Posts Categorized: psychology

Clothing Commentary

I’ve begun updating some of my greatest hits posts so they’re more current. This is one of them!

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This is my Audra Jean underbust harness. (That link is prolly not quite safe for work viewing …) I’ve had it for years, worn it in a variety of ways, and loved it all the while. It’s funky, badass, the perfect piece for bringing in a floaty A-line dress like this one, and a pleasure to wear. It is also a piece that some say has a design influenced by BDSM, and although I respect the BDSM community it’s not my scene and not why I like this harness belt.*

And no one has ever said anything nasty about it. Not directly to me, anyway. And I’m able to field whatever questions and opinions get thrown at me, no problem, because I’ve had years of practice and given it loads of thought.

But many readers and friends have mentioned that they love the idea of dressing smartly and stylishly – or even edgily and unusually – but worry about how peers will react. Specifically how often peers may comment upon or question any noticeable changes in personal style. So I thought I’d offer up a few suggestions for dealing with clothing and style commentary from your peer group.

Mentally prepare

If you’ve gone barefaced for 15 years and suddenly start wearing full makeup every day, people will likely notice and comment. If you’ve worn jeans or pants for ages and start bringing skirts and dresses into the mix, you might get a few questions. One reason why these inquiries feel difficult to handle is that they surprise us. Just knowing that your changes may prompt a few curious questions can help you feel more prepared to react and respond.

Role play

If you’re very anxious about how you might handle potential comments and questions, have a friend or loved one do some role playing with you. You can probably imagine most of the stuff that’ll come at you: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in slacks, Jane!” “Wow, new hair. Big change.” “You look so different!” “So dressed up. Going for an interview, or something?” Jot them down, and do a quick dialogue. You’ll be amazed by how this exercise will prime your mental/emotional pump for the real deal.

Have short and long responses

Even if the role playing thing seems a bit too in-depth, consider mapping out some potential replies to questions and comments. Different questions require different levels of response. You needn’t launch into your personal style journey or the decision-making process that led you to switch from heels to flats or long hair to short. Not with everyone. “Wow, new hair. Big change,” can get a simple, “Yeah, it is. I’m loving it!” On the other hand, “So dressed up. Going for an interview, or something?” might necessitate a bit more background. Something like, “Nope, just felt like it was time to mix up my personal style a bit. I’m having such fun with these changes!” Judge for yourself who merits a quick reply and who needs a deeper explanation.**

Give it two weeks

This nugget comes from the ever-wise Husband Mike. Several years ago, he decided to wear suits to his SUPER casual office. Every day. He wanted to make it his personal uniform. And, as you might expect, he got a stream of “job interview” jokes and curious comments. But they lasted for two weeks, then tapered, then stopped completely. Now, this will only help you if you’ve made a relatively drastic change and plan to stick with it consistently from here on out. If you wear the occasional foofy tulle skirt but generally stick to pencils and A-lines, that’s a different deal. But if you get a makeover, switch styles drastically overnight, dye or cut your hair, or do something similarly permanent, count on about two weeks of inquiries. Your peer group should acclimate by then. (Hopefully.)

Stay positive

I try so hard to assume the best about everyone, but I do feel that this kind of question/comment behavior requires some guardedness. If a coworker points out that you’ve changed your appearance and you shrink back in dismay or alarm, you’ve revealed a chink in your armor. If instincts kick in, your coworker may start asking more questions, or teasing, or prodding for more information. You made these changes because you wanted to, because doing so boosted your self-confidence, because you want to look and feel fabulous. Make sure to say so! If a fellow student saunters up to you and says, “Whoa. Why on EARTH are you wearing high heels to class?” say, “Because they make me feel gorgeous!” If your aunt says, “I wish you hadn’t cut off all your beautiful hair,” respond with, “Well, I did. And I think this new ‘do suits me perfectly!”

Of course, if someone is being rude to you, butting into your business, and commenting on your body, appearance, weight, or anything about your physical self, you always have the option to tell them to butt out and eff off. Your body, your business, PERIOD. However, you may reclaim some of your power by acknowledging their observation, owning it, and putting your own positive spin on it. When a person offers a negative or teasing comment on your appearance, they are likely trying to get a rise out of you. It’s classic bullying. Swearing, silent treatments, and rants can feel awesome. Denying a bully the satisfaction of an outraged or hurt response can feel even better.

Clothing, grooming, and appearance-related commentary is such a mixed bag. Compliments are like tiny little blessings, and can inspire unexpected joy. Comments and questions can cut both ways, and might make us feel scrutinized, judged, or targeted. But I hope that the possibility of generating curious queries won’t keep you from tweaking, finessing, or even completely changing your style or appearance. With a little bit of knowledge and foresight, you can field those questions with grace and aplomb.

*Think this is unusual or dishonest? Consider how many people own motorcycle jackets but not motorcycles, or how many wear cowboy boots but have never been near a ranch. Lots of task-specific or community-specific pieces end up in the fashion mainstream, and since Taylor Swift is a fan of harnesses, who knows? They might be next!

**If anyone. You have no obligation to explain yourself to anyone at all. But in terms of diplomacy, it’s often more advantageous to offer truthful information than withhold everything and let people make their own assumptions.

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for alreadypretty.com. See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

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Start Today

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There have been times in my life when I’ve postponed change or celebration or reward because of my body. I’ve said to myself, “I’ll do that once I’m happier with myself. Once I’ve lost weight/toned up/changed my shape, I’ll allow myself this activity or thing. I’ll should wait until then and reward myself.”

I know I am not alone. So many of us buy into the idea that we should motivate ourselves by depriving ourselves. If we don’t book that vacation or buy that new wardrobe until after we’ve changed our bodies, the pent-up excitement created by anticipation will fuel our body-changing efforts. Which may be true to some small extent, maybe, probably at the very beginning of a body-change journey. But there’s a darker side to this internal bargain: The belief that we don’t actually deserve change or celebration or reward until we look “different” or “better,” which usually means “smaller” or “thinner.”

And when I say “belief” I really mean “fallacy.” Because we are the same people on the inside no matter how we’re shaped, no matter how much we weigh, no matter how we look. We are just as deserving and worthy at one weight as we are at another. There is nothing about body change that impacts our inner selves. NOTHING. And to set up false bargains that reinforce the idea that goodness is linked to thinness is to tread on dangerous ground.

Each of us is in charge of her own body, and that includes undertaking changes. Although plenty of people will try to horn in with their opinions about your size or weight – typically leaning on health-related concern as their motivation – you’re the decider. You’re the queen of your own body. And if you want to lose weight, gain weight, tone up, alter your diet, exercise more or less, or do anything at all to change your body, you absolutely can. But I hope I can convince you that attempting to drive that change by dangling a long-desired reward off in the distance can create some unhealthy undercurrents. Embrace change if you feel so moved, but try not to tell your self a story about how you’ll only deserve certain things if you achieve change.

I’ve talked to so many women who’ve told me, “I tried and waited, and tried and waited some more, and eventually realized that this is my body now. And I might as well accept it and make it my home.” Much of this is in the context of personal style, because when your body is in flux or you’re hoping to shift its size or shape, the idea of investing in new or better clothes seems wasteful. Since you’ll look different soon, why allow yourself to buy and wear gorgeous things now? And the answer is twofold.

First, you may or may not achieve the change you envision. And I say that not to be discouraging or negative, but instead to shift perspective. If you don’t or can’t make those changes, does that mean you never get new clothes? Never get to revise your style or update your wardrobe? This thinking pattern can trap you in a perpetual limbo of buying cheap or boring items to “tide you over,” which means you end up stuck in a state of waiting for the day when you can really splash out.

Second, you are still a wonderful, worthy, deserving person right now. Today. Just as you are. And if you treat yourself as such, doing so can foster self-confidence and build energy, which can actually fuel the actions you take to make changes. Being kind to yourself, taking vacations, buying and wearing clothes that make you feel stylish and polished may help you feel happier in the present moment, and may also help you achieve the changes you desire.

So start today. Even if you want to change, allow yourself to feel good in this moment. Remember that you will be amazing then, but that you’re also amazing now. Unless you’ve got the single functional crystal ball left in the universe, you can’t know when or if change will come. And limbo sucks. So start today, and lavish your today-body with care and patience and kindness and love. No harm could ever come of that.

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Observe and Reserve Judgment

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There are magazine columns, websites, and television shows built around the practice of examining fashion choices and making fun of them. They focus mainly on celebrities, but regular people get caught in the crossfire, too, occasionally. And while constructive criticism is an important tool for learning, most of these people and outlets aren’t interested in teaching style lessons.* They’re interested in generating clicks and gaining viewership by tearing down people who aren’t present to explain their choices or join the discussion. And at this point, judging others for their clothing choices has become such a commonplace activity that it seldom registers as anything other than normal. If it is normal, it shouldn’t be.

I have said here – and in many other venues – that comportment, dress, grooming, and overall appearance constitute the first levels of information about ourselves that we offer to the observing world. They may not be the most important, but they are the first, which makes them worthy of effort and attention. And I stand by that assertion. However, I don’t condone the blanket assumption that anyone whose appearance doesn’t meet your personal standards of stylishness is fair game for scorn. Here’s why.

Everyone has different standards

If you see a woman whose dress looks out-of-date to you or whose handbag is scuffed up or whose shirt is too tight, you are seeing her through the unique lens of your own perspective. Any judgment you pass is based on your own tastes, experiences, and preferences. And that means what you think is unlikely to be universally agreed-upon. Just because you believe certain things about her choices doesn’t make them fundamentally true. The rest of the world may look at the same woman and have completely different thoughts and opinions. And more importantly, she may look at herself and have completely different thoughts and opinions.

You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life

If someone looks disheveled or odd to your eye that’s bound to register, but to then leap to negative judgment means making vast assumptions. While dressing is a social act and can be used to communicate our tastes and preferences, it is also something we have to do to keep from getting arrested when we go out in public. You cannot tell from looking at someone if she is miserable or ill or scared or stressed or mourning or battling demons too varied to name. She may be dressed a certain way because wearing anything else hurts or because she hasn’t been able to do laundry in three weeks or because her heart is broken. She may be dressed a certain way because she’s got an interview or a date or an audition. You may never know, so you have no real information about her dressing choices, just your own opinions.

It’s 100% unproductive

What do you gain by judging others for their clothing choices? A momentary feeling of superiority? Are you going to find some diplomatic way to convey your critiques to others so that they can learn and “do better” next time? (Not recommended, especially with strangers.) How would you feel if you overheard someone making fun of your outfit? Talking with your sister about trying a different style of pants or talking with an employee about sticking to dress code can be productive. Snarking on a stranger or celebrity’s style choices never will be.

Humans observe the world around us, and it’s natural to draw conclusions about the things and people and occurrences we see. But when it comes to the style choices that others have made, I’d encourage you to be curious, not judgmental. It’s a big, wide world and there’s room in it for people who dress like you and people who dress a little like you and people who will never dress anything like you. Style is not a hierarchy or a contest to be won, so you don’t get points for ragging on someone else. Live and let live. Observe and reserve judgment.

*Tim Gunn’s “People Style Watch” column, pictured, rides the line, in my opinion. It aims to use visual illustrations to teach readers basic figure-flattery practices, but the text is so minimal. It doesn’t convey much information, yet still manages to sound exasperated and snippy much of the time.

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