One of the best things about my Facebook Group is the familiarity that can form between members. Last week, a member of my group, I’ll call her Cee to protect her identity, posted a photo of an outfit. There was nothing inherently bad about the outfit, in fact, it was quite cute. Cee was wearing a pair of wide-leg very relaxed linen pants, a black sleeveless jersey top, and a pair of striped tan and black wedge sandals. It was stylish and laid back but so totally different than her typical outfit photos that I thought a foreign entity had taken over her body. Cee’s outfits are normally neat, tailored, polished, peppy, and very colorful. Even when Cee dresses casually she doesn’t look casual and she never looks sloppy or laid back.
The photo wasn’t up long in the Facebook group before it had tons of comments from the other members, all quite surprised by Cee’s departure in her style. Even I chimed in with surprise. As I was reading the comments, one from Cee specifically stood out. She said, “I tend to be more structured which is why these [pants] are bothering me a bit, but I don’t want to get too pigeon-holed!”
I chuckled at her comment. Cee was bothered by the pants and willing to stray from a style that was clearly working for her for fear of getting pigeon-holed in one look. I mean, you had to laugh. So I replied, “well that’s just it. We don’t want to get pigeon-holed but at the same time, what’s wrong with a look if it’s working? Women feel this strange need to branch out even if they are chugging along just fine. Have you been feeling bored, uninspired, or like you need a change? Isn’t life hard enough with enough unpredictability? I would completely get it if your wardrobe was starting to feel like one big rerun. Then we would talk. But if you feel great and your wardrobe is on a bit of autopilot, it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Put your mental bandwidth towards other fun things.”
Why Women Try to Change Their Style, Even When There is Nothing Wrong With It
Why? Why do women do this? Why do women feel like we need to tinker with our style even when we feel like it’s set? Here is Cee with such an established style that when she posted a photo that strayed from her usual look, a whole group of women who know her, but don’t ‘know her, know her’, took notice and when asked why she changed it up, the only logic she could come with was that it was working too consistently. Really? Really!? I’m not laughing at Cee, I’m laughing with her because Cee is so not alone. And it got me thinking, what is this internal force that keeps women from settling, that makes us feel that even if we are comfortable, our style still needs to be tinkered with? I just had to address this question as a blog post.
Settling Means Failure
We live in a world where the concept of settling means failure and in many instances settling can mean letting go of a bigger dream for a smaller one, accepting less than we’re worth, or making do with little. But in the context of personal style, it doesn’t really relate. In this context, settling with your style means finding peace with what works and what doesn’t and moving on.
Yet women still seem to apply the ‘settling equals failure’ mentality to the concept of being settled with their style as if they’re always supposed to be fussing and trying, tweaking, and changing. The idea of being done or settled with your style in a way feels like you have given up trying or have let yourself go. However, here is nothing defeatist in settling on your style. Quite the opposite actually.
Up until Cee had put on that outlier outfit, she had been plodding along just fine. Not only did she consistently wear outfits she liked, she had also crafted a perfectly curated wardrobe that she was completely fine with and looked great wearing. She had things to wear, her wardrobe resonated with herself and it was consistent. Cee knew herself and there is great power in that. Do you know what a woman gets done when this is settled; how much faster, easier, and more pleasant it is to shop when you can say yes and no quickly to things? You don’t fail when you settle on your style, you take charge. Women have grown accustomed to the concept of fashion being a struggle and, I’m not going to lie, for the most part, it is. Fashion has become a highly unnavigable mess that most women feel they have little control over, but if you can at least start crossing out some of it by actually settling on things you will and won’t wear and know what you like and don’t, you can at least cut down on some of what is being flashed in front of you to buy.
Speaking of Struggle, The World Has Made Women Wired For It
Let’s talk about struggle for a moment because I don’t think we as women really stop to consider the pervasive level of struggle we have lived with in our lives since the dawn of time when a woman was bonked on the head and dragged into a cave by her hair. Women have had to struggle for every thing, every right, and every freedom she has. To do something as simple as getting her own credit card —something she couldn’t do until 1974— to getting the right to do something as huge as vote, women every day are struggling for some right, freedom, or equality. It’s such a part of who women are and such a legacy that has been passed down over the generations, that even if we weren’t directly involved in it, it lives in us as a part of our collective tapestry or like a low-grade fever we may not even notice half the time. But it’s there, and we’re usually reminded of it when a fresh and new struggle presents itself that we have to gear up and struggle to overcome. Women know struggle, we trust struggle. We don’t trust ease.
My point is, while it may be incredibly hyperbolic to connect our generations of collective struggle for freedom and equality to our struggles to find settled feelings about our individual personal styles, I do find it interesting that while men have walked through the world, women have struggled through it and I can’t help but think there has to be some connection in that considering there has already been some research done on the psychological effects of gender inequality.
You Might Miss Out
When I am shopping for a client, I am equally thrilled and frustrated when a store tells me I have 50 pages of online options to sift through. I’m thrilled because it means I have lots of choices but frustrated because I know I will probably look through every damn page…even if I find really good stuff on the first ten pages. Why? Well, what if there is something perfect on page 47? I don’t want to miss that. How many of you ever bought a wedding gown and found it on your first or second try and were angry and wished it was your 25th or 50th gown you tried on instead because then you would have known for sure it was the right one? When I was in high school, I had a part-time .job at a retail shop that sold wedding dresses. On more than one occasion, a bride would be almost upset when she found her wedding gown on her first shopping trip. She would actually come back after trying on more dresses somewhere else just to be certain this first dress was the right dress.
Curious about the psychological roots of FOMO (short for fear of missing out if you have LOMO, which means a love of missing out), fear of missing out has its roots in survival and tribalism. Back when food was scarce and it meant the difference between life and death, missing out meant starvation and not getting into the trendiest restaurant or the right shoes. Over time, as farming and industry developed, people got bored and lazy and FOMO shifted from survival to gossip or being in the know.
This is all rooted in brain chemistry, which it often is, and a part of the brain called the amygdala in the limbic system which detects threats. Something as simple as “not having enough information” is enough to send the amygdala into a tailspin and engage the fight or flight response. It sounds crackers, but could it have been Cee’s concerns about pigeonholing herself that gave her feeling of doubt and concern that she might be missing out or lacking “enough information” by sticking with the same old and not exploring new options? Could that be what threw her temporarily off her very established and working wardrobe path?
You Don’t Trust Yourself
One of the biggest things I teach my clients is to trust themselves. Have you ever had that friend where no matter how many times you you tell them they are pretty or smart or better than the guy they have chosen to date, until they get it for themselves, they don’t believe it? Well, I am often the voice that finally comes in and confirms to my client, “yes, it’s true, you look amazing in red,” or, “you’re right. That shirt needs to be sent to a zipcode so far away from that it’s a guarantee it will never find a way back into your life.” What I know, my clients always know for themselves on an instinctive level. They just don’t know why they know it.
I tell my clients all the time that more times than not, the colors they decorate their homes are the colors that they most often look the best wearing. It’s an interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed over the years. Listen to yourselves, believe me when I say it. I have seen the proof. You know way more than you think you do. You see it when the proportion is off. You know when a color looks bad on you. You know which silhouettes make you look lumpy or short. You may not be able to articulate why the problem is happening but you know it is there.
If I had one wish for women in regards to fashion it would be that women leaned more into their instincts, read less fashion advice that wasn’t backed up with some evidence and was actually from someone with an education or training in this topic, and maybe, they didn’t use a person rattling off a bunch of trends and products as their own personal sherpa on what to buy next. Stop allowing someone equally unqualified who has never lived in your body to drive the car.
You’re Addicted To Tweaking Your Style
I can recall working with a client who had been hard at work on her wardrobe before hiring me. And when I say working, let me be clear, I mean, for years she had been doing the equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Basically, she had gotten nowhere. I worked with her for a few months and got her wardrobe to a respectable place until we would be meeting in a few months for the next season. When I was ready to head home after our last appointment our conversation went like this.
My client: “Well, what am I supposed to do now?”
Me: “Um, I don’t know. But I am going home to eat dinner. I’m hungry.”
My client: “Yea, but, do I need to buy anything?”
Me: “Well, I guess you could, but you really don’t need anything. Your wardrobe is fine.”
My client: “What I am supposed to do now then?”
Me: “I don’t know. Get a hobby?”
My client had gotten so stuck in the habit of working on her style and wardrobe that it had become like an addiction in her life. She couldn’t let go of it and she certainly couldn’t get settled with it either. She actually didn’t want it settled. Obviously, wardrobes aren’t meant to be set and forgotten about. We’re always buying and updating because we change, styles change, we gain and lose but when it becomes something that we get obsessive about or we just don’t allow ourselves to find peace with no matter how good it is, then it’s something to take a critical look at it. Do you really want it done or are you just stuck in the process or using it to fill something else that is empty? Ask yourself why? What is this process filling? What are you avoiding? Are you stuck on perfection? Are you chasing something? Are you trying to satisfy something? What do you need?
You’ve Always Had the Power. It’s Been In You All Along
You’ve got to love Glinda, the Good Witch. A reach for something different to wear when your wardrobe and style is working can be harmless and just a bit of curiosity, like it probably was for Cee. Or it could be indicative of something deeper and more meaningful that needs further exploration. The bottom line is, whatever it is you’re looking for, the most likely place you’ll probably find it is the last place you’ll probably look, right inside yourself.