Ruffles. Off the shoulder. Cold shoulder. Hi-lo hems. Boho style.
It seems I can’t walk through a store these days or browse my Bloglovin’ feed without it feeling like a sea of 90s inspired floral prints and block heels.
None of these trends are for me.
I’ve seen other people wear them and look effortlessly chic. But on me, they’d be a disaster.
Off and on since I’ve started this blog, I’ve been making an effort to dress well. So many other people make it look effortless, but I’ve always had trouble consistently presenting my best self and my best wardrobe.
When I struggle with tackling a problem, I predictably turn to books.
Books on Personal Style and Wardrobe Curation
The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to improve their wardrobe or get in touch with their personal style. What I loved about it was it’s not aspirational at all, and doesn’t rely on a formula of basics. It guides the reader through a series of exercises to help them get in touch with their own personal style and find out what outfits work for their lifestyle.
Though I really do recommend purchasing the book or checking it out from the library, these were the most helpful tips for me.
Get realistic about your weekly routine and what clothes you need to wear during these activities.
I work in a business casual professional setting and routinely have to attend meetings at City Hall or with potential business partners. But I also run up and down two flights of stairs all day, fill in at baby and me storytime, and help people locate books on the bottom shelf. Some buildings have air conditioning on full blast, some don’t have it at all.
I’ve found that the outfit formula that is most conducive for that kind of environment and that range of tasks are wrap or sheath dresses, cardigans, and flats (okay, often slip-on Vans). I don’t have any ‘dressy’ work pants. I occasionally wear straight leg very dark wash jeans that almost pass as dress pants if you don’t look too closely, and one pair of coral jeans I sometimes wear on Fridays with a blazer.
On the weekends, we go to the farmer’s market, the beach, and hiking, or we might visit a winery or go shopping. I like to be comfy and casual, but still put together. I see all sorts of young women who can do the athleisure look and pull it off, but I feel dumpy and depressed if I’m out in yoga pants and a sweatshirt.
This goes all the way back to childhood. I remember my dad pulling us out of school early on a Friday in December when I was in the 6th grade for an impromptu evening out in Kansas City. We had dinner, took a carriage ride, and did some Christmas shopping on the Plaza. I was mortified and could barely enjoy myself because I’d worn sweats to school that day, and didn’t feel like I fit in among the posh holiday shoppers in what felt like such an upscale place at the time.
I’ve even been trying to invest in better loungewear, if only because my living room in Santa Barbara feels so much more public than it ever did in Kansas. We have a floor to ceiling picture window that faces the street, and like to keep it open for the light and the breeze. Which means if I’m wearing bleach stained, stretched out yoga pants, everyone walking their dog can see.
The biggest revelation for me was assessing how often I need fancy clothes. There are always a few weddings every year, and we’ve go to a few dressy events a year, like the ballet or a fundraiser banquet or a holiday party. But when I actually sat down to inventory my wardrobe, I realized I have twice the amount of cocktail dresses I truly need. I used to buy them if they fit and I liked them and they were on sale to have “just in case” to alleviate the stress of not having an outfit for a special occasion, but a handful of them I’ve worn only once or not at all. That’s a habit I’ll definitely be changing!
Purchase clothes with a color palette in mind.
This has been tricky for me, because I love so many different colors. I have trouble sticking to one signature look in my wardrobe just as I do in my Instagram feed, even though I admire those ladies who have a predictable and refined aesthetic in their closet and in their photos.
Now, I’m thinking of it in two seasons. I like bold, bright colors for spring and summer—corals, pinks, cobalt blues, teals. In winter, I like things more subdued, with a lot of black and a few pops of color. Though I have a few neutral dresses, these aren’t my favorites and I don’t necessarily feel myself when I wear them, so I’m keeping that in mind when thinking about future purchases so I can have a more cohesive style. My biggest issue is choosing between black and navy. I just like both! So I like to think of my wardrobe as mini-capsules. I can pack a week’s worth of outfits and only have to bring two cardigans and two pairs of shoes.
Find outfit formulas that work.
Cataloging what I wore each day for a few weeks and noting what I felt most comfortable and confident in and what mornings I was able to stay in my first outfit I chose really helped me identify the gaps in my closet and figure out the easiest way for me to get dressed each day. At first, I thought I needed to work on getting more work appropriate pants and tops and that I had too many dresses in my closet, but I ended up realizing that’s what I like best, so that’s what I should wear most often.
The Cool Factor by Andrea Linett was much more aspirational and theoretical than the practical guide in The Curated Closet. I did appreciate that it profiled women with various lifestyles and body types. It advocated for a much more severely edited style. While I greatly admire that approach, because of my size and shape, I just have much fewer options with regards to style. If I had an unlimited budget, I might have a bit more freedom to focus on “cool.” I mean, how effortlessly chic would I be if I only shopped at Eileen Fisher?
Still, I took away some valuable advice from this book.
Being ‘cool’ is not synonymous with being trendy.
There’s a different between being fashionable and having style. I can admire the sleek, chic style of one woman and the relaxed, laid-back style of another, and know that my own personal version of cool is closer to Zoey Deschanel in the New Girl. (I also rock a lot of polka dots and routinely handle glitter).
Accessories help create a signature look.
I love my chunky turquoise necklace, my Star Wars slip-on Vans, and my Kate Spade typewriter bag. These, more than anything, contribute to my own unique style.
It’s taken a few years, but I’ve finally gotten comfortable putting pictures of myself on the internet and talking about how I choose my clothes. I still have other interests, like books, vegetarian cooking, and exploring California, but ‘style’ is going to be a real category on this blog from now on.