Reader Request: Reflections on My Style Shift

Reader Cleoxymore posed this question in a comment:

Your “style transition” (from this side of the screen!) felt more like a revolution than a transition, very sudden and complete; but in the past couple of months, I’ve felt that some of your “old” style was creeping back into the new (not submerging it, mind you, but more like the transition happened AFTER the revolution).

Would you consider writing a post of reflection on your style shift? What was and is satisfying about it, successes and mistakes, and plans moving forward? I think the look back/lessons learned could make a great post for many readers, though I admit that I have perhaps a greater than average interest in the question (I’ve been reading you for several years now, and I used to come here purely for the voice and way of thinking, since your style was MILES away from mine… and now you’ve landed right where would love to but don’t quite dare go!)

Background on the change here and here.

And Cleoxymore is right, this was more of a flipped-switch than a slow-fade as transitions go. Here’s what I wore in August of 2014:


And here’s what I looked like by October of 2014:


Then there was winter – long, dark, cold, and full of sweaters and jackets and pants. And once spring grew near, I got a few curious questions about how the philosophy of “would a badass wear this?” might translate into warm weather outfits. I didn’t really know myself. But I ended up with this:


As Cleoxymore points out, fall and winter were drastic changes from my previous style, but summer was a bit more of a hybrid. For one thing, although I still wore plenty of black and gray, I made a concerted effort to mix in more white, light denim, and brown leather accents. And for another, I came back to skirts and dresses.

After years of absolutely HATING pants and living in nothing but skirts and dresses, I found myself almost unable to bear tights last fall and winter. I just couldn’t think of any dress-based outfit that I wanted to wear so badly I was willing to put up with the mild-but-constant irritation of a pair of tights, so it was pants, jeans, and leggings for months. But as soon as it was warm enough to go bare-legged, my interest was rekindled. My old full skirts in bright colors weren’t exactly what I was looking for, but I found a few vaguely badass skirts to put into rotation, experimented with a few of my old dresses and bought some new ones.

As the season wore on, I knew that jewelry was going to play a big role in my warm-weather looks. During winter I relied on layers to keep things interesting and rich, but summer outfits tend to be more pared-down. I made a few Etsy runs to augment my collection, and really enjoyed letting my necklaces and earrings take center stage for the season.

In terms of lessons I’ve learned? Nothing earth-shattering, honestly. I think the main thing I’ve learned is that you really can’t make a drastic style switch without doing some shopping. I had high hopes of paring down my wardrobe and repurposing my old clothes for my new look, and could do that with a handful of pieces. But I couldn’t go from a wardrobe that was mostly heels, colorful fit-and-flare dresses, and cardigans to a neutral-focused, edgy, mostly dress-free look just by getting rid of stuff. I mean, I got rid of BALES of stuff – gave to friends, donated, eBayed, consigned – but I had to buy some stuff, too.

This is pretty specific to me, I’d wager, but I’ve also learned that I suck at slow transitions. I did my absolute best to keep a few of my old items around to see if they’d work with the new look, but even when they did, I just resented the crap out of them. They were relics of a past me, and I didn’t want them around. Here’s an example:


Perfectly fine outfit using a dress I’ve had for several years. Lots of black and leather and hardware in the look to balance the sweetness of the silhouette, and I think it works visually. But I just wanted that dress GONE. And now it is.

Perhaps the moral there is if you get a yen to completely make yourself over, it’s likely got roots in something other than shifting sartorial preferences. I talked about how comfort, practicality, and ease were all suddenly quite important to me, and they all played a huge role in my change. But I also just wanted to change. I wanted to look and feel different. And that occasionally made it hard to repurpose old items for new looks. Which frustrated me because it felt somewhat rash, but was really, really hard to fight.

I’ve also learned that confining my wardrobe to a smaller space is a fantastic way to keep it smaller overall. I switched closets with my husband and have been slowly working toward paring down my wardrobe until I’ve got absolutely nothing in off-season storage. I’m almost there, and it feels fabulous. And even in the smaller space, my stuff is less packed-in and actually has room to move and breathe!

I’d say the most satisfying thing about this shift is how I feel. I feel better. I feel happier. I feel interested in building outfits again. I know that virtually all of my wardrobe goes with itself, so when I build those outfits it’s far less of a challenge. I honestly had no idea, but I feel like this change must’ve been incubating inside me for a looooong time because even now, nearly a year later, I feel relieved. Like I was forcing it before, but am behaving more naturally now.

My mistakes included donating several items I should’ve tried to sell, out of pure impatience and a desire to make the change feel more real and permanent. Also thinking that sandals would be important for summer: I should’ve known better. My feet are always freezing, so I wear sandals quite seldom, even in the beastly heart of summer.

Plans moving forward: I mentioned doing away with off-season storage. I still have a rack in my basement with four groups of items:

  1. Emotionally significant things that I will never ever get rid of even if I never ever wear them again,
  2. Fancy clothes for parties and such
  3. A kind of “office archive” of blazers and sweater shells that I’m reluctant to ditch in case I ever have to go to court or something
  4. A tiny group of items I’m pretty sure should go but can’t quite donate yet

I’ll probably always have a holding area/purgatory for things I am considering offloading, but I hope to revisit the office archive. Yes, I should have a couple of sheath dresses and button-fronts for emergencies. But there are a few full skirts and girly tops that I should really let go of. It’s fear, ya know? Fear of fully committing. There are plenty of items in my everyday wardrobe that would make me look professional and respectable in court. Plus am I gonna get arrested or something? Doubtful.

I’ll keep up my “one in, one out” policy … which is really more like a “one in, four out” policy, if I’m being honest. I want to downsize and can often use the proceeds from my consignment sales to fund new purchases, so when I buy I often sell. Or donate.

And I’ll continue to experiment with my hair. I’m having too much fun playing with it to let it be any one thing for too long.

Thanks Cleoxymore for a fun question! And I hope this was interesting and maybe a smidgen useful for everyone else.

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10 Responses to “Reader Request: Reflections on My Style Shift”

  1. Linda B

    I really appreciated this post–great topic, and one I am continuing to wrestle with–not being quite as decisive about making a transition as you are! But maybe wishing I was more so.

  2. Brenda Marks

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. I appreciate when you share your struggles and triumphs! I completely understand the “just on case” clothing that you and I keep, even when other, current items could suffice.

  3. Cleoxymore

    Thanks for the detailed answer, Sal! Much appreciated–and quite interesting as it seems that advice is generally to transition slowly, test the waters, etc.

    On a different note–Disqus appears to have swallowed a long comment I had written on yesterday’s post…

    • Sally McGraw

      It’s there now – sorry! Had some family/personal stuff going on and hadn’t gotten to moderating comments for several days.

      And thanks again for a great question!

  4. Maricel Edwards

    Do you know…when I first stumbled upon your blog and flirted with starting one of my own, I obsessed over that polka dot dress you’re wearing in the pics above? For months after you featured it, I Mad Hunted that dress everywhere, and I can modestly say that my Google foo is strong. And yet, my Google foo failed me and I came up with nothing, so I wistfully set aside dreams of ever owning one. It makes me even more wistful to know that it was probably one of the things you’ve gotten rid of. It’s too bad we’re not neighbors; I would have so bought that dress from you in a heartbeat when you sent it to the chopping block, even more so now that my sartorial shift has gone the diametric opposite of yours: I’ve surrendered my skinny jeans in favor of fit and flare dresses and skater skirts. 😉

  5. Rebekah Jaunty

    Excellent post! You don’t mention any desire to look more modern, but your Badass style looks much more modern to my eye— no offense to your old look, I’m not modern-looking myself. Even your leg tattoo has been updated.

    “And I’ll continue to experiment with my hair. I’m having too much fun playing with it to let it be any one thing for too long.”

    This is one of the best things about any pixie cut. We’re never more than a few months away from having enough hair to try something new! At the opposite end of the versatility spectrum, I’m growing out a buzzcut now and will look like a Chia Pet for at least six more weeks. It’s humbling.

    My tastes and personality lean toward some kind of badass/gamine hybrid, but I keep ending up things that are too dainty and then wondering “wait, how do these keep sneaking up on me?”

  6. Lisa

    Yes, wonderful post. I think understanding the psychology of style is as useful for many of us as understanding the aesthetics. Thanks Sal.

  7. No Fear of Fashion

    I read this post with great interest. I was always curious to know what was behind your transformation. Well I still don’t know what brought this up. Perhaps because I never had such an urge to change, I cannot feel what you are feeling. But hey.. it is what it is. If this makes you feel good, then this is right.
    You are a good stylist and I am enjoying your blog.

  8. Leah

    Wow, such a good post. Exactly what I was needing and wanting to hear from you! I am definitely going through a style transition myself, but it is taking much longer than yours. My style was very similar to yours before, girly, retro and colorful. But after I cut my hair into a pixie, I didn’t really like any of my clothes anymore. So funny how that happens. And i tried to force it but, I just resented how I looked. All last Fall and Winter, I hated most of my looks. Especially when I tried to wear a skirt, I couldn’t get the more badass look I wanted. Anyways, thanks for this post. I am hoping to get some ideas here so that I am better equipped for this fall! And I will really be thinking about what sort of pieces I want to add so that I can dress more in the style that I now like.