Personal Style: Starting from Scratch

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personal style how to start scratch

This past weekend I spoke at an event where I discussed closet organization and using that to hone your personal style. I pretty much shared what I have shared before on this blog; at the end of my talk I opened the floor to questions and a woman asked one I that I actually receive quite often.

How do you even start?

This woman was a mom, recently had a child, and reminded me of myself four years ago. I remember right around the time that maternity leave was up, standing in my closet hyperventilating, sobbing, laughing like a lunatic, feeling completely overwhelmed. Before me were clothes that may never fit again, clothes that kind of fit, clothes that fit but I hated, maternity clothes that I shouldn’t wear but were safe and comfortable, and a bunch of clothes for a different person – the person I was before I became a mother.

I told this woman to do exactly what I did. I told Karl to take the baby, I turned on some music really loud so I couldn't hear Emerson, locked the bedroom door, and tore everything out of the closet. I threw it all on the bed, and then went through everything, piece by piece. I started big, just deciding, would I be caught dead in public wearing this? If the answer was no, it was tossed into a box. It was amazing how much was purged with that simple and obvious question.

The thing is, life is crazy and busy and hectic. When you’re running on little sleep, living in a strange body, and having to care for lives other than your own, what you wear is very far down on the priorities list. Some days, you feel you deserve a medal just for remembering to put on pants before leaving the house. But it’s hard to get back to feeling like yourself and accepting this new body and life when each time you look in the mirror you feel miserable.

So start big: Would you be caught dead in public wearing it?

Next think, would you want to wear this if you bumped into an old friend? Don’t make it an ex boyfriend or anything stressful like that, make it a nice girl you went to high school with or an ex coworker. Someone who liked you and wasn’t a raving fashionista. Just putting a face to the public will help you purge more, especially those “make it work” garments like maternity jeans and stretched-out knits.

As you continue, paring down more and more you may have a minor panic attack thinking that you won’t have anything left to wear. Consider doing what I did – stop before you get to that point, but note what you can already tell you need. I bought two wrap dresses, a pair of ankle boots with a low heel, and a couple sweaters and knit tops that would let me nurse but didn’t look like maternity. I spent about $200, and that is all I spent for a while. Then as the body kept shifting, I would take a moment to reassess the wardrobe, and reassess again.

One thing I brought up this weekend in my talk is that you don’t need a huge wardrobe. In fact, a pared down closet makes it easier to dress every day. No one is keeping a tally of how many times you wore that blue cardigan or those black pants. It is better to wear the same black pants every day than mixing it up with pieces that don’t fit, don’t flatter, and make you curse your reflection.

The goal right now is not to become a fashion maven, but to like yourself and your reflection again. Only go as far as you feel comfortable, but don’t give up. Keep addressing the situation, not because you’re a hot mess, but because you deserve to feel good. Whatever the situation in your life that got you to this point, it does not own you, it does not define you. You are a complex, fabulous, deserving human being. You have earned the right to feel beautiful on a daily basis – you ARE beautiful. You are a better caretaker when you first care for yourself. You are a better role model to your children if you have confidence and feel good about yourself . You deserve to take a couple hours one day a few times a month to lock yourself in your bedroom and reassess your wardrobe. Join forces with fellow parents for a sit swap to achieve this, maybe even take a sick day at work and don’t let anyone know. But take a bit of time for yourself. This investment will reap the rewards tenfold over the next year with your style, and your self image.

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  1. I’ve read this post 3 times & will read it every day until it truly sinks in. What kind words, thank you so much. For me, my body change is from breast cancer treatment. It hit me smack between the eyes that I’ve gone up 5 sizes – no wonder I have been so frustrated. And with round-square mastectomy boobs, a belly that sticks out further than my fake “girls”, I have lived in the land of frustration. Thanks to your blog & my husband’s encouragement, I just today bought two nice pair of jeans that fit like a dream & some flowy shells to hide my tummy. I am a different person that I was but until I read your words, I didn’t realize that that was okay. Thank you!

      1. Thanks, Love. I have spent the past 3 days pouring over your pages & have a huge pile of goodies to take to the consignment store today. Truly, I am so very grateful to have stumbled across your incredible display of kindness, generosity & acceptance.

  2. This is all such good advice. And I get it, intellectually. But emotionally, I’m still lost. I look at my clothes and I look at my 8-month-postpartum body and it’s just a hot mess. I know the types of things that should work right now (ponte pants, wrap dresses), and I’ve even purchased a few of them, but I still end up in the same ill-fitting jeans and worn out t-shirts, hating my reflection. It’s such an incredibly frustrating place to be.

  3. Wonderful post, so positive, particularly about the situation not owning you. There are other times when this situation happens. It’s about life. Just spent several years managing my mom’s care as she went through alzheimers. It was sad and all-consuming and I worked full-time too. I can use your closet- and “would I want to be seen in this”-method to make up a good transition wardrobe while I shed the “sadness weight” I added. You are the best Alison!

  4. Wonderful post, Allie. How I wish I’d done this when my kids were small. Instead, each year I’d tell myself “later, I’ll worry about my wardrobe later”, and put it at the bottom of my priority list. End result is your kids grow up and you aren’t just starting from scratch- you have no idea what your style is, what current clothes look good, what’s age appropriate. I’ll pull it together because I’m determined now, but you’re so smart for nipping it in the bud!

  5. I agree with everyone else, this post really touched me. You have a way of verbalizing how we all feel and make us know that it’s okay to feel that way. I wish I had more to say but you said it all for me.

  6. As others have commented, your advice applies even if one has not gone through drastic changes. You propose a practice that is good at any time. I know that I, for one, would be happier and more satisfied with myself if I did a closet re-evaluation on a regular basis.

    Allie, you are so organized and so wise. Your husband and your daughter are fortunate indeed. You are one in a million!


  7. I love this post! I’m a new mom and I had to reasses my closet and personal style. There were some things that didn’t fit (like all my shoes!), maternity wear I wanted to burn, and a lot of work clothes that I wouldn’t be wearing anymore (I became a stay at home mom). Definitely doing a serious closet purge is a great start and I have to remember to take things slowly and ease into new things.

  8. Excellent advice! It’s so simple and so true — all that extra stuff only clouds your vision as you try to put an outfit together. Cleaning out stuff you’re never going to wear is vital. And yeah, something I’ve had to do over and over again through the years! 🙂

  9. I just did this! Mainly because my closet got to the point where I literally could not fit anything else on the racks and I had run out of hangers. I had done a mini-purge about six months prior, but I shut myself in my room and REALLY purged and got rid of stuff that I knew I wouldn’t wear again (didn’t fit, out of style, etc), no matter how much I still loved it. A lot is going to Goodwill, but I had a basket full of nice stuff I was able to sell to a re-sell shop.

    I do end up wearing the same pieces more often, but I am more easily able to mix up what I have into really great outfits rather than trying to sort through all the stuff I wasn’t wearing anymore to find SOMETHING. Next up is my shoes!

  10. A wonderful post that applies to women of all ages and stages of life, not just postpartum. it can apply to any transitional time in our lives. I began my blog after losing the first part of my weight goal to force me back into style as I had been caring for a sick parent and mourning her loss and given up on myself… With the weight loss and changeover to spring closet on the horizon, this is exactly what I must do to my closet…

  11. This post hits me where I am right now, not postpartum or having lost weight, but realizing that I’m stuck in a fashion rut and wanting to get out. This post is the roadmap to guide me out of the chaos my closet has become. Your blog always has such great advice, bringing what is for me the confusion of fashion down to a level I can understand, making it accessible and feel doable. I’m so glad you still take the time to blog, despite your busy life. Thanks so much.

  12. hallelujah. my kids are 12 and 16 and I have just started to give myself permission to do this. one work friend jokingly asked if I was having an affair. I look better and I feel great. we are worth it.

    and for the record, I did not drop a bomb on new clothes but kept a few pieces that fit properly and added a couple new things

  13. Spot on! Thanks for the inspiration.
    Body changes may or may not be a happy place, but adjusting your closet surely helps one’s frame of mind. I recently underwent a mastectomy, and the transition to my new body was much more difficult than I ever imagined. My first phase was to toss all the clothes that made me sad. Fitted garments that no longer matched my new shape, striped garments that only highlighted my asymmetric shape went into the donate pile. There wasn’t much left in my closet!

    I’m still going through a learning curve (no pun intended) that includes scarves, jackets and different patterns and shaped garments. I had no control over what this “new me” looks like, but I do have control over how I approach it. It is a conscious decision to focus how how to improve what I have left, rather continue mourning what I’ve lost.

  14. This is all so true. I don’t think that anything can prepare you for that first year (or two) postpartum. My only caveat might be that when you are boxing up the rejects, tape up the boxes, write some general label on them (Too Small, Not Good for Nursing, Huge) and throw them into deep storage (attic, way-back of the closet, whatever). If you haven’t needed them in a year, then donate them.
    It could just be me, but I find that I get over-zealous when purging during emotional times. I got rid of 80% of my clothes right before I came back from maternity leave. Then I lost fifteen pounds and absolutely nothing fit and I was in no position to buy new stuff. That box of “too small” stuff (or even just one pair of trousers!) would have come in handy. Don’t hang on forever or keep stuff in the hopes that you will get smaller, but a little safety net is helpful.
    I’m finally starting to get my self together now after limping along in old, awful clothes for the past year and feeling invisible and unattractive. Your website has been such a big help — your advice has kept me focused in my shopping, “eating my vegetables” and not blowing all my cash on statement shoes.

  15. While not a mother, I’ve been making great strides to lose weight, and found that a lot of the feelings and emotions still relate. The sense of feeling lost from your personal style, of needing to rip it down, and even to the conclusion of: you don’t need a lot if you have a great, pared down wardrobe.

    Thank you for reiterating what I’ve been feeling.

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