Beautiful Beckydropped me this note:
Although I’m in my 30s, I recently made some major life changes: I moved cross-country, took a new job teaching a different age group, and am renting my first house. I made the move back to my native Midwest, and so far, it’s been a WONDERFUL change … but even good change, I think, can be very disorienting. This disorientation is showing up in my clothes.
Old standby outfits that used to make me feel fabulous now often feel wrong. My hair and my makeup no longer seem to fit my new routines. Most of my shoes are sandals … now I’m facing boots and sweaters and long underwear for the first time in forever, and I feel so lost!
But mostly, I think I’m just “thrown” by not being able to rely on my closet for my usual dose of self-confidence and self-definition. Who I am is not currently in sync with what I wear. The disparity both reflects my disorientation and contributes to it.
So do I just go out and buy some new stuff? Wait until I’m more settled? Or … what?
Here is a conundrum that so many have faced, often without the added bonus of moving to a completely new climate. How many of you have suddenly found yourself in a new phase of life, facing a closet full of clothes that suit your previous personality? I know I’ve been there. And it’s overwhelming and disheartening, and makes you wonder who the hell you really are; The person you feel like, or the person you look like.
As always, there is no single cut-and-dried way to tackle this challenge. Since what Becky is describing is, essentially, a sudden and drastic shift in personal style, that means that navigating the shift is going to be a highly personal experience. But I’ll share with you what I shared with Becky, in hopes that it might help anyone currently struggling to realign how she looks with who she is.
Think of this as a tremendous opportunity. You are in a place in your life where completely transforming your style is not only acceptable, it’s well-nigh mandatory. Take some time to think long and hard about what you want to look like. And I don’t mean set aside an hour on Saturday, I mean set aside a WEEKEND. Make no plans, talk to no one, just hole up with your notebook and some catalogs and magazines and brainstorm.
Don’t let any mental roadblocks slow you down. Dream big. You’re creating a whole new you, so why limit yourself?
Make lists of adjectives that describe your aspirational style. Make lists of key pieces – clothing, shoes, and accessories. Make collages from catalogs and mags and take notes on what you love and hate, want to embrace and hope to avoid.
Then go through your current wardrobe. Depending on your storage capacity, consider just stashing things that you think you’ve outgrown. When you’re in transition, you don’t know where you’ll end up … and a giant purge may just leave you full of regret once you’ve evolved a bit more. Those items that feel wrong now may just be wrong because you haven’t figured out how the new you is going to WEAR them. So, if you can, hang onto them.
Be sure, especially, to hang onto basics. If you’ve moved climates, you may have to embrace layering, or adjust which items fall into heavy rotation. Tees, sweaters, pants, and skirts in solid colors and classic styles will form your foundation. If they fit and flatter, keep ’em. You’ll find a way to use them.
Now, just spend time playing. Give yourself at least a half-day to just create outfits from what you already have. Remember, clothes are tools. Only items that are decidedly singular in purpose – ornately embellished, daytime-activity inappropriate, etc. – are truly confining. If you’re struggling to love a wardrobe that once worked, you may be thinking of your pieces as only “going” with certain other pieces. Mix and match, experiment, play. See what you can come up with.
Only after you’ve done ALL of this should you consider a shopping trip. And only after doing some serious thinking about what you truly need to make your new look work. Make a prioritized wish list based on your financial situation and stylistic needs, and whittle it down gradually. Once you’ve determined how workable your current wardrobe really is, start bringing in new pieces that will complete the puzzle of your new personal style.
Finally, be patient. This could take a year, or two, or three. Personal style takes time to cultivate, so don’t get frustrated if you have some false starts. If you’ve changed climates, your body may also change, so prepare for that, and embrace it as part of the process.