Style as Self-care

clothe yourself in kindness

Self-care encompasses a universe of possible activities, and the ones you choose for yourself may be drastically different than the ones I choose for myself. Many women tell me that style seems like the opposite of self-care to them, a realm that involves judgment, rules, stress, comparison, and disappointment. And, of course, that is completely valid. No two people’s concepts of self-care will be identical. But here’s why I consider style to be a part of my own self-care regimen.

The look-good, feel-good loop

I’ve come to realize that this is more of a möbius strip than a mere connection, as one will feed the other and it doesn’t really matter where you begin. Personally, I find it easier to feel good if I look good first. Caring about how I present my physical self to the world makes me more present in my body. Presence in my body feeds itself, creating more care. The cycle of self-care feeding self-love creating more self-care allows me to broadcast a profile of self-respect and power. Also, it reminds me that I have some control over how I feel about myself.

The visible difference

I know that mantras and meditation, reading and discussion are invaluable tools for self-care and understanding but sometimes I want something hard and fast. If I’m feeling low, cleaning up and dressing up make me feel instantly better. Not healed, but better. I can see the change, and that makes it much easier to feel. Other forms of self-care are necessary to round out the process, but tending to my style is a great way to create a kick start.

The shift of focus

Wearing clothes that are uncomfortable or that fight my body can make me feel self-conscious, distracted, and cranky. Wearing clothes that are comfortable, make me feel powerful or graceful, or accent what I love about my body can help me focus on the positive. It’s tied into the one less thing to worry about concept, but also stands on its own. Feeling chic and put-together really helps me shift focus from worry to accomplishment.

My self-care regimen includes monitoring my schedule to avoid overbooking, regular walks, long talks with my husband, family and friends, and gobs of sunscreen. My self-care regimen includes reading for pleasure, monthly brunch with my self-employed ladyfriends, and making sure I get at least an hour of lap-time with my cat on a daily basis. But my self-care regimen also includes dressing in ways that make me feel creative, centered, and sophisticated. Because tending to my style feels both pleasurable and rewarding.

Image source

Originally posted 2014-02-03 06:25:40.

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29 Responses to “Style as Self-care”

  1. emily

    “Wearing clothes that are uncomfortable or that fight my body can make me feel self-conscious, distracted, and cranky. Wearing clothes that are comfortable, make me feel powerful or graceful, or accent what I love about my body can help me focus on the positive.”

    I am SO attracted to the above sentiment. But here’s the thing for me: for me, and maybe others, that golden mean of “looks good AND feels comfortable” is elusive. As in, for those of us with bellies and thick middles, I know intellectually that dresses with waists, and belting, and nipped waist tops and trousers, and, lordy, jackets are the most flattering. But erg. Not (yet?) comfortable for me. (We’ll leave aside for the moment the not really in my lifestyle requirements right now).

    I suspect that it’s that I haven’t found the right sizes/kinds of the above things. Maybe my most comfortable belt is out there. Maybe I need to just GET A GRIP about dresses and tops with waists. (I did wear a knit dress under a long, somewhat sleek sweater the other day and felt lovely. Except when my tights rolled down under my belly). I don’t know. Is there are part of your above post that I should focus on more? Like the feel graceful part, or the puts focus on part you do like part? Am I looking at the wrong part of the idea for me?

  2. emily

    I guess I mean this: it seems like flattering clothes that (I admit) do make me look good often require me to show off the part of myself with which I am most uncomfortable (my middle). And doing that, the actual object– the belt or the waist in the skirt/top–DOES feel like it “fights my body” – I mean, I feel it all day, I want to suck in all day. Not a nice feeling! I like looking better, but urg. Is this just a matter of self-training?

    • Sally

      Totally know what you mean, Emily. And I definitely also have items in my wardrobe that I know look great but aren’t actually physically comfortable. In my opinion, some of this comes down to building tolerance – adjusting your ideas of comfort to include more than just your MOST comfortable pieces, which are often soft knits – but also to finding workarounds and compromises.

      For instance, I know that structured jackets and blazers make me feel pulled-together and fabulous, but they’re not exactly fun to wear. Ponte and knit blazers are a great compromise because they keep some of that formality and structure, but are softer and less constricting. I love the look of skinny jeans, but formal jeans with fly closures dig into my middle, so I opt for high-waisted jeggings. Of course, there won’t ALWAYS be easy workarounds or substitutions to be made, but when there are, it helps a ton.

      Our ideas of comfort can change over time and with practice, though. Our bodies and minds need time to adjust to new wearing patterns, and sticking to them can help shift our feelings. Belts are unlikely to ever feel truly physically comfortable, but some of that comfort can be psychological. And it will take time and repetition to shift them into that space.

      Does that help? I hope so!

      • emily

        It does help. I suspect there’s change and comfort to be gained by practice and repetition. And change and comfort are really, really good things. I’ll keep pushing my boundaries in little bits. Thank you again for the post- I think I didn’t say that which I was thinking, gushily, the first time.

  3. A.B.

    Re: the look good – feel good loop

    That resonated with me. I know that when my depression is really bad then I just won’t care what I look like. And that doesn’t help my mental state.

  4. Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    Agreed! when I take care of my appearance I feel better all around. Even after a bout of the flu last week, I felt better after a hot bath, a hair combing and a fresh tee. You hair looks gorgeous in the top pic, love the bit of wave. xox

  5. TexasAggieMom

    Thanks for this inspiration, which I am glad I took time to read before dressing for work. I have an important meeting today, but was about to let the cold, wet weather become an excuse for dressing less professionally that I normally would for a meeting of this magnitude. Thanks to this post, I’ll be turning out in layers that will not only keep me warm, but will look stylish and professional: a perfectly fitted black and white houndstooth check wool jacket over a soft, silky turtleneck, my best black pants, high heeled boots and ropes of pearls. Tonight I will re-read the opening chapter of your book to refresh these concepts in more detail. This site is not just another fashion blog. I love that you address who we are on the inside as much as how we look on the outside!

  6. Belinda Burkitt

    Journaling is something that centers me and refreshes my soul.

  7. Linds

    I love this post! I literally just wrote about the same thing last night. Having a passion for style/clothes gets interpreted as frivolous and shallow in our culture; but getting dressed in the morning has genuinely helped me from succumbing to sadness or indifference during the rough patches of life.

  8. Nebraskim

    I’m reading this over and over trying to wrap my head around it. I was raised in the kind of household that believed that “selfishness” (and self-care would be defined as selfish) was the tippy-top apex of all sins. So the idea of “self care” is overladen with guilt and feelings of unworthiness. Despite that, I do spend about $80/month on gel manicures and another $60 every five weeks for a cut and color. One of my friends, who thinks NOTHING of going to Hawaii, San Francisco, Chicago, France, Italy, etc. for vacation (and I NEVER go on vacation) and eats out at nice restaurants two or three time per week disses me constantly about what she sees as a huge waste of money on my part on manicures and she gets her hair done at places like Great Clips at the Mall, but is always dissatisfied. What I see as hugely wasteful–.trips and restaurant meals — are her forms of self care. so I need to ponder this some more.

  9. Annabeth

    This is very much how I feel about it. For many years I felt oppressed by media images of beauty, forbidding/expensive/unwearable concepts of high fashion, etc. So when I find ways to dress that are comfortable, flattering and expressive of my personality, I kind of feel like I’m beating the system!

    Basically, the world is always telling us that if we’re not extremely young, extremely thin, extremely beautiful and dressed explicitly to please men, we should instead be invisible. I decline.

  10. LP

    This perspective of yours, stated explicitly here in a post, but tacitly in all your published material, has helped me tremendously in resolving conflicting feelings I was having about style, selfishness and self-care. Keep it up, lovely Sally McGraw: you are doing the world a huge favor.

  11. ModernSauce

    Great post, Sally! A lot resonated with me – the idea of a mobius strip of self care and ‘one less thing to worry about’ are really important to me. If we’re talking about a 1-10 scale of mood/attitude – if I’m having a 3 day then I probably can’t get to the point where dressing will make me feel better. If I’m feeling like a 5 or a 6 then yes dressing a certain way will increase my mood which gives me momentum to further take care of myself. Learning how to accurately gauge my level of mood/emotion makes a huge difference on how I address it. I mean, aDRESS it! Sorry. ; )

    I’ve found that worrying about what I’m going to wear is a big stresser to me so when I’m feeling higher up that mood scale I’ll make an effort to pick clothes for the next few days to try and knock out that “chore” of choosing outfits in case I don’t feel like it later. Also making an effort to buy comfortable, quality and flattering casual clothes has made a big help so when I AM having a low day I know that my clothing won’t worsen my mood even if I’m not up to heels and liquid liner!

    Ditto on Emily’s comments too!

  12. Lisa

    Thanks for this post! Your blog is one that I read daily and you have helped me understand the link between how I dress and how I feel about myself and the importance of self-care. Thanks for all you do!
    You look LOVELY (as usual) in the pic for this post, and I must say, your hair styled like that is my favorite 🙂

  13. Eleanorjane

    Great post! You sum up my attitude to dressing up very nicely. There really is a noticable difference to how I feel (physically and emotionally) based on how well presented I am. I’m learning to put a bit more effort in even when I’m in a casual workspace where I don’t think I’ll see any colleagues as a) they always seem to turn up and b) feeling schlumpy makes my motivation to work schlumpy.

  14. Barbara

    That is a stunning photo of you. I love everything about it.
    Thanks always for your thoughtful writing.

  15. BamaCarol

    This is a wonderful post and very well said, Sally. I have had 5 major surgeries in the last 18 months and last fall after the third one and knowing I would have two more ahead of me I was very depressed and down. Then I started losing my hair and that was almost the final straw. When I finally decided that I should groom myself (tweezing and such) and doing something with my hair to help counter balance the hair loss, I knew I had passed through a very dark depression and was coming out on the other side. Through all of that I read your blog and the positive feedback and articles you wrote were of enormous help to me. Self care is more than fashion and I’m now to the point in the last month where I am working on putting real outfits together and makeup and taking pride in how I look now. The great news is my hair is no longer falling out but starting to grow back in according to my hairstylist and I have hopefully had the final surgery for my knee replacement and the MRSA infection is gone so I can get on with my life. I seriously felt very depressed but it was the positive comments and attitude from several people and blogs that helped me through that. And once I get fully recovered and can walk well enough again, I’m going on the biggest shopping trip I’ve ever done!

  16. LIz

    “I have heard with admiring submission the experience of the lady who declared that the sense of being perfectly well-dressed gives a feeling of inward tranquility which religion is powerless to bestow.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson
    Emerson certainly wasn’t focused on external appearances, so I have always thought this comment of his was funny and rather endearing.
    Not necessarily true in all cases, particularly in regard to depression, but as you say, having one less thing to worry about can be part of our care for ourselves.
    When I was a kid and staying at home sick, unless I was at death’s doorstep my mother always said “Get up, get washed, dress, and comb your hair. You’ll feel better.” Somehow it did.

  17. Shawna

    I will echo the sentiment about the gorgeous photos and really liking your hair like that.
    I am fortunate to not have to wear clothes that conflict with my idea of comfort and style. That means I do not have to look corporate. I am miserable in blouses with collars and in jackets. I think I have reached a point where everything in my closet makes me feel good, whether it is just jeans and a tee or a skirt and sweater. The biggest factor in my self care routines that has the most impact on how I feel about myself is my hair. I have taken 46 years to decide that a proper haircut is worth it.

  18. Beth

    Now that I’m thinking about your question–how do our beauty/style regimens incorporate self-care, I do quite a bit of this without realizing it. Even things like carefully selecting the body wash and lotion I use everyday seems really important to me.

    I used to give myself a manicure every week, and it was really ritualized–taking off the previous polish, soaking my hands, applying cuticle oil, etc–and my sister in law asked me why I bothered and I said it was an important way of showing myself that I care enough to pamper myself. I had trouble explaining it to her, but it really goes back to self-care. Taking the time to do some of these beauty and self-care rituals (IF you enjoy them) can be a way to reinforce positive thoughts about yourself.

  19. Kara

    I really resonate with this post. I always feel so much more “comfortable in my skin” if I have taken the time to bathe, moisturize, do my hair, some make-up, and thoughtfully pick my outfit/clothing. I tend to gravitate toward soft knits and layers. These make me feel comfortable, but also pulled together and I know when I make this effort, it can make a difference in how I carry myself, how I interact with others, and will keep me from obsessing about what I “should” have worn.

  20. Janel M

    I notice years ago that I have a huge jump in productivity when I’m intentionally dressing verses taking the “whatever” approach. Because of that, even though I’m a WAHM, I’ve tried to be more “professional” in my clothing choices. I can’t say I’ve thought of it as self care, but that’s actually right on. Thanks Sally!

  21. janice wong

    Thanks for sharing this very lovely post! I learned a lot. Personally, I just go to saloons and pamper myself, then I feel good immediately