Reader Louise e-mailed this question to me a couple of months ago:
What do you do if you have an item of clothing that everyone else seems to dislike, but you love? Do you wear it? Keep it in the closet, but wear it rarely? Get rid of it?
Here are the specifics of my case, but in a way they aren’t really important as it is a style philosophy that I’m interested in: I just bought a denim skirt to replace one that wasn’t fitting comfortably anymore. I wear the old skirt at least once a week as it is a staple of my wardrobe. The new skirt is fairly long (mid-calf), full, buttons all the way up the front, washed/faded denim with the classic faded gold stitching/pewtery hardware. I thought it was classic, but when I showed my husband, he said it was matronly. He rarely has any clothing opinions, so that alone gave me pause.
But I still really like the skirt and it is still really comfy and exactly the right length for my needs. I hate to know my hubs is thinking “matronly” every time I wear it. (I’m 47 BTW, and we have no kids, so matronly is rather wince-making for me.)
What would you do if your husband expressed a dislike of a particular item? What about a close friend? What about a group of women who you mostly like, but aren’t particularly close to? At what point does anyone else’s opinion but your own put the kibosh on it?
Louise’s note made my heart hurt. I think all of us can relate to purchasing a garment, feeling elated about it, and then showing it off to a friend or loved-one whose negative opinion completely sullies the garment’s formerly golden status. Here’s what I told her:
You should wear clothes you love, that make you feel awesome about your body. Period. If other people hate them, that is NOT your problem. Style is personal, and so is taste. If we loved everything that everyone wore, it’d be a damned boring world. There are countless reasons why people may hate the clothing you love, and attempting to decipher those reasons is futile. While I think that input from friends and loved ones can be valuable – and some folks are lucky enough to have friends/loved ones whose stylistic input is always spot-on – in the end the decisions are all yours.
When Husband Mike sees an item freshly bought and tells me he hates it, I make him tell me why. I get everything from “unflattering” to “just plain ugly” in response. I take his input very seriously, as he has great taste. He also takes my photograph on a regular basis so he really does know what works and what doesn’t. HOWEVER I also listen to my gut. If I absolutely adore something and he absolutely loathes it, I keep it. And you know what? Nine times out of ten he will unwittingly compliment me when I wear it to work or on the weekend in the context of a fully-styled outfit.
Because making clothing work is really all about styling. No matter how awkward something looks out of context, once it’s effectively styled it’ll work much better. It’s an elusive skill set, but cultivating the ability to style your outfits is well worth doing. If I may be blunt, Tim Gunn would probably make all sorts of faces and noise if you showed him this skirt … but he’d also be able to find a way to style it that made it look like the next big trend. Because Tim is a skilled stylist.
What I recommend for items that get big love from you and big hate from others is to create five outfits using the item as a focal point. Go for very different looks – super casual to relatively fancy. Try all sorts of footwear, tops, scarves, jewelry, belts, a variety of colors and layers. Take photos of the finished outfits and then put the photos away for a couple of days. THEN see what you think. Then see what your loved-one thinks.
I don’t think “matronly” will ever be a compliment … but I DO think that plenty of garments that appear “matronly” out of context can look fan-freakin-tastic when styled with some pizazz.
Skirt image via Shop National.