Style is a vast, intimidating realm of topics, choices, and tastes. And as time goes on, it just becomes more intimidating as more wearable options present themselves and social expectations about coverage, chicness, and variety flux and expand. This, I believe, is why style rules are so popular. For many of us, having some sort of expert-blessed guidelines for what works and what doesn’t, what’s fashionable and what’s passe can help us navigate the realm of personal style with some measure of confidence.
But these rules also set us up to believe that there are absolute rights and wrongs in style. They lead us to believe that we “need” certain things that we might not, and that certain other things can only be loved in secret. Style rules train us to feel like we cannot make our own decisions about what we want to and can wear.
I encounter this frequently when working with clients. If a woman has become interested in style by reading magazines or books or by watching the current glut of style-related TV shows, chances are that much of our work together will involve matters of permission. Many women become convinced that they “cannot” wear cropped pants, that a wardrobe that is almost entirely neutrals is bad, that they must hold onto their sheath dresses because they’re classic, damn it! It feels a bit weird to be the person who comes swooping in to say, “No, actually you can wear whatever you’d like. Yes, of course you can continue buying and wearing neutrals. By all means, get rid of those sheaths. You certainly aren’t utilizing them.” All it takes is a word from me, and I can see relief washing over my clients. They need permission from someone before they can let go and move on, and I am often that person. My hope is that, by the end of the consult, they feel less constrained and more free to make choices and trust those choices. But it doesn’t always work. These patterns are drilled into us over the years and can be tough to eradicate.
I’m a permission-seeker myself, so I want to be very clear that I don’t scorn people who feel this way about style and fashion rules. If you’re working within a realm that falls outside your personal comfort zone, getting approvals and input from trusted authorities is a wise course of action. That said, I want to gently remind everyone who is within earshot that style is fluid and social and complex. Boiling it down to “rights” and “wrongs” can feel safe and reassuring, and if that’s what is most helpful to you at this point in your journey, learn and stick to the rules that make sense to you. But boiling it down to “rights” and “wrongs” can also feel constricting, especially if you’ve been a rule-follower for ages and are aching to break free. So the next time you find yourself at a fashion crossroads, wishing that Rachel Zoe was there to give you the answer, try to trust your gut. The only permission you really need is your own.