Before I delve into today’s main topic, I want to share a bit about how I have been feeling. Time continues to feel strange. Sometimes it seems to move at the speed of light, and other times it feels like I’m stuck in a slow-motion time warp. In many ways, the past three months have seemed more like three years. I can scarcely remember the time before the coronavirus pandemic started. Surely, my life hasn’t always been like this, but my memory feels fuzzy and uncertain.
I’ve heard the state that we’re in now referred to as “the infinite present,” as it’s difficult to plan for the future when we have absolutely no idea of what that future will look like. Of course, it’s always true that we don’t know what’s around the corner, but we usually have a much better sense of it than we do now.
As I’ve written about previously (like in the three-part series that started with this post), I struggle a lot with depression and anxiety, in addition to a number of physical health issues. Since our minds and bodies are inexorably linked, it’s not uncommon for me to experience flares on both the physical and emotional fronts simultaneously. This has been the case for me lately and it’s often been difficult to push past my pain, anxiety, and inertia to get even the smallest of tasks done. I always think I can do so much more, but then the days rush by and all of a sudden it’s Friday afternoon, with not that much to show for my week. One thing I always want to do more of is post on this blog, but it’s been hard to gather my thoughts and appropriately write them down.
I know I’m not alone in my struggles with time, depression, anxiety, and inertia. I’m tired of beating myself up about not getting enough done, so I’m just going to do my best and trust that it’s enough. Since enough is my word for the year, perhaps one of the lessons I need to learn is that my best is enough, even when it doesn’t feel like it so much of the time.
How Emotional Issues Impact Style
I’m sure I will expand upon some of these thoughts in the future, but now I’m going to switch to the topic of personal style. Although it may seem like personal style has nothing to do with the emotional issues that many of us grapple with, I’ve learned that style and our moods are more linked than most people think. In fact, our style can play a large role in our confidence, happiness, and well-being.
Most of you came to know me through the writing I’ve done about my compulsive shopping problem. It’s taking me a long time to overcome my overshopping tendencies, and that’s because it has never really been about clothes. It’s more about the feelings that I’m hoping the clothes will give me, particularly feelings of confidence and happiness. I’ve been self-conscious and insecure for as long as I can remember, and I’ve struggled with buying too many clothes for much of my life as well. I now understand that I can’t buy self-confidence in any store. Our sense of self-worth has to come from within – and it can be a lifelong journey. However, dressing in a way that feels authentic to who we are and how we want to be perceived can be an important piece of the puzzle to feeling good about ourselves.
Where I’ve often gone astray has been following other people’s recommendations for how I should dress, based upon the current trends, body shape guidelines, and what those around me were wearing. Whenever I’ve purchased something just because a sales associate or friend said it looked good on me, the item was generally destined to be worn just once or twice, only to then collect dust in my closet until I begrudgingly passed it on.
I’ve wasted many thousands of dollars on trendy clothing and garments that looked fabulous on other women but just didn’t feel right on me. And just when I felt like I was truly getting a handle on my authentic style (see my late 2015 post on this topic), I went through menopause and decided to transition to my natural gray (well, more like salt and pepper…) hair, which basically set everything style-related on its edge.
Menopause, Body Image, and Style
The past few years have been a challenging time for me in terms of my wardrobe and personal style. After I went up one to two sizes due to menopausal weight gain, my clothing became more of a way to hide myself than a means of expressing my style aesthetic and highlighting my best features. I held on to a lot of my pre-menopausal clothing, hoping that I would get back into it. Unfortunately, I found that most of the extra pounds were stubborn to disappear without resorting to the starvation regimens reminiscent of my eating-disordered years. I didn’t want to start tracking calories and macros or doing regular weigh-ins (I almost never weigh myself – been there, done that too many times in the past), but I also didn’t want to accept my curvier shape, so I found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place for years.
While I can’t say that I’ve completely made peace with my fuller form (which has leveled out at about a size higher than I’d ultimately prefer), I want to get out of the state of limbo that I’ve been in for the past four years. In doing my “half project” and releasing most of the pieces I had in my holding zone, I’ve come to understand that I no longer want to dress the way I did back in 2015. Even if I could wave a magic wand and have my pre-menopausal body back again today, I would make different choices now in terms of what to wear. It’s perfectly normal for our style to evolve over time even if our shape remains exactly the same. Style is more of a moving target than a static destination.
In recent months, I’ve been doing a lot of exploration about my personal style. I’ve been doing this because I want to feel better about the way I look and I want to stop buying things that I don’t end up wearing. Style exploration is also part of my “20 for 2020” goals list: “Complete two wardrobe/style-related workbooks or courses.” One of the courses I’ve done is the “Signature Style Masterclass” that’s part of the Everyday Style All-Access membership that I joined last fall. This course has been tremendously helpful in the process of defining and refining my style. Only members are able to take the class, but the creator of the course, Jennifer Mackey-Mary, also hosts a podcast (called Everyday Style School) and recently did an episode on “Finding Your Personal Style” that covers a lot of same information.
Jennifer defines style as “The way you want to look, expressed by the things you want to wear.” She recommends that we all find three words that best define the way we want to look, which she calls our style guideposts. As an example, her three words are fun, current, and polished. Once we define our style guideposts, it makes everything related to style so much easier. Our shopping is more targeted, as we know to only focus on items that are in line with our three keywords. It’s also easier for us to put outfits together and clean out our closets. If an outfit seems “off,” we can ask ourselves whether it’s in line with our guideposts. If not, we can switch out some of the elements to better suit our style aesthetic. And when we’re on the fence about whether to keep something or pass it on, we can check in with our guideposts to see if they apply to the item in question.
A Few Style Exercises to Try
Now this all sounds easy and straightforward, but it can take some time and deep thinking in order to come up with the best words for you. I think I have mine pretty well figured out, but I’m going to do a bit more exploration before I finalize my guideposts. One of the exercises that Jennifer recommends is to create two Pinterest boards (they can be private boards) called “Looks I Love” and “Looks I Loathe” and then identify the common elements in each. This is a fun (and sometimes funny) exercise that can help you to better get in touch with what you do and don’t like. I’ll share some of my examples in my next post, when I’ll also tell you the style guideposts I have selected.
If you want to try to outline your style guideposts, this blog post has a list of words that can help to spark your thoughts. However, I will caution you about a few words that Jennifer says we should steer away from. The first word is “comfortable,” which is more about how we want to feel than how we want to look. It’s possible to feel comfortable in any type of style, but most of us don’t really want to look comfortable. At least we don’t want that to be the first thing someone notices about what we’re wearing. Additionally, “casual” isn’t really a style word, either. It has more to do with a level of formality for an outfit than the actual style of that outfit. Anyone can put together a casual outfit that fits their style guideposts, just as that same person can put together a dressy ensemble to suit their style (so “dressy” isn’t really a good style guidepost, either).
The last word that Jennifer says we should think twice about is “classic.” Unlike comfortable and casual, one can use “classic” as a style guidepost, but many women say their style is classic because they hate shopping and don’t want to buy anything new. Keeping clothing for a long time doesn’t necessarily mean that one’s style is classic, but there is such a thing as “classic style,” which usually refers to wearing structured, tailored, and neutral pieces. If those types of garments appeal to you (think Ralph Lauren or Talbots, as two examples), then “classic” may indeed be one of your style guideposts.
I decided to split my thoughts and realizations about personal style into two posts because I have a lot to say on the matter! I have definitely come to some powerful insights through the reading, listening, and exploration I’ve done recently related to style. How it’s all going to come together is still a work in progress, but I’m already feeling better about what I’m wearing since I’ve taken more time to examine (well, re-examine…) my style preferences. I do have a few challenges, which I’ll share with you next time, but realizing the issues is the first step toward solving them.
As always, I welcome your thoughts on this post. Here are a few questions that may help to spark some insights, but feel free to comment however you’d like:
- Have you been feeling time differently lately in light of the pandemic? Does it feel slower? Faster? A combination?
- How have you been coping with living in an “infinite present”?
- What transitions in your life have resulted in shifts in your personal style?
- What three words best encompass your style aesthetic? Do most of your outfits reflect those keywords?
- What are the common elements in the looks you love? What about the looks you loathe?
- What style goals do you have for this year and beyond?
I look forward to reading what you have to say. I’ll be back soon with the second part of this post, which will focus on my style guideposts and how I’m working on having more of what I wear reflect those desired endpoints.