Dressing Within a Defined Aesthetic: A Group Guest Post

There are definite constants within my personal style, but I refuse to be tied down to a single aesthetic. Which is why folks who have actively chosen to dress within a narrow set of parameters fascinate me. I thought it would be interesting to call upon a few such women and ask them to share their motivations and choices. So I reached out to Alicia of Sea of Ghosts, Casey of Elegant Musings, and Trystan of This is CorpGoth. And they were kind enough to oblige me! Read on to find out more about their wardrobes, their decision-making processes, and their lives within defined dressing aesthetics.

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Alicia, Sea of Ghosts – Minimalism

What made you decide to dedicate your wardrobe to a single, defined aesthetic?

A series of events in my life made me realise that I wasn’t representing who I felt I was on the inside with the things I adorned myself with on the outside, and I really resented that conscious dissociation. I wanted someone to understand fundamental things about me from across a room, and as an artist, I wanted to present myself with a level of visual integrity true to my work. They say that you should dress for the person you want to be and that mentality helped me take my wardrobe from defined to refined.

How long have you stuck to it?

It took about a year and half of consciously documenting and analysing what I was wearing before I managed to get to that point where I knew how I wanted to define my aesthetic, and I would say it’s only really been refined since October of last year. It feels like longer though when you finally find an aesthetic that feels like home.

What do you love about it?

Well I have this fanaticism about feeling like myself. It’s not just the clothes; it extends to my jewellery and even my perfume. So I definitely love that what I project externally is 100% me. I always feel comfortable. I also never feel like “I have nothing to wear” even though I don’t have a large collection of clothes because this kind of dark minimalism has an innate mystique. It’s not an ostentatious look, so I wear and re-wear ensembles with ease—when all your dresses are black with asymmetrical draping it’s harder for others to tell them apart.

What’s frustrating?

The cost. As I refined, I found an affinity with high-end European designers such as Ann Demuelemeester and Rick Owens doing this dark, moody aesthetic that was definitely “who I wanted to be.” So, you know, I can’t really afford to embrace that all the time – which is really where the root of my minimalism comes in. As a style I love the juxtaposition of aesthetic minimalism with the avant garde – but for me it’s also minimalism as a practise, because I have to work with a very small collection of garments if I want to dress this way – I just can’t afford to have an overflowing wardrobe.

What would you say to someone considering a similar sartorial path?

Some people are comfortable and some people are restless. Restless people will never be able to stick to a single aesthetic because it would become stifling. So if you think you have the capacity to stick to one aesthetic, the key to identifying it is to understand yourself. You shouldn’t embrace an aesthetic that doesn’t reflect who you are because you’ll never be truly comfortable and spend all your money buying clothes for someone else. Do whatever it takes. For me it was rooted in my tastes in music, mostly, as well the kind of art and design I prefer. I wanted to lose myself in the darkness of both of those things. If it helps, find other people with similar interests and see how they’re dressing. When you’re comfortable there’s no need to change – just evolve. Evolution is vital to self expression. If you’re a naturally comfortable person, once you find your aesthetic it’s easy to stick to it.

Casey, Elegant Musings – Vintage

What made you decide to dedicate your wardrobe to a single, defined aesthetic?

I think I’ve always been in love with the idea of glamor, vintage clothing, and history in a tangible sense. I grew up watching classic films from the 30s through the 50s, so the aesthetics of those eras rubbed off on me. I started to realize as a young adult that I felt more comfortable dressed up with a nod towards the glamorous women who were such style icons of the past, and adopting a very “put together” look. I also felt really out of step with the current trends, and always have to a degree. So striking out on my own seemed natural, and it just slowly but surely became a more specific look the more I researched and added to my vintage collection.

How long have you stuck to it?

I would say I have been dressing in a more dedicated vintage manner for the past 4+ years. But I was dabbling in a mid-century aesthetic since I was in my mid teens—so over ten years. It’s been something that has slowly happened over time—I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to chuck all my modern clothes for vintage style pieces! It’s definitely taken the better part of 5 years of honest dedication to build up a wardrobe I can finally say reflects my aesthetic.

What do you love about it?

The fun of playing dress-up daily! I think I never grew out of that as a child, and the idea of using clothes to not only give others an idea of my personality but mood appeals to me. Clothes are “silent communicators,” and more often than not (right or wrong), people do get a sense of who you are based on what you are wearing. I’m a bit shy at times, so I let my clothes do the talking for me in certain situations. They are great conversation starters, which helps me break the ice when I’m at social events and am a bit unsure of how to proceed.

Another aspect of vintage dressing that I love is the thrill of the hunt. Because so many of my clothes are genuine vintage or thrifted pieces (many of which I refashion to conform to my chosen look), I never know when the “next big find” will turn up! It keeps things interesting since I can’t just walk into a retail store and find exactly what I’m looking for. I have to use a big of ingenuity and digging.

What’s frustrating?

There are very few in my city who dress vintage, so it tends to draw a lot of attention to me. While I’m a fairly confident person when it comes to dressing in a way that stands out, I don’t always like the attention, especially when it becomes hostile or personally invasive. Strangers seem to think it’s okay if they touch my clothes or say things that would normally be socially inappropriate. I also find that others often just don’t understand why someone would choose to dress differently than the mainstream. Explaining in always tough, but I usually just say “it makes me happy” and then leave it. I still have people trying to convince me that I shouldn’t dress like my grandmothers did in the 1940s and it’s not attractive to men. I always laugh at the last statement, because judging by the number of times I’ve been asked out or for my phone number, I don’t think it’s considered unattractive in the least! (And my husband rather likes how I dress too!)

What would you say to someone considering a similar sartorial path?

Be bold! Wearing vintage style clothes takes a certain level of confidence and willingness to overlook all the stares and questions. You just have to stop paying attention to what others think. Experiment and find the decade(s) you like the best, and spend time studying the looks and tailoring it to your lifestyle and personal sense of style! I don’t follow a “strict” vintage manner of dressing, but everyone has to decide how specific or not they wish to be. I think a lot of those interested in vintage are a bit intimidated by the amount of work it seems to require on a daily basis. Believe me, my getting ready time doesn’t take that long now that I’ve done it for so long (like any routine it becomes habit after awhile!). I also have friends who are “weekend vintage dressers” and opt to wait until they don’t have to worry about workwear to don their favorite vintage pieces. There is no “right” way to wear vintage, in my opinion, and that’s the beauty of it!

Trystan, This is CorpGoth – Goth

What made you decide to dedicate your wardrobe to a single, defined aesthetic?

The joke about goths is that we wear black on the outside because we feel black on the inside. But it’s just a joke. We’re not necessarily depressed, nor are we evil or Satanic or anything else (check out my friend Jillian Venters’ excellent video answer to “What is goth?“). Mostly, I wear dark colors because I find them lovely, elegant, delightful, decadent, and far more attractive on me than pastels or brights.

And I’ve always been drawn to a darkly beautiful, fantastical aesthetic, with a liberal dash of history. I’ve researched and sewn historical costumes all my life, and I’ve acted at renaissance faires since college (even met my husband working at one!). I studied Victorian novels in grad school. I love traveling to crumbling castles and cemeteries. All of this informs my stylistic sense.

How long have you stuck to it?

As a teenager, I discovered thrift stores and realized I didn’t have to wear the same stuff my peers did. I created outfits inspired by my fantasies and the ’80s new wave/gothic/punk music I loved. In college, I further refined my style to emphasize the gothic side with elements of Victoriana. It helped that I worked at a secondhand clothing store for a while. I shaved half my head, dyed pink streaks in my hair, decorated my motorcycle jacket, and generally had a ton of fun with my style. I was even in a sorority, and my sisters were OK having a goth in their midst.

However, at my first job after college, I thought I had to abandon my true self and become a corporate drone. That made me miserable! I eventually went to grad school, returned to my sartorial self, and discovered a career that let me express myself in my work and be myself at the office. I’m now 43, and have been dressing in some sort of gothic fashion ever since.

What do you love about it?

You can usually find a black or dark-colored garment at any store! I bought a black velvet miniskirt at J.Jill. I got a black crochet trumpet skirt at Coldwater Creek. Most of my wardrobe comes from Target, Old Navy, Macy’s, Chadwicks, and Newport News. I can quickly skim through any store, online or off, and pick out the possible items I’m interested in. This really streamlines my shopping.

What’s frustrating?

Summer! Direct sunlight and hot weather are every goth’s nemeses. I prefer to wear black tights every day, but that would be dumb even in Northern California’s mild summers. Finding black sandals is the bane of my existence every spring, especially work-appropriate sandals (and walking-friendly, work-appropriate black sandals? that’s my holy grail). I get so sick of wearing the same few hot-weather outfits all summer long.

What would you say to someone considering a similar sartorial path?

“To thine own self be true.” — Shakespeare. Your style should reflect who you are, while also being appropriate to what you do. That’s why I started my blog. I believe you can express a unique, unusual, alternative style and still be considered a professional in the work world. I regularly speak at conferences and teach classes on behalf of my employer, all while dressing like the essential me, not like some cliché of a corporate worker. Wearing clothes that suit your inner self gives you more confidence, which will help you succeed at whatever you do.

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32 Responses to “Dressing Within a Defined Aesthetic: A Group Guest Post”

  1. yancey

    Wow, that was one of the most interesting posts I’ve ever read in my life. You have given me so much to think about.
    Thank you.

  2. reva

    I LOVE the line from Alicia”, the key to identifying it is to understand yourself. You shouldn’t embrace an aesthetic that doesn’t reflect who you are because you’ll never be truly comfortable and spend all your money buying clothes for someone else.”
    It has been a part of my journey through style blogging that has made me consider very often, why am I buying this-for me or ‘them’? I can always tell when I am wearing a “me” vs. a “them” outfit! That’s when I feel best and it show on my blog as well.
    Thanks Sal!

  3. widdershins

    Really enjoyed this group post – thanks Sally! Hope you do it again, and next time, maybe some more color-adventurous people in the mix?

  4. Becky

    I want to echo everyone else – this was an instructive and thought-provoking project and I loved it! Thank you, Alicia, Casey, and Trystan. Much to think about!

  5. Elizabeth Newlin

    Seriously fascinating. I couldn’t do it, but wow are those ladies interesting! I’d love to spend a day here and there in each of their wardrobes!

  6. alice

    Very interesting post. While I don’t personally identify with these styles, I do relate to their motivations for choosing one aesthetic and it’s lovely to see each of them execute her personal style so beautifully and effectively.

  7. Sjogren's Style

    I love this post. I’ve tried so many times to determine a defined style for myself, but I always go back to being, as you so aptly put it, a sartorial dabbler. It’s interesting to read about how some people make it work.

  8. Ann V

    I really love this post! It seems like all these approaches start with clothes that make these women feel like themselves. That fits in with the idea of paying attention to which outfits and garments feel the most “me” and finding what connects them, versus trying to find an aesthetic or persona that fits me.

  9. l

    WOW thank you so much for this! I find it utterly fascinating too! Thank you to the contributors!

  10. Anonymous

    I love this post- would really enjoy seeing it as a regular feature!

  11. auzzi

    LOVE this post! I’m somewhat of a chameleon when it comes to fashion and style, so this was super interesting. I would love to see this as a a weekly feature!

  12. Rachel

    So happy to see Casey of Elegant Musings featured here! I absolutely love her blog and her style.

    I often wish I had a super defined style like these three lovely ladies, but I could never pick one look and stick with it. Some days I dress vintage, sometimes I wanna be a badass. My main struggle is between the hard and the soft looks I love, but then there’s more minor struggles, like if I choose soft and girly, do I like more prim, ladylike vintage looks, or do I want to embrace a free spirited bohemian look? The thought of having a unified wardrobe is so so tempting, but I love it all too much! I guess I follow your example most Sally, dabbling in whatever makes me happy.

    p.s. One of the things I love about Casey is she isn’t super strict about eras. She mixes stuff she likes from different decades and it looks amazing!

  13. Thursday

    Great post! Thanks to the lovely ladies for sharing their sartorial journeys.

    I have been reading Casey’s delightful blog for a while now, as I myself have migrated to vintage-inspired dressing for a few years now, sometimes with a harder, fetish-oriented edge. I still dabble with non-mid-century styles and certainly don’t feel like I have to stick within a defined style – if it makes you happy, you should go with it!

  14. LaChina

    Great post, I don’t have a defined aesthetic, but lean more towards dresses, less of a hassle. I’ve managed to find quite a few in different styles, I dress for the event and my mood, so I’m
    a sartorial dabbler as well.

    Corpgoth was insightful, her description of dark colors being ‘lovely….elegant…decadent’, made me want chocolate, but more importantly erased my viewpoint of goth as weird. I have appreciation for this style now. They were all great reads!

  15. O D Y S S E Y

    Great interviews!
    My dabbling days are, thankfully, over. I dress with a very defined and well-edited aesthetic, having grown weary of owning too many items, and spending too much time shopping and creating outfits – plus I wasn’t being true to myself.
    Alicia’s style and philosophy is similar to mine. And like Alicia (I always love her blog, by the way), I never have that “nothing to wear” problem. All my clothing works seamlessly together – this includes footwear. It’s quite liberating.

  16. Kim

    Great article. I enjoy reading about people who choose to dress outside of the mainstream.

    I would love to see an article featuring stylish men. Mainstream mens’ fashion seems sooooo boring and limited, and men who step outside the box seem to be judged rather harshly.

  17. Fruitful

    Sally, this is one of the most valuable style posts I’ve ever seen.

    I am fascinated with the idea of a limited aesthetic. I still wear a lot of things I like but don’t really feel like a living breathing extension of me, which is what I really want.

    It’s more common for style bloggers to be eclectic, so these insights are quite exceptional and hard to find.

    Please, please consider doing a series of these posts Sal! I would love to see the same questions posed to as many “defined aesthetic” dressers/bloggers as possible. I really feel they have something to teach me.

    • meredith

      I like the link to the people who only ever wear one colour 😉

      And I LOVE LOVE this post, thank you Sal for a great idea – and even more thanks to the contributors. Alicia especially resonated with me, so much that I had to come back and read and reread the whole post on my big screen…

      That said, I agree with fruitful. I’ve been dabbling in too many styles the last few years, so now everyone around me is confused, as am I! I don’t even remember what it feels to really like a garment, this feeling described as having this living breathing extension-of-me-quality. Also, I have become a mom, and while all my former clothes fit me again, they now fit my more mature personality even less. I feel that I will have to invest a bit of work in finding out what I really like – something that no style consultant can do for me (and I’ve had my fair share, no pun intended).

      Also, I second all the commenters suggesting making it a series <3

  18. sarah

    Sally, what a brilliant idea! I actually “saved” this post for Friday night when I could sit down and just read it and look at these women’s blogs and really enjoy it – thank you! This would be a FABULOUS series, you know … 😉

  19. Loryn

    Loved this post, it really made me think about my own fashion choices! I would also love to see something like this regularly here on your blog.

  20. Janey

    This is a very interesting article! And I think I would have to sit and think long and hard before answering such questions! I already follow Casey, but This Is CorpGoth is a fantastic blog. I went goth for a very, very brief period in my life, and I love the look the writer has created for herself.

  21. gothbarbie

    This was a neat peek at three fashionable ladies! I’ve been a huge fan of This Is CorpGoth for a while now and I’m glad she’s featured here!

    I happen to dress very ME every single day – I’m a conglomeration of old hollywood glam, goth doll, princess punk and casual rocker. Anything I like – I wear. The phrase “I love this – but I have nowhere to wear it” never passes these lips!

    I never made a conscious decision to dress out of the “norm” – in fact I failed miserably one year (in middle school) when i desperately tried to conform! It would be more painful and more difficult for me to follow current fashion trends and “fit in” than it is to just dress my way.

    Oh and for those of you looking for a man with STYLE – i post my husband in all his great outfits on my blog too. He is NO SLOUCH! ; )

    That’s why he’s my Ken doll!

  22. jenny

    Great post! I’ve been following Casey for awhile, she always looks so feminine and is a great seamstress. I’ve always been a bit hit or miss with my choices: rocker, vintage, goth, punk, but a lot of blah when I was not feeling well (mentally or physically).

    My wardrobe has recently been taking a sharp turn towards vintage. I’ve always had a few pieces here and there, but have been adding more and more 50s/early 60s style clothes. Now that I’m singing in an old-school country band (50s – early 70s) it’s really helping me to define my everyday wear too. I’m glad we live in a time when it’s become more acceptable to dress in a way that makes you happy, not just what’s trendy today. Vintage suits my body shape and personality much better than muffin-top inducing designer jeans and club-wear.