Reader Request: Defending Disinterest in Style

Mrs.M in MI asked:

I was recently sent through the intellectual looking glass, and when I was reflecting on it, I thought that I would be interested in hearing what you might have to say. It’s a long story, so here goes…

I recently suggested the book The Thoughtful Dresser, by Linda Grant, to my book club. We did not end up reading it as a group, but one of the more prolific readers read it on her own and she and I discussed it casually.

Her main comment about the book was that the author made her feel bad for NOT caring about what she wore or what she looked like, and NOT spending scads of time and money on her clothes, or thinking about them much at all.

This threw me for a total loop. I’ve spent most of my intellectual life defending my love of style and caring about the way I look. I was raised by people who put great stock in how they presented themselves. I’ve surrounded myself with books, magazines, blogs, friends, and a husband who feel the same way. I even recently read a Biblical justification for caring about your appearance!

So here is the question to ponder: If you don’t care about the way you look, if you don’t put a lot of thought and effort into the way you dress, should you feel bad about it? We style-lovers spend a lot of effort defending ourselves. Should non-style-lovers also have to defend themselves?

My answer: No.

Oh wait, did you want me to elaborate?

In my ideal world, no person would be ruthlessly criticized for style choices. There would be no fashion police, no television shows making light of regular peoples’ clothing choices, no magazine features highlighting celebrity style gaffes, no nasty cracks from coworkers about being “too dressed up.”

I know that I don’t get to live in my ideal world, and that here in our shared reality, people – ESPECIALLY women – are constantly scrutinized for how much or little effort they put into their appearances. I also know that constructive feedback on matters of style can prove very valuable, and that I write a blog offering style advice. So today’s mini-rant may seem a bit wack-o. I just feel like the current norm is so nitpicky, so over-sensitive, so openly hostile toward variations from the stylistic norm that just about EVERYBODY feels like she’s doing it wrong. Care too much about your appearance and you’re vain, materialistic, and self-absorbed. Care too little about your appearance and you’re lazy, unkempt, and behind-the-times. It’s a losing battle, I tell ya.

That said, I found MrsM’s question fascinating. I know that many clotheshorse types get picked on for their sartorial preferences, but I’ve always been under the impression that women who were indifferent to style had it way worse. That opting for comfort and ease 100% of the time without paying any heed to figure flattery, current trends, or other aesthetic matters was a formula for peer ridicule and disdain.

I believe that style can be a fabulous form of self-expression, that wearing clothing that works with your body can help you learn to love and accept that body, and that dressing well broadcasts self-respect. But I don’t believe that taking an interest in fashion is required, that dressing impeccably is the ONLY route to self-love, or that women who loathe fashion and shopping should feel left out, shameful, or badly in any way. Now, before you jump to any conclusions, I do not see personal grooming as optional, I do not believe that jeans are appropriate for every social occasion, and I do not approve of visibly ill-fitting clothing. But my guess? The vast majority of women who are indifferent toward matters of style share those views. Just because someone doesn’t care about style doesn’t mean she’s completely ignorant of all social and aesthetic guidelines.

Image courtesy Caro Spark

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  • I think there’s a difference between being indifferent to style and indifferent to grooming. Some people just aren’t the creative type. They’re not fascinated by style and I understand that (even though that’s not me, I get it!). No apologies needed for that. But grooming isn’t an option AND it’s a sign of self respect and respect for others. So while NO ONE has to be up on the latest fashions or get their thrills from dressing up, it’s always a good idea to put your best foot forward. Just basic good grooming and appropriate dressing! ~Serene

  • Oh, if only we lived in a perfect world where people aren’t judged by their clothing choices, their skin, their hair, weight, etc! Unfortunately, it is what it is. I do think all people should at least practice good hygeine and wear clean clothes! I myself, feel better when I “dress better than the boss.”

  • Carolyn

    I agree completely with what you said. Just want to add that, once you get to know someone, your feelings toward them are based on their personality, but before that time, you only have their outward appearance to help you tell who they are. So it’s to my advantage to use my clothing and attitude to let casual aquaintances and strangers know how I want to be treated. (That said, I try to remember that a smile and kind words are still more important than the fact that I’m having a bad hair day or wearing my beloved mom jeans).

    • Caorlyn, I must agree with you on these points. People will judge us automatically for how we look and what we wear. The people who know us well will look past what we are wearing. But for casual acquaintances and strangers, how we look is all they have to go on.

      One of the best tips I have ever received is to dress well while travelling and you will be treated better by everyone from flight attendants to hotel concierges. And true, they should treat everyone the same anyway. But the fact of the matter is, you can get better service all around if you are dressed nice and display a great attitude.

  • I think that part of the reason that I can’t bring myself to completely fash up is that where I grew up there’s a total, smalltownish indifference to fashion. The only thing that people take notice of is brands (and that’s pretty much teenagers) and whether you’re just inappropriate and out of place. People dress for comfort and if you’re a total fancy flamingo people will give you the side eye because you just don’t look right for the situation. I’m quite sure I internalized a lot of that and that’s why I tend to skew to comfort and practicality rather than fanciness.

    The only place I feel like I might have to defend that choice a little bit (along with my choice not to be sexy) is in fashion-bloggistan. I mean, here I am putting my clothing choices On A Website, and yet I am dressing in a very drama-free way, largely uninformed by current high fashion.

    • Vildy

      Well maybe not *high* fashion, Cynthia, but looking at your clothing choices on your website you look up-to-date and I think you just look great in whatever you’re putting on.

    • Roxy77

      Wow…you must be from the same small town as me! 😉

      I too come from a small town where all that is important is the logo on your t-shirt. There were actually people dressed in jeans and hoodies at my brother’s wedding! I was dressed in a simple cocktail dress and had several people ask me why I was “so dressed up”. Come on people, it’s a wedding!

  • I COMPLETELY agree with you, women who don’t care about style/fahion/clothes have it WAY worse. This is why I get a bit annoyed when people go on and on about how the world is going to the dogs and noone dresses up any more and wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone dressed like they were in Mad Men to the office. The argument seems to be that people who don’t make an effort do so as a sign of disrespect (or at least show a lack of respect) and I disagree, its not a sign of disrespect, its a sign that that person choses to spend their times on things other than the way they look. Which is fine, in the same way that turning up to a casual office in heels and a power suit is fine and does not mean the power suited person is vain or thinks they are superior. Of course clothes are signifiers and I’m not suggesting noone will notice or remark on it, but we’re all adults. Lets stop it with the bitching.

    Ok, and because this has got me fired up here’s a somewhat related story. I was at a conference recently and the opening speaker, who was a very senior person, was terrible. I mean, really terrible. She appeared to have been handed her speech by someone two minutes before going on and had clearly never even read through it before she read it out, word for word, in a monotone voice, like a school child.

    This woman also had an unusual hair cut, sort of short on one side, and spikey on the other. It did not look good and it did not look professional. But when I was speaking to people afterwards, all anyone ever talked about was the hair cut. I just felt like going ‘Who cares about the hair cut? For a person being paid a six figure salary to do a job that includes respresenting their organisation at events like this, and not to even prepare, that is what is unacceptable.’ If she had been a good speaker she could have turned up in a track suit for all I cared, it would have still made a much better impression that if she had been groomed perfectly and given the same poor performance.

    I was honestly shocked by people’s reactions. All I can say is that I don’t think a man would have been judged in this way.

    • Miss T

      I think this is a case of clothing/appearance reinforcing one’s opinion about someone, which happens because, as you said, clothing is a signifier. People are generally not skilled at separating appearance from who the person “is” if they don’t have a lot of other information. In this case, the “bad” haircut was a signifier for the “bad” presentation. Had the speech been outstanding, the haircut, though odd, would have become “interesting”, or “creative”. This is the psychology of fashion in the public sense: if a celebrity wears something ridiculous, it becomes something to aspire to; if your co-worker wears it (first, I mean) it’s going to engender criticism and the wearer cannot escape having some of that criticism be directed in a personal sense.

  • I think style and fashion are like any other human endeavour. Our interest in the two is represented on an analogue scale that ranges from complete disinterest to total involvement. As with all other things society keeps pushing us towards the middle of this scale where we should all happily converge.
    On more than one occasion I have found that our so called pluralistic Western (capitalistic) society is rotten to the core and the values it preaches sure sound good on paper. It makes me sick to my stomach to continue participating in these rituals of purported inclusion of people of all races, sizes, political cultural and religious views, when all I see in current media are images of photo shopped sized O Caucasian blond models wearing the latest It bag, etc.

    • That said, I agree with others on what is being said about personal hygene and respecting certain dress codes. That doesn’t fall unter the category of style or fashion but under common decency and manners.

  • Kathryn Fenner

    I’ve found that many women who “do not care about style” are actually afraid of it and really want to dress better but don’t know how.

    I also believe that in certain circumstances, people who dress “for comfort” are indeed showing disrespect, whether they intend to or not. Funerals, courtrooms, job interviews– appropriate places for a modicum of decorum in dress. You don’t have to be stylish, but you do need to dress in appropriate clothing, unless you truly cannot afford even thrift shop versions…

    • Denise

      Well said.

    • Jean S

      so very true….I will never forget being at a friend’s wedding (25+ years ago) at an old estate outside of Boston. Yes, it was a hot July day, but the rumpled, disheveled clothing on far too many of their friends (both men and women) was something to behold.

      • M.

        I have to disagree, politely I hope. I do not understand why dressing “for comfort” automatically is used by many commenters synonymously with “rumpled” or “inappropriate”. Comfortable does not equal sloppy. For me comfortable clothing means e.g. flats, hair in a bun, a jersey dress. (And yes, I love to dress up as well if I have opportunity.) And as for appropriate clothing being affordable thrifted, many people do not have the leisure to shop in thrift stores, since finding truly nice items takes time, or most donated items are truly second hand and out-of-date and not “vintage”. Especially if you are afraid of dressing stylish, how should you be able to pick current trends from mostly rejected clothes? I think being judgmental about people not seeming to care, is not particularily helpful, even if I understand that dressing appropriate is important.

        • M.

          I wanted to add to my previous comment, that I don’t think the original commenter is judgmental, just that in general personal circumstances behind people’s dress choices are not always clear. Who knows who is secretely mortified.

  • Interesting…and Franca, I’ve experienced the weird critiquing appearance over professionalism thing before.

    If women who are interested in style defend themselves (even though I do not condone the idea that anyone has to ‘defend’ themselves about an interest they have) by setting out clear reasons and arguments, should that be what women who aren’t interested in style do? I’ve heard clear arguments about why someone wasn’t interested in fashion (as different to style) and about why they didn’t feel the need to spend a lot of time on how they looked. But it might be interesting to think about what the arguments against being interested in personal style might be. Part of me wonders if they’d be negative (“I’m not interested in personal style because I’m not attractive or can’t afford fancy clothes or no one ever looks at me anyway”) which would be upsetting but I can see how it might go there, or if they would be something more ‘rational’ – “I’m not interested in personal style because I have never felt it to be relevant to my everyday life.”

    I think I would argue that the reason it seems like we can never ‘win’ on this front is because fashion and style itself are whole heaps of contradictions: in fact, they thrive on contradictions (hot or not, trendy or untrendy, what’s in and what’s out). And women have always been shoved into categories that seem to be completely opposing each other without allowing there to be middle ground. You’re either a superficial fashionista with very little brain, or a lazy spinster who doesn’t care about looking attractive. Maiden or Married, Family or Career, Virgin or Whore. Ridiculous! In critical theory that sort of thing are called binary oppositions or dualisms, and they’ve been blown out the water because they don’t allow negotiation and they privilege one side over the other. There needs to be that space in personal style too.

  • Great topic Sal. I agree with many of the commenters that there is a wide gulf between not caring about the latest *styles* and not caring about one’s grooming/hygiene. Kathryn’s point is well taken about showing respect in our dress, in certain prescribed situations. But if a man or woman is clean and neat, and doesn’t give a fig for fashion, hooray for them. (I’m still going to love it though!)

  • Dee

    Very interesting topic! I pretty much agree with all the points here. I wish I did NOT care about fashion and style as much as I do. I sometimes think about what I could be spending my time and money on that might be a better use of my resources, than planning my outfits, organizing my closet, shopping and so forth. So in recent years I have been more conscious of this and been spending less time on such activites — there is a happy medium. I really do enjoy style and fashion and probably always, will but it has its proper place.

  • mary

    hmmm….. I have experienced quite the opposite. Wearing stylish clothes was seen amongst my peers as shallow or a sign of having too much money.I have now realized those people are insecure and narrow minded themselves,even though they thought quite differently of themselves.
    I do think that when people say they don’t care about something, that sometimes there really is more to it than they simply don’t care. It can be an avoidance tactic.Perhaps they don’t know how to do something or are afraid. Just watch what not to wear and you can see the layers of insecurities people have about themselves.
    As far as people complaining about other’s not dressing appropriately for occasions etc I guess I do belong to team dress for the occasion. I think a part of it is just participating in the cultural ritual -what is so bad about that?
    However, I think there is lots of room in my world for different interpretations of how one ought to dress.

  • Denise

    I thought Linda Grant’s book “The Thoughtful Dresser” was interesting and lacked antagonism.

    “The vast majority of women who are indifferent toward matters of style share those views. Just because someone doesn’t care about style doesn’t mean she’s completely ignorant of all social and aesthetic guidelines.”

    I’m not sure I agree. I struggle to explain how a person can wear ill-fitting, inappropriate clothing in public if, in fact, they are not ignorant in these “guidelines.” I know that for the many years I dressed poorly and inappropriately, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew that I didn’t look like my peers, but I didn’t know why. I was ignorant of the rules of appropriateness: that’s why I thought a limited number of sweatpants, t-shirts, and a jean jacket would cover most, if not all, occasions. My ignorance was born out of a low self-image at the time, but also from a complete lack of education (from my family) about appropriate attire, along with the advent of casual clothing becoming accepted as every day wear, no matter what.

    Since then I’ve learned a lot of things, but mostly I’ve realized that human beings are hardwired to assess visual information first and foremost, even at the expense of other stimuli. As other comments have said, we have only the visual to go on when we don’t know a person. And honestly, more people who don’t know us see us on a daily basis than the people who do, if you think about it. You can’t control how someone perceives you: you can only control the message you send. And someone who sends a message of indifference regarding personal grooming and presentation will most likely be on the receiving end of indifference by others.

    Everyone spends time getting dressed. I would venture to say it is a similar amount of time. The time differential is in the thinking about what one puts on, and this usually is done at other times, not when we’re getting dressed. It takes the same amount of time to put on well-fitting clothes as it does ill-fitting ones, doesn’t it?

    • I’m not sure you’re using the same terms that either Sally or the original question is using. “Being indifferent to style” might mean being indifferent to trends, or to the wonderful creative attention Sally and many other women give their wardrobe each day and on an ongoing basis. It doesn’t have to mean wearing ill-fitting clothes or dressing inappropriately for an occasion. It might mean wearing simple, unobtrusive, clean, well-fitting clothing and not giving it much thought; not accessorizing much; not wanting to spend time coming up with new ideas or not wanting to spend much money. That’s more or less where I’ve been for years.

    • Yes! What a well articulated and thoughtful comment. I couldn’t agree more. It isn’t so much the level of trendiness or creativity involved in dressing, it’s simply the effort put forth. We live in a society, like it or not, and that society influences all sorts of cultural norms; how you present yourself when you’re out in that society is simply one of them, just like not using profanity in certain social situations, or eating with utensils instead of your hands. People shouldn’t necessarily feel “bad” if they choose not to follow social norms, but they shouldn’t be surprised when people judge them for it either.

      Not being interested in haute couture or on top of every trend is one thing, but truly not giving a crap what you look like when you’re out in public is going to affect how people perceive you. People get treated better when they dress well because they project a certain amount of respect for their fellow humans, and for themselves.

      • LQ

        See, I don’t think effort is mandatory. But also I think it’s perfectly possible to achieve adequacy, not super outstanding excellence maybe but certainly adequacy, without making an Effort with a capital E. It’s like how not everybody has to be a crack investor or finance buff, or draw up and reconcile their household budget down to the penny every month using a spreadsheet. But everybody DOES have to get some kind of grip on inflow > outgo, take steps to get the bills paid, and consider long-term goals. And that’s going to get done very differently for people with different temperaments and in different life circumstances. But there’s still a lot of ways to do it, not One True (most effortful) Way. And there are lots of ways to manage one’s personal style — some are delightfully nuanced or subtle or original or full of delicate sensibility, and some reduce down to getting a pretty simple algorithm in place (I think stuff like What Not to Wear’s “rules” are intended to help people do this) and then breathing a sigh of relief and forgetting about it for years at a time, and that can still be just fine.

  • Colleen

    I think grooming and presentation say more about a person than how fashionable they are. A friend of mine dressed in a very bohemian, world traveler sort of style that is often seen as fashionable. Lots of beautiful multicultural jewelry, lush tapestry fabric, etc. But her clothes never fit properly and often her peasant skirts had long, visible rips in them. Her hair was sometimes visibly dirty and not brushed. It should not have been a shock when it turned out she was deeply insecure about her appearance (specifically her weight, hence the too small shirts and ever present “one size fits all” peasant skirt). This insecurity manifested in barbed comments towards me when I lost weight.

    Our insides are often visible on our outsides.

  • Diana

    While I myself am quite interested in fashion and style, I am surrounded by people who are not… in fact, in my field (academic scientific research) I think sometimes I am judged a bit negatively because I DO care about fashion. I do not judge others for not caring, so long as they still conform to some standards of personal hygiene and grooming and some standards of what is and is not appropriate for the situation (so, no T-shirt and shorts at a wedding, no bikini on the subway, no smelling like you haven’t bathed in days). Basically, as long as you are clean and appropriate, I don’t care.

    That said, I really miss having my shopping friends around, since they’ve all moved away!

  • I feel fashion is a creative outlet. Just as artwork, music, movies, and plays are criticized, fashion is criticized as well. Just as artists ignore the criticism that is directed towards them, people should feel free to express themselves through fashion without feeling inhibited by what others say. Whether people want to express themselves through fashion or not is a personal choice, just as expressing one’s self through any other form of art. We shouldn’t be judgmental of women or men who do not want to express themselves through fashion because as a society we are not critical of those who do not draw, sing, dance, etc.
    Fashion is ART! If we viewed it that way, people’s fashion choices wouldn’t matter so much. Good grooming and choosing clothes that fit well is all a person who is not interested in fashion should worry about (as well as the rest of the world!).

  • LinB

    I used to spend lots of time thinking about style, and experimenting with it. Once I found a style that suited, that was easily updatable yet still essentially timeless — and once I was old enough !!!!!! — I stopped caring about fashion and style on my own body. I know what works on me. I know what does not work on me. I know what the world at large expects of me, and what image I project. I still love to look at beautiful clothes, and read watch listen write about style and fashion. I still love to doodle fashion-y drawings of possible sewing projects. Agree with many of the above comments that personal grooming is often avoided far too often by those who “don’t care about fashion.” Agree that these are two separate issues. Agree that those who are still experimenting, and those who will always experiment, should be left in peace to experiment. It is kinder to let them make a fashion mistake or two, or twelve, or 15,000, than to snipe and gripe at them.

  • Harriet

    I am not interested in dressing fashionably because fashion is not interested in me. Whatever is “in style” is never applicable to my body in any way. I am interested in being clean, in wearing flattering colors and shapes, and in dressing appropriately for the occasion, but there’s no way I’m going to get myself up in the latest fashions just because they are the latest fashions. Only certain silhouettes and colors work on me, so that’s what I wear. Even though I buy inexpensive things, I keep my clothes for a long time — I only get rid of them if they wear out, if I gain or lose weight, if they shrink in the wash, or if I decide they were a mistake (i.e., I find I never wear them).

    Now, maybe I wouldn’t feel this way if I were in some high-profile job, but I mostly sit in a cubicle all day in a business-casual office, so where’s the need?

    I must have some interest or I wouldn’t be reading your blog, but it’s more along the lines of, “Is there anything useful to me here, that I can adapt to my needs?” than “Oh, I must have that!”

  • Anon

    Wow. This is hard. I’m a 45yo woman who is finding the fresh, easy and “natural” look that got me through until now isn’t cutting it anymore. Here I am with no hair/makeup/styling skills and no interest in anything different but very aware that my appearance is no longer appropriate. On the other hand, I have adult stepkids, all doctors and teachers, who think that sweats (with holes, even!), ad logo t-shirts and athletic shoes are appropriate for all occasions including work and fancy nights out. So what is “appropriate” anyway? And why do I feel bad about it and they are oblivious? For myself, I would like to find another acceptable but definitely low-maintenance look to get through middle age without feeling so self-conscious.

  • I don’t see how an author can “make a person feel bad about _________”.
    If the reader is indifferent, that’s the end of it.
    It’s revealing when someone goes into great detail to the defend their POV. Perhaps this person does care. And thus the conversation (in the book club) might be interersting. Or, if feelings get hurt, it might be very uncomfortable. A sensitive issue, isn’t it.

  • Appropriate is what is right for you and the way you live. If you enjoy wash and wear hair, that’s your style, If you are willing to devote hours each month to hairdressers to achieve a just-so look, that’s YOUR style.

    In clothing, it is not so much the style as the fit that I worry about.If you buy clothing retail, you know that sizing is fluid. You can be a size 6 in one manufacturers’ goods, and a size 16 in another.

    If you sew and are willing to make and remake, you can achieve a fit based on measurements and the way you move.

    If you want a “look” create a uniform for yourself. For years I wore jeans and chinos, t shirts and turtlenecks. When this became a strait jacket and I cared more about ease than adapting myself to existing clothing, I went back to sewing for myself.

    Women who have been called fashionable know what styles they look and feel good in, and they stick to them. The same silhouette is repeated in different fabrics and trims.

    So find some clothing that makes you feel good, and buy it as needed. Bingo! You have a style.

  • Becky

    I read Linda Grant’s book about a year ago, and I loved it. I grew up in a very small town where people weren’t interested in clothing or fashion, but I have been since I was very little. I would go through phases where I would dress to please myself for a while, and then I would get sick of the snide comments and go back to wearing just jeans and a t-shirt. Then I would get sick of that and change back. I thought everything would be different when I grew up, but it’s pretty much the same. I live in a city and work in a conservative office. I still get snide comments and looks, but I don’t really care most of the time. I spend more time and money on clothes and dressing than a lot of people do because it is what I love. I don’t care what anyone else wears, but I wish others wouldn’t judge me just because I do.

  • Mrs.M in MI

    Thank you so much for answering my question, Sal! I knew you would have something eloquent to say.

    I can’t say that after all my thinking on the subject that I have any sort of answer for myself. I really like what you said about differentiating between “not caring about fashion” and poor grooming. The person is question is well-groomed and I have seen her appropriately dressed at occasions ranging from the gym to weddings.

    I also really like what Melina said about style being an artistic or creative outlet. My friend has a wonderful eye for visual art and a beautifully unique home. Perhaps that is the creative outlet she finds most fulfilling.

    I feel like I know a number of women, including the person in question, about whom I would almost say that it just never occurred to them to get so involved in their clothing choices. I don’t know if that is because they feel like there are more important things to think about, that they were raised in situations where clothing was purely functional, they have a poor self-image or self-esteem, or any other reason. It’s a mystery to me!

    By the way, if anyone here has not read The Thoughtful Dresser, please do. The prose is gorgeous and the thesis (obviously) thought-provoking.

  • Irene

    Here’s something that’s sort of been touched on obliquely but not in depth:

    The way we present ourselves visually becomes part of the overall social fabric, just as what we say, what we do, and even the expressions we wear on our face. Study the history of fashion (or better, the entire history of art) and learn the history of humanity. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

    So while I’m not going to say someone should have to ‘defend’ themselves for ‘no interest in style,’ it is something to consider.

    Until recently, I lived for several years in New York and had really adopted that Manhattan arty style of dress: almost entirely black, clean silhouette, rather austere. It does make dressing less complicated (though I have wasted more time than I like to think about rummaging through a sea of black in my closet because I want *these* black pants, not *those* black pants, or those or those…), but I’m now in the midst of a wardrobe makeover.

    For one thing, I’m simply tired of it. For another, it doesn’t really work in my new city the way it did in NYC. But here’s a big reason: the overall tone of social discourse today seems to be nothing but ugly, angry and generally ‘grrrrrr.’ And I’m way more than tired of that. So I’m redoing my wardrobe in softer shapes, beautiful colours, lots of florals, even a few flounces and ruffles.

    It’s not just that my visual esthetic has changed; it’s something much deeper. It’s about the message I want to send to the world, and what I want to get back. Be the world you want to live in, and all that. And I really do think it can make a difference, at least in my little corner of the world.

    Style is not just fluff or picking out one scarf over another, it’s a fundamental form of communication and interaction. Saying ‘I’m not interested’ is not going to make it any less so.

    • “The message I want to send to the world.” Yes. Beautifully put. Thank you.

      • Irene

        Oh, thank *you*!

    • Sonja

      “though I have wasted more time than I like to think about rummaging through a sea of black in my closet because I want *these* black pants, not *those* black pants, or those or those…”

      Lol! I know THAT part!

      • Irene

        Yeah, we won’t even mention the chaos that is the ‘black knit top’ drawer in my dresser.

  • Lynn

    I don’t miss the “old days” when there were so many clothing rules, but I do wish there was more consensus on what is appropriate. I just interviewed a group of people for a professional position, and had applicants turn up in halter tops/tiny shorts, torn jeans, and a strapless dress. I don’t know even know how to define fashion (latest designs, vintage or ????), but I agree that indifference to fashion trends should not mean an interviewer knows what underwear an applicant has on!

  • Anne

    It’s pretty clear to me that human beings make their initial assessments about, well everything, based on what they see, or think they see. I understand it’s really a survival skill: that looks dangerous I’d better stay clear. What I don’t understand, and I’ll confess right now that I am often guilty of this myself, is why we take visually data (At least in the form of people’s clothing) so personally. I am about to go shower up after my run. I’m going to put on clothes that are cool, comfortable, and that I think flatter me. I am not overly concerned about what my bank teller, grocery clerk, or postman think about my outfit and I certainly don’t have any hidden agenda to offend anyone with my clothing choices. I think we all need to take a deep breath sometimes and remember that clothing is not an assault weapon. (at least not usually)

  • Becky

    (I’m a different Becky than the poster above) – I think of style and fashion as an interest, like creative cooking, that enriches the life of a person who wholeheartedly enjoys it, but is unnecessary for the person who isn’t interested.

    Just as people have to eat even if they never cook, so people can (and should) perform basic grooming and dress occasion-appropriately, even if they could not care less about line, color, reference, etc.

    I paid almost no attention to style until about a year and a half ago, but I don’t think people considered me a terrible dresser (I hope!). I generally looked neat and tidy, wore dressy clothes to dressy occasions, etc. I’m not even sure I “didn’t have a style” since I was pretty good at only buying clothes that had a “certain something,” though I was uninterested in defining what that “something” was.

    Since I started playing with style and believing that I can learn to express myself through clothing (whee!), I might actually look worse than usual from time to time as I take things beyond the edge of my skill level. 🙂 But it never occurred to me that I would have to “defend” either choice, just like I have never felt the need to either defend either the time I spent a month teaching myself Thai cooking, or the time I ate pizza delivery every day for two weeks.

  • adriana

    My philosophy is live and let live. How much money and effort is put into fashion is personal and no one should be judged by that. However, I do agree that personal hygiene is a separate issue and should be treated as so. This is a non-negotiable in terms of acceptable behaviors and is absolutely about “self respect and respect for others” (to quote Serene’s well expressed reply). But where is the line drawn? Living in NYC, I see ALL types of styles and levels of hygiene and I often wonder if I am the only one to question some of it.

    • Sonja

      I think it is very difficult to draw that line you mention when it comes to personal hygiene. When I was at the university, a girl that went to class with me didn’t pluck her quite bushy eyebrows and didn’t shave her legs or armpits. I’m sure she was as neat and clean as I was, but I did perceive the way she looked as non-groomed. (Don’t hate me for this, please – I now this topic has already been discussed in another thread.) I think this would be my limit. Funnily enough, this girl wasn’t interested in fashion or style, wich might have contributed to my impression, whereas here where I’m living now some women with an alternative hippy look use their body hair as a style element, and I’m more ready to accept it. Or maybe I’m just more relaxed and tolerant now?
      On the other hand, on a different website I once read comments of people who where absolutely shocked that some women should not spend a certain amount of time styling their hair and applying some make up before leaving the house. This was considered a sign of disrespect towards themselves and society. These commenters seemed to perceive a simple ponytail, e. g., as not acceptable groomingwise. I was absolutely shocked, but this shows how much even the definition of “basic personal hygiene” might differ.

  • I do have a lot of interest in fashion and personal style, and I think in a way it’s helped me be more confident for everyday situations — if I have an idea of what’s appropriate to wear, then I can focus on other more important things.

    I don’t really judge anyone for being disinterested in fashion. But I really wish there were more standard guidelines for what to wear in certain industries (publishing, academia). I just went through some interviews and having to debate whether a suit was just right/overdressed was an exhausting process.

  • I don’t care if people love fashion or hate it but they should know how to look appropriate for the occasion. If you show up to your job looking like a wreck, don’t be surprised when you don’t get ahead.

  • Anonymous

    I think it depends on what part of the world you live in. For example, in Eastern Europe, women of all ages spend a lot of time on grooming and trying to look their best, and nobody will think less of them if they are a little over dressed. The endevour to look beautiful is expected and appreciated. C.

  • Julie

    I love style and putting together an outfit, and always have. My mom and sister, on the other hand, have very little interest in style or clothes. My mom has zero interest, but my sister can appreciate a nice outfit on someone else and loves shoes. However, she rarely takes the time to purchase anything unless there’s a specific event or something coming up, and she has literally nothing to wear for it. (She used to borrow my clothes and steal my jewelry as a kid, so I KNOW she at least has some interest.) My dad has always given my mom a hard time for not dressing well, and now my sister is married to someone from Ukraine who thinks that my sister dresses horribly (and is appalled in general at the way that Americans dress).

    Unless either of them are receiving direct criticism, it’s been my experience that neither of them feel the need to defend themselves for not having an interest in fashion. My sister is self-aware enough to know that some of the clothes she has are not appropriate for some situations, so she occasionally will make an effort. But with a set of 2-yr old twin boys, she hasn’t got much energy to deal with it. My mom has a certain amount of self-awareness in that she knows that my dad would like her to make more of an effort, but she dresses like a bag-lady and couldn’t care less. She has a lot of diverse interests and keeps herself busy with crafty little projects, and only things directly related to those interests matter to her. So my experience of people with a lack of interest in fashion is that they don’t feel the need to defend themselves because they simply don’t think about it much, or at all.

    That being said, I like to dress up and feel good about what I’m wearing. Being put together makes me feel more confident. Sometimes it’s nice to know that other people can appreciate my clothes or shoes, but often I don’t care whether anyone notices or not, it just makes me feel better about life. Growing up with a mom without an interest in clothes has made me feel accepting of other people who don’t care about style in the way that I do. Wearing comfortable clothing that serves its purpose of keeping someone warm and dry and covered, and doesn’t cost much, has its benefits so I don’t judge. (It registers in my head when a certain clothing choice wouldn’t be MY choice, but I don’t dwell on it.) However, I often feel the need to defend my interest in style to my mom and sometimes my sister. They seem to perceive my interest in style as some sort of a statement that I’m trying to show them up. Which isn’t the case! (But I get it — it’s probably like when I’m eating around someone thinner than me and I feel like that person is judging my hearty appetite.) And the fact that I would be willing to invest money in a wardrobe seems like the biggest waste of time and resources to them. Like I’m very self-indulgent and somewhat wasteful. This irritates me to no end! So I feel guilty at times about buying things…yes I should restrain myself when I buy on credit, etc., so they have a point sometimes. Buying pretty things shouldn’t make a person financially irresponsible. And being a good and moral person is DEFINITELY more important than dressing well. But because being interested in style doesn’t do anything concrete like put food on the table or promote world peace (or whatever) – I feel like I spend WAY more time defending my interest in fashion than my mom & sister spend defending their lack of interest.

  • I’m an anomoly among your readers. I follow the site because of your strong body-positive orientation but, in all honesty, end up skimming a lot of the posts b/c I’m just not a fashion gal. I do spot things around that I remark on, but I despise shopping and tend to be un-adventurous when it comes to my actual purchases. I do feel sometimes like they are going to come and ask me to turn in my “Girl Card” since I have never spent more than $30 on a bag, coveted shoes with three figure price tags, or bought a new dress to boost my mood (I might, however, buy a book or get a pedi). I dress “neat” and appropriate for the situation so haven’t had much remarked upon, but the media certainly makes me feel like a freak.

    • Replying to myself to add that I do like pretty toenails. The pedi mentioned is more about relaxing, but I have blue toes now and have had purple, cherry red, and silver in recent history. I guess they are my little pick-me-up. I like wearing a color I’d never put on my fingers (usually unpolished, though shaped), especially in winter when stress can be countered a bit by the “secret” of silver toes!

  • Cait

    At 23 and just graduated from college, I’m only now becoming interested in “style”. Fashion (as in, trends) has never really been my thing. I prefer classic shapes and am good at picking out flattering colours, but I am only now trying to push myself beyond what is “safe”.

    What’s been a changing point in my personal fashion is that my little sister is now 14. She has fashion model proportions, unlike my petite, athletic shape and loves clothes. So while in the past I was happy to shop at American Eagle or Aeropostale, I don’t anymore because that’s where her and her friends shop. And because of my size, shape and face, I *look* quite young, and have no interest in being mistaken for a 16 year old! (It’s already happened a few times). Especially since I’m starting graduate school in a month and want to use my personal style as a method of setting me apart from the undergraduates that I’m going to be TA-ing. While I hope to be respected for my personality, intelligence and teaching abilities, dressing with authority is, I think, one of the best ways to convey competence and authority from the get-go.

  • The world works the way it does, but that does not mean you have to follow it. Be the change you want to see. Yes we are judged on our outer appearance, but that does not mean we have to judge others. These comments lead me to say that although I believe no one should have to defend their sartorial choices, they do.

    I would also like to comment on the theme of respect that has been brought up. I think the perceived respect is shown by wearing the clothes that are expected for the occasion. Not the care or attention given to the dress. Think of a punk rock outfit. Hand sewn carefully pieced together,. that is a lot of care and work, but does not fit the idea of respect to wear to court or a wedding, but took a lot of care and love and attention.

    I love clothes, and have made them most of my life. But I refuse to believe they make a person better or worse. If I need to judge I try to judge on qualities like kindness or compassion, not what the outside looks like.

    If you hate clothes it can be worth your while to have some one help you figure out how to use societies obsession with exteriors to your advantage. It may make you a richer person, but it wont make you better one.
    well. that is how i feel.

  • Cassie

    I don’t think anyone should feel bad about being into fashion, or not. I wish for the day where people at work would stop commenting about what everyone else is wearing. Most of the time, people make a big deal if someone is dressed different than they usually are. For me (there are a few of us in jeans pretty much year round), when I do opt to wear a skirt (maybe once a year?), I have to endure all the “oooh, a skirt! What’s the big occasion?” I just want to wear a skirt for crying out loud – I know people are just being conversational or whatever but it makes me uncomfortable. (Obviously, I know that if I just wore skirts every day or more regularly, the novelty would wear off and they would stop commenting).

    Or those who dress up on a daily basis (heels, skirts, accessories), if they choose to go casual with a tee and jeans, people will call them schlub-y.

    And in terms of personal grooming – one girl does not shave her legs (she’s Asian so her legs are not particularly hairy but it is noticeable when she wears skirts). People will tease her for not shaving but culturally, it’s just not that common. Personally, I don’t care – why do I care if someone shaves their legs or not? I don’t spend an inordinate amount time staring at people’s legs. Shave them, don’t shave them, do whatever makes you comfortable. (Now, the situation was different when I was in a ballet company – shaving armpits is expected for aesthetic reasons and I guess hygenically required?).