Posts Tagged: style

The Right to Bare Arms

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I’ll fess right up: I’m not terribly fond of my arms. I lift weights every week based on a regimen created for me by a personal trainer, and there’s loads of muscle in there. Seriously, just ask me to flex. But there’s also loads of jiggle. And although I don’t want to be, I’m self-conscious about it. And I generally dress to keep them covered.

But it’s summer in Minnesota and that means it can get hot. Also nastily humid. Ya know, that sticky, icky, clingy environmental moisture that makes you feel like a giant dog tongue has just licked your whole body, clothing included? And under these circumstances, 3/4 sleeves become implements of torture.

And the fact of the matter is that my arm-related self-consciousness is centered on a recently developed, socially generated expectation that – in addition to slender legs, a flat belly, and lush breasts – all women should have toned arms. Absolutely jiggle-free, rock-solid, sculpted and toned arms. Similar to the ones seen on Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Biel, and other celebs who have live-in personal trainers and whose job it is to look a very specific way. Like all body-related mandates, this is unreasonable, shaming, and downright awful. I know this inside my brain. And it angers me endlessly and I want to fight back. Unfortunately my emotional self still kicks and screams when I pull on a tank top, wailing at the size, the jiggle, the uneven skin tone of my exposed arms. It then becomes an internal battle of wills: Shirk the imposed body mandates and feel exposed and self-conscious, or give in, cover up, and attempt to relax?

I try to bear in mind that sleeveless garments can be more flattering than short-sleeved ones, and go that route when it’s sweltering. And if it’s cool enough, I do 3/4 or cuff my long sleeves. But other days, days when my outrage manages to squelch my insecurity, I just force myself to remember this important mantra: All women have the right to bare arms, regardless of size, shape, or tone. The vast majority of us HAVE arms, many of us are forced to deal with heat and humidity at some point in the calendar year, and we should not allow restrictive social norms about how our bodies “should” look to shame us into dressing in clothing that makes us feel hot and miserable. Arms come in all shapes and sizes. Flattering them can certainly be a priority, but covering them up on a miserably hot day and risking heat rash in the name of hiding a little jiggle? No way. Not OK, not reasonable, not necessary.

I used to be incredibly self-conscious about my belly, and I still dress to downplay it. But friends, I have come to have a real and deep affection for it as a natural, biological, lovely, and defining part of my physical self. It took years of work, but I got there. So I have faith that my arm-battle will end because I want it to end. And I know what my ultimate conclusion should be: I have the right to bare arms. And so do we all.

Image courtesy sean dreilinger

This is a refreshed and revived post from the archive.

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Reader Request: How to Avoid Looking Dated

avoid looking dated

In a comment on this post about clothing details that read as young or old, reader Jane asked for some tips on how to avoid looking dated. Datedness is a social construct, of course, reinforced by a fashion industry that sells us new clothing based on our desire to look “current.” This means it is, in essence, bunk. But the same could be said of any dressing mores: They allow us to be expressive and visually communicative, but they’re all rooted in capitalism. It shouldn’t matter one whit if you’re wearing a blazer that was made 20 years ago, so long as it fits and is in good condition … but because of the value we place on youth and staying up-to-date on everything, it does matter. In some cases, it matters several whits.

So I’m definitely not saying that concern over looking dated is inconsequential. I think about it, as do most of my clients. Keeping your looks contemporary is a great way to feel stylish even if actual trends mean nothing to you. I just couldn’t resist pointing out that datedness is of manufactured importance.

And, sadly, avoiding dated looks will take some work. Here are some steps you can take.

Consume fashion media

Since you are a reader of this blog, you are likely doing this already. But consider focusing some of your consumption on studying shapes and design details on new iterations of wardrobe staples like dress pants, jeans, and blouses. Also pay attention to how they are worn and styled. Fashion magazines will be of limited use since most editorials focus on designer items styled in unwearable ways. The exception would be People StyleWatch, which showcases casual celebrity style alongside advice on re-creating those looks on a budget. Otherwise it’s helpful to follow a few style blogs run by women whose aesthetics are close to your own, and note shapes, design details, and styling choices. It can also be helpful receive catalogs from brands you buy and wear, since retail styling is generally more accessible than editorial. On a related note …

Window shop

Most of us window shop to gather information about items we might want to purchase and wear, but this activity can serve as contemporary styling reconnaissance. Just as you do with online and printed media, cruise through the mall and note shapes and design details. How do the dresses differ from the ones in your closet, if at all? Are you seeing different types or sizes of prints than you’re used to wearing? Do the blouse collars look large or small to your eye? Don’t forget to scope out the mannequins for styling choices: Merchandisers generally keep abreast of trends, and get additional input from corporate offices about how to group new items. What do the layers look like? How is jewelry used? Where are belts placed? Are tops tucked or untucked? How are colors combined within outfits, and more specifically how are neutrals utilized and distributed? You don’t need to spend a dime to get a lesson in modern style from retail stores.

Know which items date quickly

Both this post and the post on clothing that reads as young or old feature photos of blazers. Suiting and blazers are common culprits when it comes to datedness, mainly because they are fairly durable pieces that don’t need frequent replacement. Black blazers are also on a bajillion “must-have” lists, and many of us think, “Totally have a black blazer. I’m set,” even if said black blazer was made in the late 80s. Here are a few dated items I’ve noticed lurking in client closets:

  • Pumps and boots: Toebox shape and heel shape are the main details to watch. If your nude-to-your-skintone pumps have a square toe and block heel, they won’t look modern.
  • Blazers and suiting: Note stance, number of buttons, length, lapel shape, shoulder shape, and overall fitted-ness in blazers and suit jackets. Note leg shape, leg width, pocket placement, and hem length in suit pants. Note shape and hem length in suit skirts.
  • Leather jackets: The classic moto will always be around, but leather blazers and styles with quilting and/or gobs of hardware will look dated within the next five years. Pay attention to collar shape, zipper placement, and shoulder design.
  • Actually, all jackets: Both outerwear and items like utility and denim jackets that can be worn in place of blazers.
  • Jeans: Not as crucial as it once was in terms of design and construction, since various rises and shapes are always available now. (BLESS.) Do note hem length, leg style, and wash, especially on fashionable women whose style/aesthetic is similar to your own. Also pay attention to styling – cuffs, tucking, shoe pairings. etc.

Follow trends in dressing, skip trendy items

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Trendy items will date you, but trends in dressing can help you look your best. So, for instance, maybe don’t buy a pair of culottes or a fringed suede jacket, but consider incorporating trendy colors like yellow and marsala. Create your own interpretation of sporty minimalism or incorporate more black and white prints into your outfits.

I have to say that I find the typical “stick to the classics” advice to be relatively useless. Most classic items undergo design transformations if enough years go by, so although a classic item will date more slowly, it will eventually date. Naturally, items that are labeled as trendy right out of the gate will date faster, but you can’t build a date-proof wardrobe by keeping to button-fronts, bootcut jeans, and v-necked sweaters. Subtle shifts in shapes, design details, and styling will seep in over time, and those pieces will need to be updated, too.

I say “need” somewhat tongue-in-cheek, since wearing an outdated shirt or sweater will absolutely never cause you to break out in an itchy rash.

What are your feelings about dated clothing and looks? Do you worry about looking dated yourself? What tests or points of comparison do you use? Other tips for making sure your wardrobe and outfits look contemporary and modern?

Images courtesy Macy’s left | right

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Getting Comfortable

comfortable sweatshirts

For a long time, I believed that a little bit of physical discomfort could be beneficial at times: Stiffer, more formal clothing can put you in a focused frame of mind and encourage extended concentration. Some experts recommend dressing up for phone interviews, both because the ritual of dressing can help center you, and because speaking to someone on the phone while wearing business attire makes the interview experience feel more weighty and real. And in the midst of our increasingly comfort-obsessed culture, it saddens me to see that people choose to wear cargo shorts to the opera* and t-shirts to four-star restaurants. Dressing up lends a different energy to our activities, and I enjoy that differentiation.

But I just got back from a short session with a client in which we selected an outfit for a photo shoot. She is a makeup artist who loves helping others look their best for photos, but dies inside every time the lens swings her way. AND she was told to wear an outfit that perfectly encapsulated her personal style. We talked about this challenging request, and agreed that if the mandate had been “semi-formal” or “a blazer and blouse” or anything that provided specific parameters, it would’ve been considerably less daunting. She wanted to look classic, luxe, and approachable, but I also knew that she needed to be comfortable or her anxiety would show through in the photos. We picked a favorite utility jacket, marled white tee, and layered gold necklaces, a combination she’d worn dozens of times in real life. This grouping provided her comfort on several levels: The clothes and accessories weren’t stiff or restricting, it was an outfit she’d worn before that felt reassuringly familiar, and it felt authentic to her personality and style. Sure, she would’ve looked more glamorous in a sequined cocktail dress, but it would’ve made her uncomfortable in so many ways. Not worth the risk or potential trade-off.

I’ve also observed the link between clothing comfort and body comfort. The mild discomfort of suiting and heels, or button-front and pencil skirt can work to focus attention, or it can make the wearer self-conscious and fidgety. This may sound obvious: It’s only natural that comfortable clothes would make our physical selves feel better. But I’m talking on a more abstract, self-image level. For some people, stiff, formal clothing makes them feel like impostors, like their bodies are unwieldy or don’t belong. Discomfort in clothing only serves to amplify the discomfort in body that was lurking just below the surface.

The idea of being “too comfortable” is a fascinating one, really. Policing of comfort is likely linked to the distinctly Western fear of laziness, a state of being that we believe will descend if we spend our entire lives feeling relaxed in our bodies and minds. And while I still believe that dressing for occasions is a rewarding way to set certain events and experiences apart from the everyday, I’m beginning to think that letting people spend more time in their style and body comfort zones could lead to a happier, less anxious population.

What do you think? What does comfort mean to you? Do you feel there’s a difference between clothing comfort and body comfort? Is there such a thing as being too comfortable? What do you think would happen if all dress codes were obliterated worldwide?

*I have witnessed this first-hand. Cross my heart.

Images courtesy Nordstrom – left | right

**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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