Guest Post: Amy Guth on Dressing Room Choices

I do believe that the silver lining to my recent Kindle fiasco was that it allowed me to connect with the fabulous Amy Guth. (Who, I’m tickled to report, purchased my book for Kindle. Woot!) Amy is a novelist, radio host, and social media manager at a little newspaper I like to call The Chicago Tribune. So, ya know, she rocks. I could tell right away that she was a total kindred spirit, and within two e-mail exchanges I was begging her to share this anecdote/philosophy with you folks. I won’t spoil it by rambling on. Read for yourselves!

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If a dressing room is a source of stress or dread, try this: Slip on clothes with your back to the mirror. Dressed, take a moment and decide whether or not the item feels comfortable and well-made, and determine if it fits within your existing wardrobe. If it passes the comfort and quality test, then turn around to see how it looks.

The idea of trying on clothes and assessing comfort before facing the mirror causes a subtle but important shift: It puts the dressing room emphasis on whether or not the item of clothing is worthy of  you and not the other way around. This practice helps send a mental cue-to-self that the clothing is to be vetted first and foremost, an exercise in “this is not right for me” and not in “I am not right for this.”

Subtle, yes, but doing this helps keep perspective: Realizing in advance that a skirt feels uncomfortable in the waist or hip trains our crosshairs on the skirt (not, say, our own bodies), and allows us to sail past negative self talk (“My hips are too big!” or “My muffin top is gross!”) when facing the mirror. It also provides an opportunity to switch out an ill-fitting garment for a more suitable size before succumbing to the self-doubt that dressing room mirrors often inspire. By the same token, taking time to realize that an article of tried-on clothing does feel comfortable can set you up for positive self-talk once you turn to face the mirror. (“I look great in this blouse! It really flatters my figure and makes me look great! Score!”)

I’d be wrong to take credit for the seeds of this idea. I stumbled across it accidentally a few years ago when I was in a dressing room myself trying on clothes, and overheard a group of women laughing and berating themselves in a row of adjacent rooms. Yep, laughing and berating.

Their conversation was a series of competitive expressions of self-loathing, hurled at each of their respective mirrors so boldly that I recall thinking, “If someone else said that to her, we’d call it abuse. Or at the very least, she who said it would be squarely and appropriately pegged as positively awful.”

Two things I overheard brought the message into focus most clearly:

First, the voice of one woman rose above the chorus for a moment as I heard her insulting the mirror for not “letting” her have the item she’d just tried on. Really, as literally as, “You %$#@*&% mirror, why won’t you let me…?” as if ruled by the dang thing. (Gentle reminder, my friends: Mirrors don’t have opinions and most certainly are not the boss’a you. Extra bonus of this dressing room practice? You moon the mirror and set the tone right off the bat. Boom.)

Secondly, another woman – speaking to a third woman and apparently letting her peek inside her dressing room after having gone a few rounds in the “you look great”/”no, I’m hideous” game – hating on their own hips. The woman explained to her friend that she planned to buy an item that felt very comfortable, then added, “Wait, I didn’t even see how it looks.” followed by, “Oh, that actually looks pretty good.” Then she complemented her own hips.

Ka-boom! The woman found something comfortable and then checked the mirror as an afterthought.

After that, her dressing room comments were far more positive than those of her friends.

I wasn’t embroiled in a dressing room battle that day myself. (Well, not unless, “What the hell am I going to wear to that wedding next weekend?” counts.) But I decided to try out the comfort-first idea anyway. It was life-changing, particularly when swimsuit season rolled around. Immediately, I started making smarter, more conscious choices about wardrobe pieces (translation: far fewer, “What was I thinking when I bought that?” moments of buyers’ remorse), and felt the stress of shopping start to shift into a much more pleasant activity.

Dressing our bodies seems to have become a chore of “get what fits passably,” and the subtle message is that we, my sisters dear, have to fit ourselves into fashion’s offerings. In fact, we are all worthy of taking a breath, deciding if our clothes are worthy of our bodies (and this is a point for which we all just adore Sally’s messaging, I think most of us can agree), and then taking on the visual and styling in the second beat.

Hokey at first? Maybe. But we’re pressured to play the competitive self-insult game out of conditioning or habit. And we’re also pressured/reminded by advertisements for yogurt, flavored water, diet systems, and all sorts of other crap that we’re “supposed” to dread the simple act of deciding if a piece of clothing is worthy of space in our closets. This is one simple gesture that can restore order and set us up for positive thinking. (And that will stick it to those eat-our-yogurt-to-shrink-your-whatever-sized-self commercials anyday.)

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If you’re as enamored of Amy as I, follow her on Twitter, join her on Facebook, or ogle her amazing cowgirl books on Flickr.

Image courtesy Dwellement.

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  • Brilliant.

  • bubu

    Love love love. So simple yet so profound.

  • Amy Guth

    Thanks, Cheryl and Bubu!

    And thank YOU, Sally for warmly welcoming me over for a visit.

  • Allison

    Sweet Sal – this is bloody brilliant!!! The simplicity of this seemingly small step is potentially life-changing. I mean it!!

  • Jen

    I adore this! The ensembles I have that I receive the most compliments on have been purchased in a similar fashion. I also shop often with my trusty fitting room companion-my five year old son. He thinks EVERYTHING I put on is beautiful because he thinks I am. Now, he does give me some objective critiques before I snag an item off the racks (he prefers blues, oranges, and no pinks please!) but once I try something on he is a great boost to the self-esteem. I highly recommend taking a shopping partner who doesn’t provide fals praise, but who you know simply adores you-your child, your partner/lover, your sister, your best friend…whoever it may be. The unconditional adoration helps greatly when you’re feeling a bit, well, blah:)

  • D

    Well written and a brilliant idea- thank you!

  • Anna

    Wonderful, wonderful post — with all sorts of other possibilities: Is this apartment/house/environment worthy of me? This friend or partner? (But be careful and kind, and make whatever allowances are necessary and prudent.) This vocation or avocation or leisure activity? Are the ways I spend my time and money and energy worthy of me?

    I’ll keep this principle in mind when dressing before my own mirror and trying on new duds in the store. Thank you, Sal, for forwarding this excellent message to all of us in this thoughtful and discerning community.

  • Anneesha

    This is excellent advice! And I’d like to add … once you DO turn around, take a few moments to stand still, like you would in real life. Too much stretching your arms, twisting, puffing out chest and the like to try and find something wrong with the article of clothing is stressful on your mirror image as well. Stand still, shoulders back, relaxed, and SMILE!

  • Dionne

    Excellent advice. This reminds of the fashion blog Eyeronic written by a blind fashionista (she hasn’t updated in a while, but it’s still a fascinating read). She highly recommends paying attention to fit, since if it fits well, it’s likely to be flattering; an approach I’d never considered before. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Excellent advice! Now if we could just get them to make the dressing rooms a wee bit bigger. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shimmied, hopped and flailed around trying to get a puff sleeve to release my arm from its death grip! The person next door probably thought I was having a seizure…

  • Kate K

    Oh my gosh! It’s so simple! And so brilliant! Woah. My mind, it is blown.

  • Millie

    Thank you so much, Amy and Sally, for sharing this terrific idea!

  • VaMarcy

    This is one of those awesome watershed moments for me! “Thank you” doesn’t seem adequate for such an amazing paradigm-shifting concept! I will approach even my own closet with my mindset being “Does this work with my body?” Wonderful and eye opening!

  • Oh. My. God. This is genius. Can’t wait to try it out!!

  • Natalie

    I am an artist. When we draw, we flip drawings up-side down to get a new perspective on proportions. This is, in essence, the same thing. Why not use a camera phone (and a friend) as another tool?

  • Sarah

    Wonderful wonderful idea! Thanks very much for sharing it.

  • Carol

    On another note, there is a wonderful shop in Minneapolis that has really unique clothes with prices 75 to 90 percent off. BUT, they have one open dressing room for all…and no returns. It never fails that when I go in, there is a very young, size 0 girl in there that makes me feel huge. I’ve gotten into the habit that when I shop – especially there – that I wear layers and one is a tank top. Trying something on over the tank not only makes me feel a bit more private, but it also tells me that if something is roomy enough to fit over the tank, it is probably ok without it.

    • Anna

      Carol, the tank top is also useful in thrift shops, some of which do not even have dressing rooms!

      • Anneesha

        Carol – where/what is this wonderful shop??

  • So simple, so brilliant, completely upending the experience from negative to positive. I make it a point to never watch myself putting clothes on in the dressing room. Sometimes this requires dressing with my eyes closed. 🙂 I also try to take in the outfit as a whole wherever I am. In my old house, I could circle around through the kitchen, dining room and living room (not as far as it sounds – it was a little house) and “surprise” my reflection in the full length mirror on the bathroom door. In this way I saw myself moving, not static, and all at once. In my new condo I don’t have the same runway approach, but I still try to get the outfit on the move, then compare my view to what the camera sees.

  • What a great story. And what way to infer the lesson. Thank you.

  • Jo

    I know I’m late to this, but that is brilliant! Thanks for sharing x

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