Trust in Style

Some e-mails and comments I’ve gotten recently have led me to believe that it’s time for a reminder about the merit and weight of style advice, including my own.

I trust my readers to take everything I say and evaluate it for themselves. I trust every single one of you to read whatever I’ve written, mull it over, take what is useful to you, reject what is not, and question anything that confuses or concerns you.

I also trust that you’re doing this with ALL style advice. I trust you to look at anything labeled a style rule and make your own call: Does this rule apply to your life, lifestyle, personal style, budget, taste, age, body type? If not, there is no need to follow it. And no need to feel uneasy about rejecting it.

And now, the nudge: You MUST trust yourselves. Trust your own judgment, trust your eye for quality and design, trust your instincts about figure flattery. And trust your instinct to ask questions when you just don’t know what to think, but remember that any advice you get is subject to evaluation and rejection. You’re in charge of every decision about your personal style and personal appearance.

I worry that shows like “What Not to Wear” have generated major anxiety about personal style. We look at those women, weeping in the dressing rooms, and think, “Holy hell, if she’s doing it wrong, I could be doing it wrong, too.” But there is no wrong. There isn’t! I don’t care what Stacey and Clinton, Trinny and Susannah say. There may be ways to dress yourself that are more flattering, more current, more refined … but whatever you’re wearing now, you’ve got your reasons. And if you want to change, if you’re looking for styles that are more flattering, more current, more refined, KICK ASS! Looking your best is a huge component of self-care, in my opinion, and I created this blog with the idea in mind that helping women to look their best will help them to feel better, stronger, more beautiful on a daily basis. But don’t let anyone shame you for what you wear, even if it’s a group of items on everyone’s list of no-nos. Because you have your reasons, and it’s your choice to change.

When a friend gives you advice on your career or your relationships, you never just take her advice blindly without a period of contemplation. Style advice is no different. I assume you’re here because you’re interested in my opinions on things, but I also assume that you’ll think I’m full of beans for a good percentage of the time. I assume that if I post about platforms or makeup or belting my dresses that you’ll know there’s no implication of right or wrong in anything I say, just my opinion. And yes, I’ll write about style rules, because even loose, subjective rules CAN be helpful when applied as guidelines, and because people do ask for them. But I trust you to make your own decisions about whether those rules fit your specific personal style.

Image courtesy Catskills Grrl.

Originally posted 2010-03-24 05:59:00.

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41 Responses to “Trust in Style”

  1. Kate @ Tres Lola

    Right on Sal. I always take other peoples rules or advice as guidance from which to craft a look that best works for me. Our bodies are different, we know what works best and if now we can experient and figure it out. Learning from each other is important – but style is all about flexibility – fashion can keep their what-not-to-wears 😉 we'll have our unique flair.

  2. Meli22

    I love hearing style advice, new ideas, and so on! It keeps me current, keeps me focused, and is so interesting. Plus, that is how I got interested in personal style in the first place lol 🙂

    As for evaluating style advice- thats what I do with everything I hear/read, like you said. Not everything applies to me, but hey, it doesn't hurt to give new things a whirl ;D


  3. Corrine/Frock And Roll

    Oh, Sal. You are a gem.

    I think developing your own style and learning to trust your sartorial instincts is definitely something that happens over time, and as you become more confident. There have been times when I've been DESPERATE to buy something and have been talked out of it by others (only to regret it enormously later!), and times where I haven't been so sure on something but have been convinced to buy it and also regretted that, too. The lesson learned? Allow yourself to form your own opinion and make your own decisions, because it will be ultimately be your most valuable asset when it comes to all things style!

  4. Charlie

    I´m getting more confident in my own style choices every single day, and it feels great. I think I´m finally realising who I am, getting healed from experiences in the past and trusting myself more. I also reflect that into my clothing. I am no longer afraid to use something "out of fashion". If I like it, and in my own opinion feel and look good in it, I wear it.

  5. A-C

    Hi! So I recently sent you a pair of pictures of a dress and really needed advice on the neckline. I knew that by sending the email I might get a response I wouldn't necessarily like, but such is life.

    I think that the important part about asking for style advice is to take it w/a grain of salt. There are lots of arenas in life in which you really should listen to and trust "the experts," but style is not one of those. Sure there are people who have an eye for style and can see things better than me, but the thing is, they're not here everyday seeing how I feel about my body or how I feel about life or what I'm in the mood for. I'm the only "expert" on dressing my body and as such should listen to what others have to offer, but in the end, *I* decide, not someone else.

  6. Denise

    I don't think women weeping in the dressing rooms of WNTW are upset because they got it "wrong." I think they're having a bit of an epiphany about WHY they dress the way they do. And part of that realization is that they haven't given themselves permission to enjoy the self-care you promote on your blog. I think the advice "trust in style" is good, but honestly, these women don't think they're stylish: they often claim "comfort" as the (only) reason they're wearing the clothes they are. I really appreciate the relentless message of taking care of yourself, and that you're deserving of such care, that WNTW promotes. And I especially appreciate that they never see anyone's weight or size as an impediment to style.

    That all being said, I'm going to hunt down and disable Ted Gibson myself if I see any more orange hair! 🙂

  7. Becky

    Thanks for posting this. I've recently been working on re-evaluating my wardrobe and my overall style aesthetic, since I was feeling very much like I was in a rut. And the "rules" can be somewhat overwhelming at times. There's plenty that it's easy for me to reject, like those stereotypical lists of what are must-haves in a woman's wardrobe. (I had one of those button-down white shirts, and you know how many times I wore it in the past 5 years? Maybe twice.) But then there's others, like how to mix prints and colors without being totally clashy, that I'm still kind of stumped about. Which is unfortunate, because I love prints and probably have way more of them than I should.

    I think what would make me more confident in my style would be having a better idea of how to actually put outfits together. I'm good at finding or making individual pieces that I like, but sometimes get stuck on putting them together in outfits in such a way that it's not wearing it with the same stuff all the time.

  8. WendyB

    We look at those women, weeping in the dressing rooms, and think, "Holy hell, if she's doing it wrong, I could be doing it wrong, too." — – if it's the few episodes I've seen, anyone who relates should be crying because those people are pretty much wearing trash bags and rags.

  9. futurelint

    I love your site because you get me THINKING about style… it normally is this intangible thing that I just like something or don't but you get me wondering WHY I like a certain style or WHY I think I can't wear something, etc. I don't think it's fair for anyone to say you are pushing some sort of hard and fast rules on anyone, quite the opposite!

  10. Alyce Ann

    Sally, this post encapsulates just what I love about your blog. This is the kind of advice that's helping me become empowered to feel more comfortable making new clothing choices, and to cast off my old beliefs about what I "ought" to be wearing. Thank you!

  11. Lorena

    Kick ass post.
    I always enjoy reading your blog.
    I have to say you have hit it right on, YOU choose.
    For example I came across a pair of TSUBO shoes the other day and I thought "Oh this is the brand that Sal @Already Pretty mentions and wears " I tried them on, they did not fit so good and I decided not to buy them- even if they were only 60 USD – the thing is I learned THROUGH your blog that the brand existed and I took a shot at trying them on, but I CHOSE.
    I trust myself, I sometimes push myself a little.. and have to admit that sometimes feel left out .

  12. MamaLucy

    I love any ideas you are willing to put out there- it's the whole reason I follow yours, or anyone else's blog- for ideas. I am perfectly capable of deciding something loks poorly, or doesn't work for some reason- but if I've never seen the idea, I won't have the chance to experiment. Many thanks for your affirmations that we are all creatures capable of beauty, self-confidence and style. More! More!

  13. Work With What You've Got

    Yes. I do. The top I'm wearing today is the "wrong" size for me. And every single year the world tries to convince me I really need a tench coat to be stylish and I remind the world, a trench coat? Not my style.

  14. sweet.hereafter

    One of your best posts, I think!

    As for following style rules, it has taken me about 20 years to finally free myself of the tyranny of style rules. Not that I blame TV shows/style gurus/fashion magazines for imposing those rules on me; I took their rules and imposed them on myself. At that time, I simply didn't have the confidence in my own instincts and sense of style.

    As a result, I'm having a lot more fun with style now than I ever did when I was younger. It's ironic that I'm more experimental with fashion in my 40s than I was in my 20s — which was supposed to be the age when I could get away with more daring fashion choices.

  15. becky f.

    One of the things I've noticed, after reading your blog and others, is that I'll look at something at my regular thrifting stops and think, "Wow, that's great!" (Yesterday this happened with a long hoodie; a few weeks ago it was a different-colored twin to your multicolored floral blazer.) Then I'll pause for a second to consider why I think it's great, and it's often because someone whose style I admire would love that particular garment. Using those people as inspirations to broaden my style horizons while also learning to separate their preferences from what I love or find flattering — or both! — is an ongoing process. (And I find myself going through the racks and thinking, "This friend would love that skirt," or "My sister would look great in this top." It makes my thrifting trips even more pleasant.)

    Thanks for this reminder!

  16. Stephanie

    I'm in the middle of recreating my wardrobe and figuring out what I like style wise so I don't always trust myself. That said I've really been encouraging myself to try new things and only buy/make things that I really like. Amazingly this seems to be coming together into some pretty good looks.

    I'd love to hear your take on good mom at the park looks one day though. I think one of my biggest challenges has been figuring out how to take looks I like and translate them to wash and wear, sit in the sand, go ahead and rub snot on me looks that work with comfy walking shoes.

  17. Una

    Such a great post. Thankfully, I'm at a place and age in life where I don't care what the rules say. Hopefully for most women that point comes earlier than it did for me. Now I look to fashion for inspiration and creativity, but if I don't like a trend, I don't feel the need to embrace it anyway. Denim shirts are a good example – never liked 'em, never will. Same with puffy sleeves, which make me look like a linebacker and feel like I'm in drag (not that there's anything wrong with that)… All that said, I do have to remember not to keep buying unnecessary variations of the same item (black boots, black suit jackets, black anything) which have led me into a fashion rut, and to your wonderful blog for some ideas on changing it up, ideally using what I already own.

    On an unrelated not, my verification word is "crawkies". 🙂

  18. LPC

    Clinton and Stacy, much as I love their personas, make everyone look alike. Pah to that. From my advanced age I'd just remind everyone that if you have fun in the process of finding your style the outcome will probably be a good one.

  19. Jasie VanGesen

    excellent post! I think we all need to be reminded once in awhile that the "rules" aren't hard/sharp lines we MUST stay within…

  20. Chelsea

    Hell yeah! I think using style rules as "guidelines" can be great and helpful, but keeping an open mind to your own creativity is essential to truly honing your personal style. I try to trust my guts when it comes to my style, but before I could do this I used rules to get an idea of what I liked to wear and how empowering flattering silhouettes could be!

  21. Jane W.

    I worry that shows like "What Not to Wear" have generated major anxiety about personal style. We look at those women, weeping in the dressing rooms, and think, "Holy hell, if she's doing it wrong, I could be doing it wrong, too." But there is no wrong.

    Preach it! T&S's books are informative, but they definitely did a number on my self-trust.

  22. Cat

    Thanks for mentioning what not to wear… I've been struggling with that program. Why are they *so* snarky? Why is there only *one* shape (hour glass) that we all must attempt to achieve? Why does everyone have to wear a jacket and pointy toed heels? Why does dressing "well" have to be a physical and emotional expression of self-hatred (i.e. unless you are wearing the blister/shin splint inducing shoes on that show, you can't feel good about yourself)?

    Thank you for your sane and kind blog.

  23. Vix

    I generally find I'm in the minority because I love to read style rules/guidelines about fit and proportions for various body types—which are based more on SHAPE not SIZE. [I don't care about "what's in style" or "must-haves."]

    Then I love to tweak the recs for my particular proportions, and I love to see how others figure out what hemline/sleeve length/neckline (singular or plural) put the focus on them vs the garment.

    Of course even fit/proportions guidelines can conflict with each other—or recs for one proportion issue "fights" another. But generally speaking there's a continuity over decades.

    There’s no denying that rules evolve in a cultural context, and rules can certainly—happily—be broken as a cultural “screw you." And I think those who chafe at stylistic constraints can and should go their own way.

    But I've identified the illusions I want to create, and I know which styles and trends will not help that goal. Or I know after I try something on. [No full-skirted belted dresses on me, thanks!]

    This *is* a constraint- or restraint-oriented method and completely counter to my personality. I only keep doing it because I am a narcissist who prefers the focus to be on me vs an item! I'm going for a whole over the parts thing. [It also makes shopping faster/easier/less fraught.]

  24. Charlotte

    Gosh, Sal–when I saw that photo, I thought you'd broken your personal taboo & posted a photo of your shoe collection! 😉
    I'll just echo what most have already said–your advice is very helpful because it causes me to look at ways of wearing clothes I hadn't thought of before. But also, I don't read fashion magazines so I'm not exactly a fashion maven–there's a lot I'd miss if I didn't take a look at your (and others') blog posts. Sometimes I'll look at a photo & think, Oh yeah–I could create something like that. And so I do, and if it looks good on me, I'll wear it, and if it makes me look like a dork, I'll play around until I get something that I DO like, often using some of the same pieces.
    After spending some time on your blog, I think I'm much more aware now of WHY something doesn't flatter my own shape, and that's been nothing but helpful.

  25. Oranges And Apples

    This is precisely why I don't give advice – my style rules are for ME, they probably wouldn't make sense on anyone else. There is no substitute to self-reflection.

    My advice on style (and on pretty much everything else life related) is
    * create a realistic picture of where you are currently at
    * think about what you do and don't like about it
    * think about your ideal scenario, if money/time/age was no object
    * think about what the essence of what you like about the ideal situation is. What is transferable? How can this be applied to the real life situation?
    * That way, you should find a middle ground from where you are now and where you ideally would like to be.

    Funnily enough, this is exactly the advice I have given Dave about changing career, so I reckon it can work in any situation.

  26. The Waves

    What a great post! I couldn't agree with you more on what "What Not To Wear"-type programmes might do to some people's style instincts. Yes, a lot of times the people featured in these shows don't know how to accentuate their best bits, and their taste levels are questionable, but there is a level of personal choice and comfort that I think these programmes cross. At the end of the day, no one should be made to cry in front of the mirror for not being stylish, and personally I think the reason they cry is out of embarrasment, not epiphany.

    I don't really have any personal style rules, but I do know what I like or don't like. I try to have fun with clothes, and not take myself too seriously, but having said that, I think style advice from others is interesting and sometimes eye-opening. As long as it is done in a constructive manner, advice is more than welcome! I enjoy taking responsability for picking and choosing the advice that works for me. A lot of times just doing what someone else is telling you to do often ends up looking boring and impersonal.

  27. Audi

    To be fair, most of the women I see made over on What Not To Wear look absolutely smashing afterwards and seem to find it a rewarding journey of self-discovery. But you're right, Sal; no one should ever be shamed into changing their style if they have their reasons for keeping it. I think even the simple act of considering what your style is, how much you like it, and whether (or not!) you wish to change it is healthy in and of itself. And that is exactly what your blog does — it encourages that process of thinking.

  28. Katie K

    Sal, this is fabulous. I love your point comparing taking relationship or work advice from someone and taking style advice. One of my favorite quotes from Walt Whitman is "Re-examine all that you have been told… dismiss that which insults your soul." Seems pretty apt.

  29. Zuzuli

    I find I still follow some rules in general (like not sure I can pair denim on denim kinda thing) but others, I've just adjusted to what looks and feels right for me. Like winter white – after Labour Day. Love how crisp it looks. I say if it works for you, then work it!

  30. Peldyn

    I have decided my style is "happy".
    I see that is your style too! I hope that more women find this style 🙂 It fits every size and shape.

  31. FashionTheorist

    I hate style "rules," and will sometimes go out of my way to violate them in a way that I like. However, as a blogger and a stylist, I do get questions about rules. They make me very uncomfortable – the rules and the questions both. I'm trying to find ways to express that anything I say is my opinion, subject to and mutable by any other person to fit their own style. At best, a style "rule" can be an inspiration: at worst, it can be a prison.

    Considering how different we all are, isn't it a bit silly to think that there can be any one-size-fits-all solution? What works for tall, thin girls won't work for short, full-figured ones, and vice versa. Even with identical figures, other, less tangible factors, such as lifestyle and personality, will affect how two different people want to dress.

  32. Sidewalk Chalk

    I like watching WNTW, but not for the clothes or the rules, because those are pretty much the same. I love watching it for Carmindy's makeup tips, because I think she really tries to play up the pretty features they already have.

    But I think you are spot-on about trusting yourself when it comes to style "rules." If people felt free to wear swan dresses with egg purses (a la Bjork) or you know, whatever made them happy at the moment, the world would be a much more interesting place.

  33. The Budget Babe

    i should probably write a similar post for my blog re: celebrities. they and their stylists are just another source of inspiration, many celebs dress poorly and im in no way saying they have the best style on the planet. much food for thought!

  34. fleur_delicious

    Amen, sister! I pretty much always take rule with a grain of salt. But that might just be because I'm persnickety and stubborn by nature and I want to do things MY WAY, generally speaking. 😉

    I will say this about shows like WNTW: Stacey and Clinton DID get me to look more critically at my clothes and to start doing serious closet purging, and I think that was a big first step for me. Not that I dressed all that bad, but I had plenty of chaff in with the wheat, if you know what I'm saying – things I was holding onto for sentimental reasons, things I'd given power over myself that I didn't wear or that didn't flatter, etc. And learning to critically review and to purge was an important step in taking back that power, in giving myself complete control over shaping a personal style: I can be whomever I want to be, I'm no longer defined by past likes/dislikes/choices/identities, etc.

  35. RoseAG

    I've quit watching WNTW because they're so hard on the women in the first part of the show. I'd be in tears too. And I agree that their style advice is formulaic.

    But I have tried on and bought lower-waisted jeans and they look nice and propel me into only 10 years out of date.

    Last fall when the only other woman on the subway with a skirt as long as mine was a nun I took that skirt to the tailor.

    For me stale style = stale brain. I want to keep moving on and that means changing and improving.

  36. BookGirl

    As always, a breath of fresh air, Sal. For me, style advice is all about presenting me with options I may not have considered. The best part is taking a bit of advice from A, a bit from B, etc., and putting it together in a way that reflects my own aesthetic. So I welcome it all.


  37. Mikhaela

    I do have a fondness for style rules and advice–I love watching What Not to Wear and reading books like the Lucky Wardrobe Manual–but in the end I always trust my own instincts and preferences more than any "Dos and Don'ts". For example–so many style rules insist that the only way to look tall and slim is to wear pointy-toed high heels. I personally hate that look and avoid all pointy shoes, including flats for both comfort and style reasons. I wear round-toed midheels and flats and I think I look fabulous in them.

  38. Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP

    You have to understand them and then choose when and how to break them – that's when it works best.

  39. Rosie Unknown

    I sort of don't get style rules, and sometimes I feel like the confine me.

    I was in the bizarre position of becoming interested in style before I really exposed myself to fashion blogs and magazines, so I started out "without" any rules really. Then I heard about things like not pairing navy and black or whatever, and now I over think it. So I listen to advice, I but I usually do what I want and either reap the benefits or face the consequence.

  40. burnt sienna

    This post is classic and I am so glad I stumbled across your blog. Count me a fan and new subscriber!

  41. Cecilia

    I agree that style is very personal and each one has to make it their own, but I do think that we have to start somewhere, specially those of us who have "lost" our sense of style as major life changes hit our lives, or never really thought too much about what covers our body. That's why fashion "rules" and "must-have" lists are helpful to propel us into a more stylish way of thinking. I love watching WNTW, but I do have a problem with the snarky comments, but only to the quiet people. Spirited girls give as good as they get and that's part of the fun of the show. I also have noticed that Stacy and Clinton dress everyone alike, with very few exceptions. I understand the concept of blank slate, but sometimes their choices are not appropriate for the lifestyle of the victim, err… participant. I mean, a cocktail dress for date night? It would only fly in a major city like NYC. Jackets in Florida? They certainly have not heard of purchasing according to dominant season, and should follow Angie's blog @YLF. But fashion rules and must-have lists can also help us out of a rut by suggesting items that we have never tried before, and for that, they earn their keep 🙂