During quarantine, clothing and style have been a struggle for many of us – with everyone from TV anchors to corporate C-suiters opting either to not wear pants at all or something comfy that isn’t visible on video. As more people are vaccinated, we’re all anxious to get out of the house – and our sweatpants – to be more social. For perhaps the first time in 18 months, we’re wondering what to wear for our re-entrance into society.
The first question is: Why does style matter?
It seems frivolous and like a waste of time to pour through clothes on a shopping rack, online, or even in our own closets. It takes time to curate an outfit to wear, along with shoes, jewelry and other accessories.
Since the pandemic’s start, leggings and stretchy, more forgiving pants have been the pants du jour. Part of the reason for this has been the so-called ‘Quarantine 15’ (or 20, 30lbs) weight gain and part of it has been a desire for comfort during an uncertain and unsettling time. For the first time in perhaps our entire lives, many of us did not need to present ourselves publicly below the waist. Who cares if we wear pajama pants or ‘atheleisure’?
It’s a question to ask yourself: what does style matter to me?
“Seeing, feeling, thinking, believing – these are the stages of how we change our style on the outside and our self-image on the inside.” – Stacy London
Our style story
In high school, we remember hearing about how some of our classmates would wake up an extra hour early to either curl or straighten their hair and put on a full face of make-up. It sounded ridiculous to us as waking up before dawn was already early enough and 4:45am sounded downright painful. Plus, homework and sleep took priority over getting dolled up to go to school. Jeans, t-shirts, and some nice tops were all mixed and matched to create a school ‘uniform’ of sorts, but we never really thought much about style – unless we were preparing for a date or a dance. Clothing was mainly functional, met the guidelines of the school, and kept us at a more comfortable temperature. Frankly, we believed that being ‘in fashion’ or ‘stylish’ was something for girly-girls who had too much time (and money) on their hands, and weren’t interested in reading to expand their knowledge or playing sports. In short, our belief was that focus on clothes, purses, and shoes was for the vain and vapid. Not us.
The belief didn’t change much during college. Luckily, we didn’t buy into the trend of wearing pajama pants, crop tops, or yoga pants with sequined words on the rear. It was interesting to see how ‘comfortably’ these students behaved in class when they dressed this way and we wondered how a just-rolled-out-of-bed look might detract from a professor’s positive recommendation. Did we dress well during this time? Somewhat. Again, the main wardrobe consisted of jeans, t-shirts, and sweaters but we did have fun with finding bright red pants and pairing them with a striped top, leopard skin pink pants, trying out different bold colors and geometric shapes. That is what one’s 20s are really all about – exploration, creativity, and diverse experiences…and our closet mirrored this. We had outfits for our moods (rebellious, blissful romantic, free-spirited) and for environments ranging from dance clubs and concerts to corporate America. Around this time we also started working with a spa and, when things weren’t busy, the stylists and beauty experts would cajole us into letting them do some color-typing that would indicate if one was a ‘True Summer’ or ‘Bright Winter.’ ...it was an experience akin to Andy’s in The Devil Wears Prada movie. We took it with a grain of salt and mostly stuck with the tried-and-true colors and clothes we had.
A problem realized was overwhelm – an abundance of clothes we collected through different ages, times in life, moods, etc. We didn’t learn about constraint until the mid 2010’s. It was our good luck to have had a couple style-minded friends who relished going through our closet, having us try on clothes, and then giving feedback about fit, hemlines, and colors that didn’t compliment our skin tone (e.g. tomato red). That third-party assessment helped us with the vocabulary to articulate why a certain piece didn’t get much use, even though it looked great on a mannequin.
With our ongoing journey of minimalism as maximalism, we’re not interested in only having and wearing 20 pieces, but relishing a curated wardrobe where everything fits well, looks great, and allows quicker and clearer decisions when it comes to getting ready for the day. To this end, we see having a clear style and curated clothing as a way of promoting efficiency as well as confidence.
What is your style story? How do you think and feel about it in general and when it comes to your personal style now?
Style is somewhat intuitive and somewhat scientific. When you find a great piece that fits you perfectly and has a color that lights up your face, you know what we mean. Most of us are unaware of why we pull the same outfits out over and over again, while leaving behind the green sweater or gray dress. Having a third party observe and point out the poor fit or how the color doesn’t compliment your skin tone can help you weed out the pieces that don’t do you justice.
Style is for YOU. Sure, it reflects to other people aspects of you – such as your personality, maybe that you value designer purses or shoes – and it may attract people to you. But this isn’t about the male gaze or anyone else’s. It’s about how you move about in the world and how you think and feel about yourself. Think about the last time you were dressed up. How did you feel in that outfit that day? Perhaps you felt a strong sense of confidence; how did you show up in your work activities and your interactions with others? More importantly, how did you interact with yourself? Did you wink at yourself in the mirror or have nicer thoughts about your body?
Style can be Fun and Functional. Choose pieces that reflect a bit of your personality – bring in a little bit of glam, French romantic, or maybe choose dramatic geometric shapes in you clothes or jewelry. Part of functionality is sizing. To be comfortable, you may need a larger size or a one that can be tailored to fit your shoulders or waist. Figuring out your style can be fun as well – whether you consult with a beauty or style expert or do your own research through online quizzes or YouTube. One that we like and have done recently is called Kibbe (here’s a video with the ‘test’). In many ways it confirmed what we already knew, but also gave more ideas and inspiration as we go through the closet.
Our style is ultimately a reflection of how we think and how we feel about ourselves. Walking around in a bathrobe for hours on end could result from wanting to extend a nice, spa-like shower experience or it could be a symptom of depression and Eeyore-like “why bother?” thinking. Same with our stretchy pants. What’s behind what you’re wearing? What are you thinking and feeling about yourself right now in this outfit?
Top 6 Tips to Elevate your Style Story
1. Spring -clean your closet. This is a great time to go through your items and release what you don’t like or no longer fits and really curate your favorite clothing items. You’ll feel more confident, comfortable and more clarity as you clear out your space and you’ll have less stress and overwhelm about what to wear.
2. Find 10 of your absolute favorite pieces, place them in a section of your wardrobe.
3. Identify 10 items you know you can let go, don’t do you justice or make you feel guilty.
4. Recruit your 3rd party observer and assessor. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or style expert, another person’s perspective can help give insight about the fit of your clothing or the colors that look best on you.
5. Learn more about your style with the methods discussed above, including Kibbe.
6. Aim to dress just 10% better. We’re all coming out of quarantine together and permanent retirement of our sweatpants or dressing to the 9s is likely too much of a change, too quickly. Instead, focus on the 10% improvement – whether it’s wearing a nicer top, putting on a piece of jewelry or two, or adding a red lip to your outfit.
Hopefully you’ll reflect on your style story and where you want to go, clean out your closet, and discover or refine your personal style in order to feel confident and comfortable going into the coming months.