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.
Living on my own with 2 teenagers
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?