Personal Style












“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”
-Oscar Wilde


I have this sudden urge to start dressing my age, ever since watching that scene in Miss Granny when Ji-ha teases Oh Doo-ri about her clothes and I realized I'd wear everything she had on right then. I haven't paid attention to trends in a few years because, before I moved to Paris and lost 30 pounds, I was happy with my wardrobe. I thought I had a well-developed sense of personal style and never felt self-conscious or inappropriately dressed for any occasion. I was a lot more inventive and experimental, likely because I was poor, living in a small Midwestern suburb filled with people who now identify as Trump supporters. 

I love my dresses more each time I wear them, but it goes without saying that my off-duty wardrobe is a mess. I keep repeating the same buying mistakes- picking up fast fashion "basics" secondhand, only to have them rendered worthless after a few months, or purchasing things that theoretically work for my body type, yet look really bad in practice. I dislike the notion of purging anything not perfectly curated to my tastes. Still, I didn't consider how subtle environmental changes influence what I'm comfortable wearing. Suddenly the dresses that felt so right at Le Baron back in the day seem silly in my friend's apartment, where we're barefooted eating Chipotle. It's time to recalibrate what's appropriate for my current lifestyle. 

I couldn't have picked a worse time for an overhaul. I already tried the bomber jacket / plaid / drop earrings / choker / peasant top thing. I did not survive the cancellation of Daria, nor Britney Spears' progressive descent into madness, simply to revisit the weird denim trends of that era. Don't get me started on white Adidas, the preferred footwear of every Mia Hamm-obsessed mean girl from 5th grade on. I wore skater shoes and didn't learn how to play soccer until later, so my inner teenager refuses to consider them now.

I just want clothes that are easy, that look decent on Instagram without requiring a camisole, covert adjustments, or wardrobe hacks (my heart wants to dress like a K-Pop star, but my head, saddled with the responsibility of a four mile daily commute on foot, says no). So how to do a style refresh in 2016, while avoiding anything that vaguely smacks of gypset and Gigi Hadid? Here is the method I'm using for my makeover, in case it helps anybody else.












WARDROBE OVERHAUL QUICK GUIDE







Do you really need a wardrobe refresh?

How do you feel when you see your wardrobe? Are you mostly happy with how it looks? Are you excited to get dressed in the morning? Do the clothes reflect your personality? Is it easy to put together a satisfying outfit? If someone were to open your closet doors, would you be embarrassed by what they saw? If the answer to any of these questions is negative, move on to the next step. 

Closet cleanout

1. Set a date

Clear your schedule for one day to focus exclusively on overhauling and restructuring your wardrobe. Make sure the laundry is done and you've picked everything back from the cleaners prior to that date. If a full day just isn't possible, sort through clothing by category in one to four hour  blocks spread out over consecutive weekends (less effective- radical, sweeping changes are more encouraging and thus easier to sustain than incremental ones). Some may find it helpful to invite a brutally honest friend over for an objective opinion. I do not. My friends will tell me if I have spinach in my teeth but are too nice about clothes.

STAY

2. Start sorting

Gather every single article of clothing you own and arrange by categories on the floor. Be thorough- Marie Kondo seriously recommends getting rid of anything you find afterwards, and I agree. Arranging by category helps you spot themes and wardrobe holes, like having 20 striped t-shirts or lots of yoga pants and no office wear. If you absolutely have no time for this, try powersorting- set a timer for five minutes and pick out all the pieces or outfits that you absolutely love, reserving them in a "keep" pile. Next, reset the timer and pull out all the pieces that you despise or never wear. Don't overanalyze- gut instinct works best here.

3. Try on each item

Snap a picture if you can, looking at each piece from as many angles as possible. Ask yourself, do I like how I look in this photo? Does this piece make me feel good? Do I get compliments when I wear it? Does it coordinate with at least three items in my closet? Think if you have any place to wear it- ideally, someplace you go reasonably often. Is the garment hard to wear, i.e., am I constantly adjusting the straps, tugging the neckline, hiking up the waistband, etc.? If something is too high maintenance- that is, if the effort of wearing, washing, mending an item prevents you from using an article of clothing- get rid of it. 

5. Evaluate

Determine whether outdated, worn, faded, or unflattering styles could be tailored, dyed, upcycled, remade, or responsibly disposed of. Ask yourself, "If I ran into a former classmate wearing this, would I be embarrassed?" My French neighbors- even the ones with messy babies- don't lounge around in ratty old college t-shirts; they actually look nice for each other. As Marie Kondo says, if you dress like a potato, you'll be a potato (I'm paraphrasing). Have a little self-respect and keep presentable, comfortable, washable items to change into when you get home, like a jersey dress or decent leggings. Put anything that needs to be tailored in your car or in a bag by the door immediately, so you don't forget about it.

4. Pare down

I get why housekeeping guides push the "Have you worn it in a year?" rule, because clothes can rot away in the closet, but it doesn't apply to all situations. Instead, ask, "Will I wear this again?" Be realistic. If there's something you can't wear unless you find the perfect jacket or cami to go with it, forget it. I never found that elusive item, or I did and still hated the dependent garment after. Rid yourself of "just in case" pieces, since usually the imaginary occasion never comes around. Make sure each item passes the "bend and snap" test. Like, get rid of anything that gives you le sourire du plombier.

6. Organize

I hang dresses, coats, blazers, skirts, and pants- anything that needs to keep its shape- by category and color, while folding t-shirts, sweaters, jeans, and leggings. Lingerie, socks, and tights go in a lingerie box, accessories on a shelf, and shoes in their boxes. A place for everything and everything in its place really is the best old adage. As for sentimental items, I think it's okay to keep a reasonable amount. Some people take a picture before getting rid of it. Just use common sense. Don't stockpile more sentimental items (or multiples) than you can afford to store. This system helps you spot what is actually needed to round out your closet and makes future wardrobe planning much easier.

REFINING YOUR STYLE

Personal style is multidimensional and constantly changing, so don't worry about defining it in one or two words. Instead, pull out your favorite, go-to outfits. What do you like about them? Is it the material, silhouette, or color? Is it how they accentuate or hide certain features, or is comfort a factor? Do the outfits or items you select project a certain image? If you're unhappy with that image, or want to incorporate more variety, visit a store and try a bunch of different looks. Examine yourself from all angles and snap photos if you can. Thrift stores are generally best for this, since they're less subject to the trends, colors, and silhouettes of retail (now that the secondhand market is more savvy and expensive, they've become increasingly selective about the brands and styles they take, so this may not always apply). For me, visiting an art museum, riding the métro, or sitting at a café is a better strategy than making a Pinterest board and endlessly studying street style, which I find more frustrating than helpful.

I think it probably is a good rule of thumb to have twice as many tops as bottoms, but could care less about the proportion of basics to statement pieces. A wardrobe can be composed entirely of statement pieces and still function. It should, however, match your lifestyle. If you work in a Fortune 500 company and your clothes are more appropriate for Coachella, you might need a fitted, knee-length dress. Are there occasions in life where you don't have anything to wear? These, along with unsalvageable items that need updating, should be the focus of your buying, within reason. Have your likes and dislikes firmly in mind before shopping, and read labels, so you don't get stuck with something high-maintenance. Evaluate quality before any purchase. The less elastic your budget, the more versatile every new piece should be, so purchase pieces that can be worn for several seasons, or year-round. 

I was at a loss what to wear anytime my husband and I went to Beaugrenelle. By observing my favorite outfits, I found I liked body-skimming natural fabrics, minimal embellishment, and muted colors. In other words, my style is anything the cats could sleep on, so I bought accordingly. I got rid of five items (clothing swaps are my favorite method now), then thrifted a linen t-shirtv-neck pocket teecashmere boyfriend sweaterplaid shirt, and two pairs of skinny jeans - exact models, Shopstyle affiliate linked. My flares are too big and can't be taken in anymore, plus I hate them now that they're in style. I polished my boots and contacted an Etsy seller about handmade espadrilles. I feel pretty happy with my wardrobe (I still need a swimsuit, I tried Kiini and it's the most perfect thing). 

I didn't pay attention to my body type when shopping. I don't know if I'm an apple or tteokbokki or what. I once went to see a personal stylist who tried to dress me like Selena Gomez; another recommended Kourtney Kardashian. Both hated my wedge sneakers, which are non-negotiable. In the end, I just picked the colors, fabrics, and styles I liked. I'll have a tailor do what she can, and own up to my choices if she can't. 






This is not to conflate a wardrobe purge with morality. Getting rid of unloved clothes has not magically changed my life or attitude, and it's obviously not some open sesame to great style- I still kind of look like Jonathan Swift's girl whose clothes were thrown on with a pitchfork. But having a streamlined wardrobe helps me see what I really want and actually need. Don't worry about finding "perfect" items, which turns maintaining a small, useful wardrobe into a fruitless, dissatisfying and never-ending quest. If you never find the perfect blazer (I haven't), you'll get over it, same as you got over that crush on Devon Sawa in kindergarten. Anyway, I'm realizing it's okay to update a wardrobe every once in a while, as long as I'm not chasing after tiresome trends. I plan on getting a few ear cuffs or Berbere-style rings too; not a lot, just enough to make me less of a septuagenarian. I'm in no hurry, and I don't plan on changing pieces constantly. I hope to only purchase things that grow on me, that I learn to appreciate more with every passing day, like falling in love.


     
Paris to Go

19 comments:

  1. hello, my dear Ariana,
    this is a very clear and inspiring post! you know I've been struggling to define my personal style and compose a clean and organized wardrobe. sometimes it bothers me to hear comments of my friends that i dress like an old lady, but I think that I'm finally in peace with this old lady style cause this is just how I like to be! thanks for always being so giving <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ana! Your style is very modern to me! Did you see this article: http://www.elle.com/fashion/a14488/old-lady-dressing/

      This girl has old lady style too, and it's wonderful: https://www.instagram.com/jennymwalton/

      Delete
    2. I hadn't seen the article, it's great!

      and I started following the instagram profile too ;)

      Delete
  2. Great tips. I love most of my wardrobe but had the opposite problem to you - I moved countries and GAINED a good few kilos. Will I ever fit into my thrifted high-waisted, baggy leather pants again? (Is the fact that I don't now perhaps a blessing in disguise?) Only time will tell.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh Lola, I gain weight every time I go back to the US. At an alarming rate- once, I kid you not, I gained 5 pounds in one week! It's all the walking and stairs in Paris. Weight just melts off!

      Delete
  3. Great post. Style, as life, evolves. Like waves. Nothing is static. Love how you keep track of your waves, and not get overflown by new things. Stay mindfull!! Looking very much forward to some pictures. Enjoy life, and your clothes, and the process of becoming evermore who you are.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Emma! Ah I should have read your comment before I made the one below :) Thank you for the beautiful words as always.

      Delete
  4. Great post--it's always a work in progress!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I completely agree. A wardrobe first and foremost reflects the person, and that's never static!

      Delete
  5. This is a very random thought on developing personal style but I have two (somewhat odd) style icons that inform my personal choices: Nancy Drew (from my favorite childhood mystery novels) and Angela Lansbury aka JB Fletcher from the TV show Murder She Wrote. As a 30 year old woman- I do not dress like a teenager from the 1930s nor do I dress like a widowed mystery writer that lives in Maine. I am also not sleuthing and solving murders...I digress. But both these fictional characters have a deep sense of self. In addition, they lead active lives yet always look pulled together. No yoga pants for these ladies! They wear practical shoes (penny loafers or low heels), a well tailored jacket or blazer and pair them with simple straight leg pants or flattering skirts that have hemlines that are neither too showy or dowdy. Do you have a fictional character that inspires your sense of style?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a refreshing take on style. I agree with you and Ariana. For some folks, going to a museum, reading, going on adventures, fantasizing about a life to be lived ... cultivating yourself ... could contribute to personal style.

      Delete
    2. I love Jessica Fletcher! It may come as no surprise that Murder She Wrote and Golden Girls were my favorite shows when I was little :) I always loved the descriptions of clothes in novels I read. Claudia Kishi was my first style inspiration lol, then Anne Shirley, then Lenina from Brave New World, and characters in Tolstoy novels... now I kind of feel like my closet it kind of a Handmaid's Tale for natural fabrics, no joke.

      Love the idea Nadya. Archana, your take on fashion is so cerebral and interesting, like Susan Sontag or Joan Didion style, I knew you would like the idea of taking inspiration from a painting or sculpture. You must get so much inspiration on your travels too.

      Delete
  6. I'm always the dressed up one amongst my friends and co-workers, so I understand part of your reasoning for wanting a change. I have never been that great with casual dressing. My casual outfits always make me look like a high schooler. The reason I try to dress more sophisticated and feel more comfortable that way is because I look really young for my age (I'm 36, but look barely legal) and want to look more mature and I like to look a bit sultry, haha. I gravitate towards that kind of 1930's slinky/exotic look which does not translate well to casual clothes. I am trying to work on this though because I want to keep my vibe without having to wear a dress or pencil skirt on the daily. I love those things, but want to feel just as put together and polished in "street gear."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your style sounds awesome! And yea I think I like vintage styles better, but not too obviously- not the pinup stuff. You summed up my wishes for street gear perfectly :) I hope we both find what we need soon!

      Delete
    2. Thanks, I agree! I'm trying to mix in a kind of 90's minimal chic rocker look (kind of Wynona Ryder-esque) in with my 30's vibe when I do more casual. I had been trying to avoid such overt rocker influence because i live in Brooklyn and boho/rocker is kind of a uniform here if you aren't conservative. If done not too obnoxiously, it is a staple look for a reason though. It is classic and edgy if you don't go to extreme or trendy. The good thing is the whole athleisure/normcore thing is growing which means I'm not doing that and will remain distinct, haha. I also like exotic jewelry and accessories, sorta Art Deco Oriental, Egyptian Revival, and African inspired. I think that gives me the flair I want if I wear a black leather jacket, booties and a tee.

      Delete
  7. Hi Ariana! Love this post, you always inspire and crack me up! Last week I visited Alabama Chanin's factory / flagship store here in the US. They are a lifestyle brand I have been following for some time and after finally getting to visit them I am totally inspired to try my hand at making my own clothing. I think you will appreciate their stance slow-fashion / environmental philosophies. You can check them out here ==> http://alabamachanin.com/ P.S. We had the most delicious gluten-free Southern cooking for lunch, not an easy combo to find.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is awesome Kristy! I love Alabama Chanin clothes. I am so jealous about the gluten-free Southern, I would love a gluten-free hush puppy. Thank you for sharing, what a cool experience!

      Delete