who you are on the inside, it becomes easier to figure out how you should look on the outside. Next thing you know, you may be giving Lance Armstrong a run for his money!

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7 Comments

  1. Girl in Hong Kong
    April 5, 2007 / 5:16 am

    Thank you for this so-wise advice! You’re better for me than my subscription to fashion mags. I read them and I still feel as clueless and hopeless as before. But your personal examples of how you put stuff together and how you live life in style (beautifully!) are truly inspiring.

  2. March 25, 2007 / 3:25 pm

    Great post, very insightful.

  3. March 16, 2007 / 6:27 am

    Brava! Spot on. Fashion should be fun and natural, but finding that personal style can be so hard sometimes. Great job breaking it down.

  4. Anonymous
    March 13, 2007 / 6:17 pm

    I love your blogs!!! You are so helpful and I am learning a lot.

    I have a reader request: can you do a basic guide to fabrics? What’s cheap? What’s good? What do you look for? What are the connotations of fabrics? I am lost when it comes to textiles, but I bet you could do a great guide.

  5. Anonymous
    March 9, 2007 / 1:12 pm

    Dilly:

    You read my thoughts again…I was working to hard to be stylish this year- thanks for the words

    valerie

  6. Anonymous
    March 8, 2007 / 7:55 pm

    Thank you, this is brilliant and so completely true. I think I’m going to have to send a link of this to all my friends.

  7. March 8, 2007 / 3:59 pm

    wow… that’s some great reading!

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