Care About Fashion. But Not Too Much.

clothes change the world women

When I was in college, I got scolded by a guy for not caring enough about my clothes. He took it upon himself to tell me that I’d be so much prettier if I’d just put on a dress once in a while. He was an acquaintance, not a friend, and he felt it was important to let me know that my lack of interest in fashion was affecting his perception of me. And potentially the perceptions of others. I did not care enough about fashion.

The receptionist at my old job was an older gal and famously grumpy. She was one of those people whose compliments always felt backhanded and acidic. She made a point of commenting whenever I wore something she perceived to be new – items that, nine times out of ten, I’d had for years but not yet worn to the office. When I told her I was writing a book, she lit up. When I told her what it was about, she pulled a grimace. I cared too much about fashion.

Humanity disdains extremes in all, but especially in women. Be skinny, but not too skinny and in a very specific way. Be smart, but not too smart or you’re a show-off and extremely threatening to men. Be aware of pop culture, but not too aware or you’re a shallow ditz. Be sexy, but whatever you do don’t cross that invisible line into being too sexy. And, of course, care about fashion, but not too much.

If you don’t care enough about clothing, style, and fashion you’re considered to be out-of-touch or frumpy or an object of scorn. You may have “let yourself go” and be the cause of sidelong glances and whispers. And if you don’t show off your figure in exactly the right way, flattering it using means that are socially sanctioned and give you the figure that the majority views as desirable, you are failing.

If you care too much about clothing, style, and fashion you’re considered to be vain, materialistic, and vapid. People may shake their heads at the amount of money you spend on your wardrobe and the amount of time you spend reading about the latest trends. I mean, really, don’t you have anything more important to do with yourself? Fashion is frivolous and silly, and if you love it too much then so are you.

And, of course, this caring about fashion must align with certain expectations. If you adore fashion but from a menswear perspective and keep your hair in gorgeous shape but cropped short and adore shoes but stick to brogues and oxfords, that’s not quite right. If you adore fashion but embrace an untamed aesthetic with loads of asymmetric layers and jangly jewelry and bright colors, that’s not quite right, either. You must care about fashion just the right amount and in just the right, acceptably mainstream ways.

As you might have guessed, I am pointing out these expectations so that you can all feel free to shatter them. No one – absolutely NO ONE – gets to tell you how much to care about fashion. You can and should care about your wardrobe and style exactly as much as feels good to you – be that not at all, a little, more at certain times than others, or a great deal. Other people may feel uncomfortable or threatened by your choices, but it is not your responsibility to fix that. The world is a diverse and varied place, and you get to be yourself in it.

Something to remember, too, if you find yourself feeling a bit judgy about how much or little someone else cares about fashion: If you don’t want them nosing into your choices, try not to jump to conclusions about theirs.

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Originally posted 2013-09-26 06:04:47.

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  • Such a great post, Sal. The double bind of being judged for caring too much or little about fashion definitely rings true in my experience.

  • Such a great post, I love it. This resonates so well with me, I personally love to wear beautiful clothing and I don’t like to look frumpy but I’ve gotten these backhanded compliments one time to many.

    • you look gorgeous by the way.

  • Pamela

    Love this!

  • Jocelyn

    I am really into fashion. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t care what other people say about me. I’ve gotten all the backhanded compliments as well as the just plain mean comments. What has always bothered me about this is when you’re made to feel that caring about fashion is a silly, vapid, waste of time. This is my hobby. It’s no different than someone else’s. To me, spending all day talking about, researching, and following a fantasy football team (or even a real football team) is a silly, vapid, waste of time. But it’s not my place to make someone feel wrong for doing something they enjoy.

  • bubu

    amen! I definitely feel some odd glances as my style has evolved and gotten more daring over the last few years, but i’m finally indulging as much as I guess deep down I have always wanted to, it feels right to care and to put together outfits I like and smile when I see them in the mirror — realizing I used to admire women who looked that way on the street and finally realized the only thing stopping me was me.

  • Susan In Boston

    I think, too, that there are different ways to care about fashion.

    My interest right now is the engineering of the stuff–what it takes to get different kinds of fabric to hang in different ways across different shapes. I would take almost no pleasure in owning or even wearing a stunningly beautiful designer garment that actually would be worth my entire retirement savings and flatters my figure beyond description. But if I could make it, I’d probably never take it off.

    Should such a thing land in my closet, I’d take it apart to understand how it was done.

  • Sarah

    bravo! excellent post.

  • Janna

    Thank you, Sally! I really needed this. I have been rebuilding my wardrobe over the past two years after some pretty significant life changes. In addition to losing my hair to chemo treatment for breast cancer and having to find coordinating hats to wear with all of my outfits, I also had a 30-pound weight loss so I could no longer wear most of my clothes. Now healthy and cancer-free and FINALLY having a wardrobe with clothes that really suit my style and flatter my figure, I truly enjoy spending time, energy (and yes, money) on putting together fantastic outfits and finding items to complement the pieces I have. Besides making me feel good about myself, it’s also become a very enjoyable and satisfying hobby. (My boyfriend flys and builds remote controlled helicopters, I do fashion!)

    It’s also a stark contrast from when I was going through chemo treatments and wore the same pink ball cap, hoodie, jeans and sneakers practically every day for five months. My problem is feeling self-conscious at work when wearing new or nicer things. I never receive negative comments, it’s more like I worry that people are either judging me for spending too much money/caring too much about clothes, or think that I’m snobbish because of the way I dress. (Or shallow for caring about fashion in light of how much more important things there are to care about.) Thank you for reiterating that it’s not my problem what they think and I should just dress to make myself feel good. I think I deserve it!

    • Congratulations on beating cancer! That is wonderful to hear.

      • Janna

        Thank you so much!

    • Lindsey

      Fashion and style and shopping are all life affirming. Here’s to your health!

      • Janna

        I hadn’t thought about it that way but I agree. Thank you!

  • JJ

    Such a great post (and comments from readers). I grew up in a family and with a circle of friends who don’t care much about fashion. I do find myself thinking quite often that I’m being vain, frivolous and wasteful for caring and spending time and money on all this. But I do get such delight from playing with style and it’s helped me feel OK about my body as I deal with weight issues. Obviously, I’m still struggling with some mixed feelings on this topic.

  • Sally I have been an avid reader of your blog for a loooooong time and I never comment because I know that you are a bigger name blogger and might be bombarded. But I have to comment on this post. I love it. I really, REALLY love it. You have a great way of making women feel better about themselves and I really appreciate all of the effort that you take to make this happen! So important!

    • Oh Frannie, thank you so much for this! I’m so glad you’ve stuck with me, and happy to hear you feel like my blog has a positive impact on women’s lives. Thanks for commenting today.

  • Yes yes yes. Please send this one straight to the Greatest Hits!

  • I enjoyed this post very much, along with the other commenters. Where I struggle with this issue is the materialism angle: the money and environmental resources that go into making fashion items. I don’t really have any qualms about my enjoyment of my closet, but I know I have enough clothes and shoes. Does that mean I shouldn’t buy or acquire any more? It’s so tough because most clothing in stores is not made with sustainable practices by people receiving a good living wage. But I’m sure a lot of us want to do better in this arena–I guess it’s just tough to know where to start. It also feels prohibitively expensive šŸ™

    • Susan In Boston

      Rose-Anne, I have the same struggle. I don’t feel that anyone should work under dangerous conditions and earn less than a living wage so that I can have sartorial options that I don’t pay much for. I have more than I will ever need, and I wear only a small percentage of it, even when I’m not on an extended vacation from caring much about how I dress.

      I love clothes and care a lot about them. I’ve also made a conscious decision not to add any more, because that limitation really works for me. I really enjoy the challenge of playing around with ways to express myself with the things I’ve already got. I have put together some terrific outfits that way, and at some point, I will again. But at some point, enough really is enough, and I’m probably there.

  • LaChina

    Great post!! I just got into fashion in my late 30’s, and really enjoy it. I’m still struggling with fitting in and being myself no matter what. Some circles really dress up and some of my circles dress down.

  • Women’s appearance still belongs to the larger society. Sigh.

  • Joanne C.

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Your remarks are so true and realistic !

  • Sally, I enjoyed this post. It’s very true what you say about people not tolerating diversity of interest in fashion and style! A latecomer to the celebration of style, I’ve had the opportunity to observe this kind of critical eye in action and avoid it.

  • Ruth

    I have always felt guilty about my interest in clothes. After all I am an intelligent woman! I do occasionally have brief conversations with friends about clothes but in an underhand way. I feel one shouldn’t talk about them, just as once one didn’t talk about sex and money.
    It was drummed into me as a child that you didn’t judge on appearances. It was important to be clean and neat, but beyond that you shouldn’t bother. The most exciting clothes i had as a child were hand me downs – possibly why I still love secondhand clothes. Although when I was a teenager and became interested in clothes, my mother became interested as well.
    So I feel as if those two opposing views are lodged within me. Because I do judge by appearances. After all people express themselves through their clothes, so it is an interesting way to get an idea of them. And I do care about and think about clothes. But I don’t think I should. And I think I have too many clothes.
    PS Today I wore a cardigan that a friend made for my mother when she was pregnant with me. Anybody else wear clothes that are older than they are?

  • As always, wonderful words of wisdom – hear, hear!

  • Olivia

    LOVE this! I like to read about some fashion, well really just your blog and maybe two others, but I don’t do much to apply what I learn to my own wardrobe.

  • Jodie Maruska

    I really related to this experience. I also believe part of the reason fashion is devalued is that it is largely considered feminine so its not valid! In other words, its a sexist viewpoint that smart, sucessful, accomplished women cant also love style and fashion. Per robin givhans column in the washington post, fashion is a multibillion dollar industry! No one accuses the nfl or nba of frivolty do they? I love clothing, love style and find it essential in how I live and I make no apologies for it! Interesting column!

  • DM

    This is an excellent post and not something I had thought so deeply about. I am just ‘getting into’ fashion myself and enjoying the process!
    Here I must say that I may have commented only once or twice before, but Sally I want to thank you for your inspiring blog. You really have made a difference to how I think about a lot of things and indeed, empowered me to be a lot more positive about my own body image. THANK YOU.

  • Such a great point! i get such attitude from other Motherr like how dare I break the Mom code and make them feel bad… I could care less what they are doing and always dress just for me… It may be my thing and I don’t expect it to be anyone else’s.

  • Angela

    I’m late to the comments but thank you. I sometimes feel frivolous spending on clothes, thinking about my closet, trying things on, etc. And no one would ever call me fashionable, so I’m very self conscious about it too. Not a good mix, lol.

    But you are right. My male relatives spend thousands playing and watching sports, why shouldn’t I indulge in my hobby?

  • Your getting scolded for not caring enough about clothes reminds me of a jerk who once scolded me for being too closed to guys… the backside of that being that *he* wanted me to be more open to him so he could… you know, the usual.

    Not that that’s exactly the point of your post, but I thought worth mentioning.

    EWM

  • M-C

    There’s worse. Normally, you’d think there’d be a grey area there in the middle, where you could care about fashion enough but not too much. Instead, I think there’s an overlap, where you can care about fashion too much AND not enough at once, displeasing everyone but for different reasons.
    But I think it wasn’t a coincidence that it was a man who was trying to tell you how to dress early on – a clumsy attempt to tell you what to do so you could please him enough into controlling you full-time. In my experience, one should flee people like that, the merest acquaintance can only end badly,

  • Sage post. Because of sexism, women get criticized no matter what they do — so the solution is to ignore remarks from others and live our own lives. Fashion is an art-form for which nobody needs apologize. I respect women who strive to look good.