Reader Request: Reclaiming Your Style

reclaim your style

Reader A emailed me this question:

Have you done a post on reclaiming one’s style after major life changes? I’ve had a LOAD of life changes recently and I feel lost.

Divorce
Living on my own with 2 teenagers
Coming out
Career exhaustion
Weight gain because of all the aforementioned items

I’ve lost my way and have developed a uniform — likely just because it’s easier and there’s no risks involved. It’s almost as if I didn’t want to have to think about the clothing I wear because it was just “one more thing…” A friend and I went shopping yesterday and I just felt “off” in everything I tried on. I felt ridiculous though I walked away with 2 pieces that I needed in my closet so, not a total loss. But they were pretty safe pieces. So my question is – how does one start to reclaim style when there’s so many things that have just beaten me up?

Since I know many of you have had to juggle multiple massive life events at once, I wanted to share what I told her in hopes that it might help you, too:

First off, be gentle with yourself. Any one of those changes would be enough of an excuse to downshift away from sartorial creativity and into uniforms. All of them together is a lot to deal with, and bound to make you push some things to the back burner. It sounds like now, you’re starting to feel more even-keeled and ready to feel connected to your personal style again, which is FAB … but you’re a new you, so do your best to accept that it may take a while to either reclaim or retool that personal style.

Whenever anyone says that they’ve gone shopping out of a need for new items, didn’t like anything they tried, and couldn’t put their finger on what was wrong, I recommend writing. You might not have been able to pinpoint what wasn’t working in real time, but giving it a nice, long think afterwards and taking some notes can prove revelatory. Were you gravitating toward things that felt too safe or staid? Did you experience fit issues and not recognize your body? Did you feel too tired or overwhelmed to give shopping your full attention and energy? Was your friend pressuring you, or were you comparing yourself to her/him/them? See if you can suss that out.

Also write a bit about what you miss about your former style. Was is color or pattern? The ability to express yourself visually? Specific items that you just loved to wear? What’s missing now that was present then?

Then snap a few photos of your current uniforms. Don’t do anything with them immediately, just snap and stash. After a week or so, take a look at them. They are your current baseline. Before you jump back into assembling super-creative, wildly colorful outfit masterpieces, start by either tweaking these formulas or finding ways to perk them up. Add more jewelry. Switch a solid top for a printed one. Try a more daring shoe. Add a jacket. Take some baby steps for now as you work your way back toward a more expressive-dressing groove.

Since weight gain was one of the changes you mentioned, consider getting the stuff that doesn’t fit out of your everyday closet. If you can’t bear to part with it now, that’s fine – put it in storage and re-evaluate in six months or so – but move it. Staring at it every day is likely making you feel confused and lost and upset, and that won’t do. Try on the things that you like to wear now, and make note of the shapes and styles that suit you. Can you be on the lookout for more of those styles, or related styles? What about them works and feels good? If something is close to perfect but not quite there, what would make it so?

Finally, if you do all of this stuff and still feel out to sea, I recommend working with a stylist. You can get a free personal shopping session at Nordstrom or Macy’s, and those people are total pros and know their inventory back to front. You might be in a place where you need some outside input to see what’s going to work for you. HOWEVER, try to do all of the other stuff first and bring that work to the stylist. You don’t need someone to make you over or tell you how to dress, you need someone who can help you find your way back to a style you once loved.

Any other advice you’d offer to A? Anyone else going through something similar? What worked for you?

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7 Responses to “Reader Request: Reclaiming Your Style”

  1. Kerry

    I had an unanticipated weight loss awhile back that, coupled with a post-childbirth body, changed my shape a bit and made styles I used to love not work (and made me feel overall less confident about my body too). It may help to figure out what features you feel confident about and want to highlight and then figure out what works for that – for example, I used to dress more for my curves, but after losing some of my curves with the weight loss I felt more confident about my legs and so now I dress to play them up. That has in turn helped me feel more confident about the changes I’m experiencing. Also, when we go through a major life event often times our style changes, so you may not want to go back to the same things that used to excite you. Maybe checking out Pinterest or some good old fashioned magazines would help you find some new things to try.

  2. Ginger

    Someone with teen-aged children is likely pushing into her 40s when weight loss is a lot harder because of metabolic and lifestyle changes.
    If you had clothing that you liked that’s too small, take the easy way out and buy similar items in your new size. Looking good and feeling comfortable with yourself as you are right now is a good place to begin. As time goes by and maybe you lose the weight (or maybe you don’t) you can tweak your look. Having a look that doesn’t include straining at the waistband or buttons is a beginning.

  3. Erika

    Oh I just want to give the emailer a big hug!! That’s so much to go through at once, and several of those (divorce, coming out) are life events that for many people (though not all) bring about a shift in self-perception and self-representation. I had a major illness a few years ago which changed my body shape but also changed how I saw myself as a person, and I know it took a little bit for my style to catch up. I agree with Sally’s suggestion about doing some journaling and self-reflection. The questions I personally found helpful were “if I picture myself as comfortable and satisfied in my body as I am right now, what would I be wearing?” and also, “what kind of style would I like to have, regardless of what my style has been in the past.”

    It is better I think to put away or give away the things that don’t fit or fit poorly. I agree with the commenter who said that it’s better to replace your favorites with larger or better-fitting versions. That at least will make you comfortable while you sort out your new style.

    best of luck dear emailer…and lots of love for the transitions happening.

  4. Courtney L.

    Since she mentioned weight gain, I strongly suggest going for a bra fitting to see if your size has changed. Wearing the right bra size makes a MASSIVE difference in how clothes fit, so that could be part of what is feeling “off” when shopping for new items.

  5. Naomi

    After living in a 100% tropical climate for three years in a country with a very beachy, casual vibe, I am now back in the US. It took some adjustment to get back to my urban style, but one thing I did was keep a file of inspirations, and slowly weed out stuff that was “not me” and had been bought specifically for the needs of my old life.
    Jotting down inspirations or tearing out magazine sheets can help, or pinning things on Pinterest. Try to find the common thread–is it color, shape, feel, proportions–what draws you to this item?
    You could also do what my sister does and have people shop for her while she gets her sea legs (it’s been about 15 years now, but hey, we’re happy to help) 🙂

  6. HollyBee

    If it’s financially feasible, you could consider getting a monthly clothing subscription (I subscribe to GwynnieBee). It’s an awesome way to discover how different garments work with your body; it allows you to experiment to see what you like and don’t like without having to make a long-term commitment to anything. I’ve found many new styles that I love and have been able to feel great about myself during a transitional time with my weight.

  7. Emmy

    I’m experiencing mobility issues resulting from a stroke, so a style change has been more-or-less forced on me.

    Agree with all the other posters here to give away everything that doesn’t fit or work. In my case, it was almost all of my shoes. Walking difficulties and a possible splint means I can’t wear heels, most flats, or anything strappy. Watching friends take away all my cute shoes was really hard, but I needed to do it, as seeing those shoes every day only reinforced an unhealthy fantasy I had that ‘someday’, after enough physiotherapy, everything will ‘go back to normal’. Breaking that illusion was an important step in helping me accept my new post-stroke body.

    After I spent a few days mourning (yes, really!), I started to rework my style to accommodate my new footwear. It’s been a frustrating process, but it’s also been incredibly rewarding. To my great surprise, limiting one area of my style (shoes) has pushed me to be much more experimental in other areas, not only with individual items like bags and scarves, but also in overall attitude or mood. Turns out that short heavy moto boots are the best shoes for me to wear right now, so my style has followed suit and has taken on a harder edge. And so far I like it, a lot!

    I share my story with you in hopes that it encourages you to not just ‘reclaim’ your style, but maybe to develop a new one, one that defines and celebrates this new phase of your life.