Back when I worked with personal style clients, one of the first things I made them do was write. I sent them a laundry list of questions about their personal style preferences and choices: Tell me about brands you like and brands you hate, styles you love and styles you wish you could wear. List 5-10 adjectives that describe your style. Are you a skirt girl, pants girl, or both? Do you wear dresses, and if so, what style? Can you wear heels, and do you like to? Name a celebrity whose style you admire and tell me why. Introspective questions like these come up in my book and mini-makeover PDF, too, and I’ve found that nearly everyone who answers them finds them to be helpful and revelatory. And I do NOT believe that’s because I have some magic set of questions that unlocks the secrets of great style. I believe it’s because we are trained to give only cursory thought to our personal style choices.
There are lots of books about style, and bits of style advice filter through from TV and magazines. Some of this advice urges us to be mindful shoppers and evaluate items before buying, and some of it focuses on jettisoning pieces that no longer work. But very little of it asks us to think seriously about what we’re already wearing and why, or encourages us to utilize what’s already hanging in our closets. Instead, most of this advice is tied directly to shopping.
We are told overtly and covertly that new stuff will fix our style hang-ups. Buy this thing and and you’ll finally be stylish. Add this item and your wardrobe will be complete. Wear this garment and your chic factor is instantly upped. Look like this celebrity and you’ll be a better version of yourself. Strap on this contraption and all of your body-image woes will vanish. The vast majority of entities that deal in style and fashion do so through shopping, so it is in their best interests to keep us buying. When we take the time to think about what we truly need, what may actually work for our styles, which items will get the most use beyond season-of-purchase, these folks become downright panicky. They want us to funnel our dissatisfaction with our current wardrobes into procuring new wardrobes, and never counsel us to work with what we’ve got. Or even think critically about what we’ve got. The longer I work with my clients on honing their personal styles, the more attuned I become to these, “Don’t think, shop” messages.
I had clients who wanted to skip the closet consult and go directly to personal shopping. I always encouraged them to do some analysis and writing first – even if they don’t want a formal consult – because I knew that introspection would prove valuable. Very few of us are completely content with our wardrobes or styles, so many of us feel near-constant urges to make change. But if we don’t examine our current behaviors and choices, we’ll have a harder time making informed and intentional choices in the future. Our current closets might not be working for us, but filling them with new stuff that was chosen without any examination of how the old stuff got there probably won’t work for us either.
So if you’re at a spot in your style evolution where you feel stuck, or utterly sick of everything you’ve got, or confused as to how to change your sartorial direction, look to the past and present before you jump into the future. Sit down and write about your current style, your wardrobe favorites and orphans, why you shop and what you’re drawn to when you do. Think about the shapes, colors, and fibers you are drawn to again and again, and if they’re not working in everyday practice, see if you can figure out why. List out brands, styles, fabrics, trends, colors, patterns, and shapes that you love AND ones you hate. Consider what you have the most of in your current wardrobe, and why. Resist the temptation to chuck the lot and start over. You may decide to do that in the end, but setting aside time to really think about how you got here will help you move forward with real wisdom under your belt. If you believe the hype and shop without reflection, you might nab a new wardrobe that feels new and exciting for a few precious weeks. But if you utilize introspection and contemplation, you’ll be able to craft a new or revised style for yourself that truly works in the long haul.
Image courtesy Willem van Bergen.