Dress to impress yourself: the 10 style rules I live by

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The mid-80s were not an attractive time for me and my rabbit.

I come from deeply humble fashion roots. My parents are hippies for godsake, and I grew up in a mix of dirty hand-me-downs my parents dug up, cheap stuff from Sears, and frilly dresses gifted from my grandma. I preferred the frilly dresses, and my mom had to bribe me to wear pants by telling me that they made me look tall.

Just before I started fourth grade, my folks asked me what clothes I wanted for the school year. I shrugged and replied that my favorite outfit was a lilac polyester sweat suit from Sears, and really all I wanted was several more of those. And so I spent all of fourth an fifth grade in rotating lilac sweatshirts and sweatpants. That was all I wore for two years. Thankfully, I eventually came out of this phase, and after 25 years or so, found my way to a sense of style that feels comfortable and authentic. Here are the rules I live by. What are yours?

1. Comfort is king.

Ok, I moved out of my lilac sweatpants phase, but retained one truth from that era: if you’re not comfortable, nothing else matters. Uncomfortable usually equals unflattering. Pants that dig into your love-handles and make a muffin-top? Uncomfortable and ugly. Tight shirts that ride up and expose your lower back and belly? Cold and unflattering. Your clothing needs to be comfortable both physically and emotionally. You should feel good in your clothes. Confused sometimes (“Did I really put a skirt on as a poncho?”), but good.

2. Style isn’t about clothing — it’s about confidence

You can wear absolutely anything if you sell it hard enough. My brain sometimes boggles when I see fashionistas wearing the most patently unflattering, heinously ugly clothes — but they walk with confidence bordering on arrogance and somehow manage to make it work. I might think they look ugly, but I can’t deny that it’s stylishly ugly. Moral of the story: wear what makes you feel confident, and you’ll look stylish.

3. Avoid uniforms

I don’t like being easily identifiable by my clothing. Back in 2000 or so, I wore patchwork dresses around Olympia, WA and everyone would assume I was a hippie student at Evergreen State College. It gave me great pleasure to say “Actually, I’m the editor of a rave magazine in Los Angeles. But thank you for asking.” Since discarding the raver template, I’ve developed an aversion to being pigeonholed by my clothing. Keep ’em guessing. Create your own template.

4. Custom-made clothes and indie designers are the best

If I had unlimited amounts of money, I would not spend it on designer clothing. I would spend it on having a personal seamstress/designer who would make me all my clothes. Clothes made to your measurements fit like nothing else. And buying from indie designers is a great way to support artisans while wearing unique awesome stuff. Forget international designer labels: go custom and indie.

5. Remix what you’ve got

Fashion can all-too-quickly become consumerism, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Your closet has more fun outfits than you know — don’t be afraid to mix things in unexpected ways. Buying your clothes by pre-set outfits will be the death of a creative wardrobe.

6. Play with your clothes

Try to maintain a sense of curiosity and play with your closet. That skirt — could you layer it as a strapless dress over a t-shirt? Could you wear that belt as a tie? You will doubtless leave the house looking ridiculous sometimes (God knows I do) but fashion isn’t for taking seriously. As long as you’re laughing and comfortable, no one else matters. Which brings me to my next point:

7. Dress to impress yourself

Make your peace with this now: no matter what you wear, someone is going to think you look stupid. Seriously. Everyone’s a member of the fashion police, and no matter how carefully you follow trends or how hard you buck trends, someone is going to think you look bad. So stop caring and just dress in a way that makes you happy and comfortable. Even if I think you look ridiculous in those pants, it doesn’t matter if you love them and find them comfortable.

8. Shop by material and construction for basics

This is one I’ve learned the hard way. That asymmetrical cowl-necked sweater I ordered online? SUCH a great design, but made in China cheaply out of polyester. I’ve learned that it’s worth it to spend on basics that are made out of quality materials like merino and cashmere, and solidly constructed to last for a long time. Accent pieces can be silly, but when it comes to the base layers? Focus on materials and quality construction.

9. Beg, borrow or steal your fashion from others

Inspiration is everywhere. Look for people with your same body type who look good in their clothes. Feel free to ask them where they got particular articles of clothing. Feel free to steal their look — it’s ok as long as you give ’em credit.

10. Look to the fringes for accents

I wear a lot of basics, and probably the only reason anyone thinks I have any sense of personal style is because a lot of my accent pieces are inspired by my favorite subcultures. The internet is of course awesome for this sort of thing. Why didn’t anyone tell me about Dark Mori sooner?!

Those are my 10… what are yours?

Comments on Dress to impress yourself: the 10 style rules I live by

  1. One of my fashion rules is similar to your rule #8: I never buy anything made of synthetic fabric unless it’s workout gear. No matter how cute it is, if it’s made of polyester it won’t breathe and neither will I. It doesn’t take long to forget about the beautiful vintage polyester dresses I didn’t buy, and I have a closet full of cotton, wool, etc. options that won’t make me physically uncomfortable.

    • I never buy synthetics, especially workout gear! I love my merino wool for bicycling all year round — it breaths so much better than my poly bike jerseys ever did. (Ok, I do make a couple exceptions to the “no synthetics” rule: bras (because they’re hard enough to find in my size regardless) and rain-gear). Since I bike everywhere, all year round (up to 30ºC and above, down to -30ºC and below…), having things that breathe and handle moisture when I sweat is a huge deal. Buying almost exclusively wool does limit my options somewhat (especially since I have a limited budget), but I love my clothes so much more now than I ever have in the past when I had so much poly crap.

      • Hmm – while in principle, I agree (especially for tops), I love non-wrinkle polyester skirts. I used to have 3 in different patterns that I always wore on trips (and a lot of the rest of the time). They took up about as much room in the suitcase/bag as a large cotton handkerchief, were never wrinkled, and if anything got on them, I could wash them out in the sink, and they’d be dry and ready to go in about 20 seconds. I also have a couple dresses like this, now – they’re definitely much heavier but also practically don’t wrinkle. Needless to say, I’m more of a proponent of synthetics – ideal for lazy people like me. 😉

        • Maybe you sweat less than I do — polyester gets STANK on me within a shockingly short amount of time, while I can wear wool for a couple days without it getting near as nasty. It’s a different style of lazy. :-p

          • Ohhhh polyester stank, how I loathe thee! A tip I’ve found REALLY helps is pre-soaking things in a bucket of water with a hearty splash of white vinegar before I send them through the washing machine. I keep a bucket and vinegar in my bathroom so I can fill it up and toss the clothes in there as part of my post-workout shower routine.

          • I agree with all of you here, as I largely try to avoid synthetics (because they make me sweaty and sooner or later, stinky, too), but I do agree that those polyester skirts are super-convenient. Typically, if I do get synthetics, it’s skirts. I do have the odd top or sweater that is a synthetic blend, but mostly I try to go with cotton, as it breathes and wool tends to make me super-itchy.

  2. I’m actually a fan of the uniform thing; less brain clutter/decision making, less shopping time = happier Rae. I haven’t gone so far as some people, but I do have a relatively consistent outfit of jersey shirt + jeans for every day wear (hooray for casual office culture).

    One of my current rules is that patterns come into my closet very sparingly. 95% of the time, I reach for solids, so anything patterned rarely gets worn. As much as I drool over witty t-shirts online, when it comes to actually picking something out of my drawer in the morning, those always get passed by. So, right now, anything patterned comes in on a one-in-one-out basis.

    On the flip side, plain solids also don’t enter my wardrobe often—I love texture, so I have a lot of tone-on-tone textured pieces to spice things up.

    And I seriously live by #8 combined with shopping sales so that I can get even nicer quality stuff. I haven’t bought stuff from the mall trend factories in years. That’s not to say inexpensive=bad though. My most long-wearing pair of jeans came from Target—it’s all about construction and materials.

  3. I think my first comment actually got filtered as spam so the brief version: build a wardrobe that uses visual cues you want to convey and build one that is versatile and practical.

  4. One of mine is that it must be washable-NOT dry clean only, except for very rare formal exceptions. I do a lot of thrift shopping, and originally didn’t have this rule-until the first time I put a dry clean only dress in the wash like I do with everything. The dress was totally ruined; thankfully it cost $3. Now I always check the tag first.

      • Haha, my MIL flipped out when I threw my hand-me-down pseudosuede coat into the washer on delicate. It was hella dirty. Came out 95% fine.

        • Yes! I even do this with cheap or seriously dirty (like, otherwise I won’t really wear them) shoes. Just have to watch out for dye that might come out. And my mom is a big proponent of, “oh – washing machines are so much easier on stuff these days, I just throw the hand-wash stuff in on delicate.” Note: German washing machines are not really delicate about anything so I think this only applies in The States.

          By the way – same with *most* dishes. I always figure if it doesn’t survive the first dishwasher load, then well, I guess it was better we parted ways anyway.

    • I usually take “dry clean only” as “hand wash the first couple of times, then you can run it through the washer.” As long as I line dry or run through a low temp cycle in the dryer, it’s usually okay. Honestly, the concept of dry cleaning freaks me out, as my understanding is that basically, some chemicals get sprayed on your clothes and that’s it. I could be wrong about that, but to me, that’s not cleaning, and I doubt that “organic” dry cleaning is really much better.

    • I only dry clean formal dresses (really formal, like, bridal/prom–and those get Dryel rather than the cleaners), wool coats, and featherbeds. Everthing else, and I mean EVERTHING, gets washed. Cold water, low temp dry or line dry, and I have yet to ruin anything. Cashmere sweaters, leather shoes and purses, feather pillows, you name it, I’ve washed it on cold/low/delicate and it has been just fine. Unless something’s incredibly expensive or a beloved heirloom, just try it. I have *not* tried feather trims or really heavily beaded pieces, and would advise against the machine for those, but clothing? Just do it, be brave. Most of those labels are for “best possible care in case you plan on putting this in a museum” not “for the next 10 years’ everyday wear”…

  5. Excellent rules, Ariel! And I am very much on the no-synthetic bandwagon, with the caveat that I own plenty of blends. This is possibly especially important if you’re fat, but a high quality blend fabric can move and drape in a way pure cotton or wool sometimes can’t, and leave you with a garment that both supports and conforms to your body better.

    I actually transitioned to a job this year where I have to go into the office every day, which is not something I’ve had to do in about seven years. As a result, I needed a new work wardrobe – not having to go into the office meant I was buying pajamas, jeans when my old pair completely fell apart, and cute little dresses for going out, and little else.

    Here was the most important rule I learned; don’t buy anything you don’t like. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, it kind of isn’t, both for style rules reasons and fat girl reasons. Nearly every office style guide tells you to “invest in basics,” things like a black pencil skirt and a trench coat. Well guess what I already had in the back of the closet? Two black pencil skirts that didn’t fit me, that I never wore to begin with, but that I bought because some rule book told me I needed them to get taken seriously. I chucked them both and they aren’t going to be replaced.

    The other aspect of this rule has to do with the way stores cater to fat women. Unless it’s a store that specifically caters to a fat clientele, we are given far less variety to choose from, and that variety is usually along the lines of “how many different shapeless tunics with obnoxious sequins would you like? Here, this one shows enough cleavage for you to get a job singing in an old timey saloon! We also have black. Acres and acres of slimming, self-erasing black.”

    Like most girls, I inherited my oldest shopping instincts from my mom, who is built a lot like me but does not like her body. She told me that I absolutely had to try on everything in a store, largely because then I could, like her, convince myself to pick up smaller sizes because they looked like they’d work on the hanger and get demoralized when they didn’t in the fitting room. When she left, she’d do so with the shapeless tunics, both because they let her not have to see much of her body and because they are what is stocked in the suburban mall stores where most people shop. So you get those things, even if you don’t like them, because they’re there.

    To break this cycle, you have to not shop at those stores, which means more often than not not shopping in stores at all. Shopping online is no panacea – there are sometimes shipping fees, or paying a tailor to alter garments that aren’t quite right. And because the models shown on clothing websites rarely look like me, I am far less likely to take a chance on an unfamiliarly cut or proportioned garment. But everything I buy, I like. And that makes me excited to get dressed in the morning.

    • Dear god, YES! It boggles the mind why so little options are offered for fat women while we comprise about 20 % of the female population (in Canada anyway). What is wrong with maketing departments everywhere?!

      And well, local designers are not much help either. I hardly know any of them who cather to the young fat girls. Except maybe Kolchic http://www.kolchicdesign.com/ , but their main outlet in Montreal just closed down (not related to its popuylarity but to management problems)

      So yeah, I’d like to by local and handmade…but there aren’t that many interesting options either. But I definitely do when I find them.

      Otherwise, the main one is : dress your size. It took me years to get that one down, and I still have some relapses, but it’s essential.

      • Not just your size, but your shape. I have huge boobs. Huge. Finding tops that are flattering is tough because the flowy ones just drape everywhere and make me look pregnant (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m not pregnant) and tighter ones just make me look like a walking breast. It means I basically can’t wear anything with a narrow belt/waist or I look like I’ve been cinched in the middle. I periodically get sad because I can’t wear the really cute easy wrap dresses or cotton “toss on” sundresses, but I know if I buy them I’ll never wear them because I’ll be so self conscious. Some things look good on some people and not as much on others. Better to buy something that actually looks good as opposed to what’s “in.”

        • Better to buy something that actually looks good as opposed to what’s “in.” <— THIS

          Buying clothing seems to be famine or feast for me. Every couple of years I will want to own everything in a store, and then I can't shop in that same store for like another 5 years. I've just accepted the fact that I will be "trendy" for 1-2 years, and then not trendy for 3-4 until a new wave of styles come in that I like. It's my fashion cycle.

          • So agree with all of you. Not to be too judgmental, but I always think, “I may be fat, but at least I know it!” (As opposed to people who aren’t really fat, but manage to look it by wearing unflattering clothes or clothes that don’t fit.)

            And I totally try to stock up when fashion favors my tastes (I find it especially ridiculous in shoes), but sometimes its hard due to size drift…

            Also: totally looking forward to being pregnant so I can finally stop worrying about “looking like I’m pregnant” and wear a couple maiden-waist tops, ha ha.

            Lastly, I was super-psyched about the larger models for a lot of the dresses over at Offbeat’s sponsor ModCloth! It really helps to see if the styles could work even if the body-type might be slightly different.

          • Every time punk is trendy I get mad at all the conformist teenagers with their studded belts, skull t-shirts, and skater shoes. But man its nice to be able to buy those belts for under $20 bucks at Target instead of the exorbitant prices at Junk Man’s Daughter and other local “alt” boutiques. So I glare at the teenboppers, buy my shit, and wear them until they are falling apart a decade later. Right now I’m waiting for the next Avril Lavigne to come through in the hopes I can replace the one I wore last night before it actually snaps.

    • There’s a world of fabulous plus-size fashion online. Even ‘regular’ size stores do make plus sizes, but only stock them online — Old Navy / Gap / Banana Republic (same company) is notorious for this. Search for “fatshion” to find blogs & communities chock-full of useful advice 🙂

      • Old Navy/Gap/Banana Republic online is a GODSEND. The pants aren’t quite long enough for me, but at least there’s SOME option for tall women, as opposed to every store out there that has petite and sometimes plus sizes but nothing for anyone even remotely tall. Buying clothes is ridiculously difficult, and I wish these sites had existed when I was in middle school and being bullied for wearing “high waters”.

        • Yeah, plus-size, petites, & talls seem to only exist online, never in stores. At least they exist SOMEWHERE now (petite plus-size here, & tho’ I can sew a complete historical gown, I hate hemming pants myself 😉 ).

          • Ugh, as someone with an almost-tall inseam, I must say, it’s a nightmare to find pants. I usually buy 34″ pants, just because anything less than that always seems to shrink to an awkward length, but often the 34″ inseam pants are just a slight bit longer than they should be. Online shopping at least has helped me to find pants that are longs, as it’s next to impossible in store. I only seem to ever find regulars or petites.

      • The problem is that without being able to try it on I don’t know what will look great on me and what won’t. Sure, I can look for things that seem like the would flatter my body type, but I find that when I order clothing online it is very much a hit or miss endeavor and it often seems like the miss side is more likely. I wish there were more stores where I could try on clothing in my size so I could avoid the high shipping and return shipping costs that many of the online places charge.

        • I can’t speak to shipping prices to/from outside the U.S., but usually it’s $6-$10 for a large packet of stuff (& there are places like Zappos that offer free returns or get Amazon Prime for reduced shipping rates). I don’t drive, plus the stores local to me suck, so I’ve shopped online (& before that, by mail-order) all my life. If you compare shipping costs with the cost of owing & driving a car or with public transit, it’s pretty comparable. *shrug*

          As for not trying clothes on, yeah, that’s a hassle, but so is going to dozens & dozens of stores to try clothes on. 6 of one, half-dozen of another. Take your own measurements, then look carefully at the size charts provided by the retailer. Clothes shopping isn’t easy in any venue for most ppl, so you have to take charge & make the most of everything that’s out there.

          • Definitely know your measurements and read those charts! It can still be hit or miss, but it’s closer than thinking “hey, I usually buy a large, so I’ll probably be a large on this site, too…” It is amazing how inconsistent those sizes can be!

            Sometimes I really envy how a lot of menswear is actually listed as real measurement numbers (pants by waist and inseam–why can’t women have the same sets of measurements offered???). It drives me crazy.

          • I’m in the US, so yes, all that is true. However, even if shipping one way is only $6-$10 (I find it is often more than that), many places (other than Zappos) will not cover the cost of return shipping unless you are doing an exchange or the clothing is defective. Not so helpful if you’re ordering the only size that is likley to work for you (or the largest size that company carries) and it doesn’t work. They will charge that same $6-10 (or more) to return it, so all of a sudden you are paying $20 or more for trying on clothes that don’t fit. Unless you live far from stores and have to drive a long distance to them, it’s not going to cost that much to go and try on things in person. I live in a large city and I travel by public transit. It wouldn’t cost me $20 to travel all over the city and find clothing, $20 is about what I pay for my transit pass for an entire month. (Yay, employer that subsidizes most of the cost of my transit pass!) However, most of the stores in my city don’t carry my size, so I don’t have the option of getting that clothing locally and saving money on shipping.

            For example, I recently ordered some pajamas in a size that should have worked based on my measurements. They came as a set, so there was nothing I could do about the fact that the bottoms fit like a tent but the top was too tight in the arms. I managed to convince them this bad sizing was essentially a manufacturing defect and they covered the cost of return shipping, but if I had not complained they would have charged me the same as they had for shipping the item to me and deducted that from my refund.

            Anyway, I am rambling a bit, and it is good that online plus sizes exist. I just wish they were easier to access.

      • I just can’t bring myself to buy clothing from stores that don’t want me in their stores. If you have such fabulous plus size clothing, put them where I can try them on, mix them up, then buy them. But what Old Navy and their ilk tell me is that, while they are happy to take my money, they have no interest in having actual fat people in their stores.

        • THIS!

          Plus, I’m the kind of person that has to try on half the store before I find two or three pieces that fit right. Plus-size also means plus-shape. The more plus-size, the more diffrent possible shapes you can be and there are more variables. Buying stuff online is a no-no for me, because it just means I’ll be returning a bunch of stuff or worse, be stuck with clothes that don’t fit. Only exceptions are when I’ve tried things in store and they were out of the colour I wanted or things where the cut is really standard like basic t-shirts and tanks.

        • Eh, then they also have no interest in pregnant women. There are a number of stores that have a line of maternity clothing, but it’s only offered online. Thanks, guys, as if it isn’t suddenly hard enough to be sure that something will fit comfortably, now you make it impossible for me to try it on first.

          Actually, one thing I must say, that’s both positive and negative about being pregnant for me: while it’s harder to find clothes in my closet that fit (thus needing to buy maternity clothing), I have gotten much more creative with my non-maternity clothing to make more outfits that continue to fit and look different, so I’m not wearing the same basic thing every day.

        • Exactly! If they don’t want to provide me with the same level of service that they provide their other customers, I generally don’t want to buy their products. I’ll buy from companies that are mostly online or mail order (Land’s End, LL Bean) because just about everyone has the same limited options for buying those brands in person. (Unless you live near LL Bean’s headquarters in Freeport, Maine. Then you have almost all the choices available to try on.)

  6. I definitely buy quality over quantity. I’m on a weight loss journey and it’s tough to dress for! woozels! expensive to boot! basically nothing I have fits and I’ve only gotten a new pair of jeans and a pair of shorts for each new size I get to. I don’t want to spend too much. I tend to buy things that either help motivate me to keep going or will work with a variety of sizes. definitely stinks though bc I need a winter coat (as I’m moving back to Maine) and no clue what size I’ll end up being. so I don’t want to invest but I’ll freeze. also I buy a trend piece or two at a cheapo fashion store because why spend big money for a trend? it’s a fun idea to switch up clothes with friends of different sizes so you don’t have to supplement your wardrobe for a ton of money.
    sorry I got off topic! I basically love solids and classic things bc they’re timeless and will work for forever. #2 is key! confidence! I know I look good so I get a strut all my own.

    • Winter coat tip
      You can get the pooffy ones (ski coats, feather coats and like). I usually wear S or XS, but in coats, my father always told me to buy Large so I could wear as many layers underneath as I needed. More formal coats need to be fitted to look ok, but it does not matter much with poofy coats. So buy the poofy coat that fits you now and you will be able to keep it for a while. And/or buy it second hand, you can sell it if it really gets too big.

    • Try a Goodwill or thrift store for a coat. Sometimes there’s really nice stuff there, but you won’t have to pay a ton for it. I also just bought a wool peacoat at and end of season sale for $20. Both options are a bit hit or miss, but worth checking out if you need a coat, like, now.

      • Good point. I’ve also gotten a really nice wool plus-size pea coat at a military surplus store before (men’s cut of course). They’re really heavy but super warm.

  7. I have all my work clothes in the same section of hanger space and 90% of it all goes together no matter what I grab, so it’s not a uniform but I can feel pretty safe grabbing any top with any slacks (I never did get the hang of skirts). Now that I’ve been out of college long enough to have accumulated enough Real Clothes to get me through two weeks in any season I’m trying to be a lot pickier and only buy things I love and feel good in.

    For those of you in thrift-deserts like me, I recently discovered Like Twice dot com and I’ve had really good experience with them (I don’t work for them or anything, just a fan). They don’t have vintage stuff but they do have brand name clothes at marked down prices, and they’re really good about shipping/returns so I can try stuff on at home. They also buy things but my closet is so pitiful I’ve only been on the receiving end of things.

  8. Fashion rule that I suck at following, but whole-heartedly believe in: Layers Are Everything.
    Obviously, there are some pieces that thrive in the wild on their own, but I feel like layers are the key to maximizing your wardrobe and building a signature style. For me, I know with my clothing, it’s really the difference between clothing myself and playing with fashion–I’m not really making style choices until I start layering. Otherwise? It’s more or less a uniform situation. I have about six tops-and-jeans outfits that are in regular rotation, but adding layers and layers of accessories instantly turns those into hundreds of different combinations.

    • Not to mention that layers for warmth can stretch a fall/spring wardrobe a lot farther into winter! I don’t have any single one piece of clothing that’s super-warm, but when I wear 27 of them together, I can brave -40 on a bicycle!

      • YES. I don’t have “summer clothes” and “winter clothes” that I need to put away/pull out. Except for outerwear, I wear everything I own year-round – mostly thanks to layers.

    • YES! I grew up with hippy parents and knew nothing about fashion. After 2-3 years working on tv shows/having wardrobe people pick through my clothes I bring in what I realized was: Wardrobe people like layers, because, Layers make people look good.

      My logical brain says: “but then you have to wash more” but after seeing myself and my partner in photos where we are layered and not layered I can definitely say layers make us both look better.

      • I hardly ever wash my “middle layers.” I wash the layer next to my skin, and I wash the outer layer if I spill or get it dirty, but I don’t think you have to wash all the layers all the time!

        • I wash my middle layers when they get stinky — which varies from a few days to a couple weeks, depending how constantly I’m wearing them, how sweaty I get (usually pretty sweaty, since I bike everywhere and like to push myself and am a naturally sweaty person), and whether they go into rotation as base-layers as well (most of them do; I have one hoody that is always a middle layer, but the rest of my tops tend to rotate).

  9. Comfort is key for me. If it isn’t comfortable, it isnt going to happen. I also a cheapskate, most of my clothing comes from the thriftstore or I make it. One thing I don’t skimp on is costumes though. I willing to pay out the ear for good quality made items if I have the cash at hand. I have more costumes than regular clothing. Plus I am ALWAYS making something. What can I say, I love to play dress up.

    I agree with confidence, I have people say “I could never pull off dressing like that” and I am always thinking that they could if they wanted to. I am hard to be pigeonhold as well as I have many different fashions that I draw from.

    It got so bad that the hubby gave me the spare room in the house to turn into a dressing room/closet which is filled with antique furniture. 😀

  10. Yay for fashion! In 2013 I made it my mission to overhaul my closet (as I wrote in my article last year!), and after an initial purge and influx of new stuff, I’ve started to look more critically at what is coming in and what I have that works. Here are some guidelines I’ve come up with:

    1. If I already own it, I’ll do my damnedest to find a way to make it work. That involves having a good working knowledge of the rest of my wardrobe, and spending some time just trying things out. Sometimes what works in my head doesn’t translate to the way the pieces actually fit on my body, so I have to try something else. If I can’t make it work, it’s okay to get rid of it so it stops taking up space in my life. Even if it was a gift. (Still working on the last one, but if I write it down maybe I’ll believe it more?)

    2. I order a lot online. If I try something on and it doesn’t fit right or meet my expectations, back it goes. I’m pretty diligent about getting returns in on time, which helps me avoid having to deal with point number 1 and saves me a lot of money. I could get things tailored, but I know myself and know I’m just not going to bother and let the thing sit in closet purgatory forever (until I give it away).

    3. Now that I actually have a variety of basics and some extras I can work with, I’m getting picky about new things I acquire. I’ve learned to avoid polyester that sits against the skin, obvious shoddy construction, and cheap shoes. I only have a handful of holes in my closet that I really want to fill, so I can stop getting random cheaper stuff I already have a bunch of (ahem, t-shirts) and focus on saving for and researching a nice version of what I really want. Right now that’s a good casual blazer to replace the one I wore through college that is worn through in the elbows. 🙁

    4. To further stop the influx of things I’m not going to wear enough, I also have to be very honest about what my lifestyle really is like. I see so many cute dresses and shoes when I browse Modcloth, but they wouldn’t be appropriate for work (engineer, gotta be casual) and I only have so many weddings and fancy occasions to go to. And I already have a few nice dresses that fit beautifully and work just fine!

    5. Accessories are totally where it’s at. I can take a t-shirt and jeans outfit from lounging-at-home to workplace to girl’s night out by changing my jewelry, putting on a scarf, changing my shoes, etc. Though I’m also starting to take little steps up when I go out so the fancier things in my wardrobe get some love. My wardrobe is all about little steps up and down in fanciness.

    Whew, that got long. tl;dr version: stop the influx of things I won’t wear, mix up what I do have using accessories and by trying to wear things I haven’t worn in forever in new ways. Buy higher quality things.

    • Agreed on all points, but definitely not going super-cheap on shoes can make a huge difference. I worked retail for a while and found that the only way to survive hours on one’s feet is a comfortable pair of shoes that also are going to hold up. Finding shoes with cushioning and a little arch support is important. If you keep an eye on sales, as well as checking out places like TJ Maxx and the like, you can get good quality shoes that cost about as much as the cheap fashion shoes that don’t have any support.

  11. Mine are similar!

    1) Dress to express! (Got this language from Dance Walk guidelines)
    2) Wear no more than 1 uncomfortable item per outfit. It is a definite style challenge that helps me come up with creative, comfortable outfits. (Hoping to get this down to zero uncomfortable items as I invest in better shoes, bras, etc.)
    3) BOYCOTT SKINNY JEANS. I hate them, and I’m over it. Alternatives are horribly rare, but I’m figuring it out.
    4) Dress energetically. I let myself wear soft colors and fabrics when I am overstimulated, bright stuff when I am feeling productive, etc. This helps me feel aligned on the inside and outside.
    5. Get rid of everything that makes me feel bad, whether it’s because it has a negative association or it fits poorly/uncomfortably. Having less clothes is a good thing because you can actually see what you have and are willing to wear, which makes new combinations easier to visualize.
    6. No more buying mid-price items. Stuff I get at Target always falls apart and is a waste of money. I am either buying my exact, dream, well-made item, no matter the cost, or I am thrifting. No in between.

    • It took me a while to warm up to skinny jeans. I love them now, but I can totally see how plenty don’t. We’re saturated in skinny jeans right now, but don’t worry–they’ll go the way of flares and boot cut (RIP). Hopefully you’ll like the next thing better!

      • Yes, I tried, I really tried. But they just squish me too much. It’s been long enough now that I am hoping it’s time for the tide to turn. Surely next year, some one will come up with a revolutionary, brand-new idea, like pants that you can fit your ass into! Maybe the pendulum can swing all the way back to palazzo pants!!

        • Jeans you can fit your ass into? Preposterous!

          Granted, I’m an hourglass that has to choose between being able to get jeans on over my butt, or having them fit my waist. And I can’t wear jeans without a belt. And all my belts eventually get really creased at the back. And I’ve had to ditch a pair of skinny jeans because the rear belt loop wore out. You may have a point.

          • Take the jeans to a tailor (or even a dry cleaner who does alterations). For maybe $10-$20, depending where you live, you can get the waistband on jeans or any pair of pants taken in at the back. It’s a super-common alteration & will be unnoticeable when it’s finished. Custom-fit jeans, totally worth it.

          • @Trystan:
            Oh, you’re definitely right. But for some reason I’ve decided that going to a tailor is some impossibly grown-up task that is beyond my abilities or motivation. Do my own taxes? Yeah, bring ’em on. Find a tailor and go there and get my clothes fixed? What am I, some sort of wizard?!

            Something to work on for sure.

          • Comment thread is already too far gone below, but in another comment I mentioned that while I do sew, I hatehatehate hemming pants (I’m super short), so I will gladly pay someone to do that crap for me. I don’t see it as an grown-up thing, I see it as me being too lazy to DIY, hah!

        • I can only handle the really really stretchy skinny jeans. But the material has to be thick enough that I don’t feel like I’m wearing yoga pants. I’ve found only 2 pairs that fit this description!
          But they are great to tuck into boots, not get caught in bike chains, and not get sidewalk salt stains on the bottom of them so it was worth the search (for me.)

        • I tried to give skinny jeans a fair shot and also give them a thumbs-down. When I sat down for an hour-long meeting at work, my legs went numb because they were too tight around my thighs and calves. But they were already a bit loose around the backside; if I had gotten a size larger they’d be falling off.

    • I am counting down the days until skinny jeans bite the dust. Ugh!! I don’t mind the style look, but I happen to have some muscle on my calves (and it’s definitely not fat!) so 99.9% of skinny jeans won’t even go on me, even ones that claim they stretch. I’m not wearing flares because I miss the 90s (although that is true), I’m wearing flares because my calves have no chance in hell of going into skinny jeans!! Make it stoooop >:(

      • I’m so glad I’m not the only one with this problem! For a slim person, I have oddly muscly/curvy calves. I do not know why this is. But I know that skinny jeans do not like this.

        And for some reason I forget about this every six months or so and try some on anyway… le sigh.

  12. PS, I love that picture with the bunny and imagining you in lilac sweatsuits for two years straight. Ha! I totally had a phase like that.

    …But I was an adult in yoga pants. Which I am wearing right now. 🙂

    • So my first big phase was seven years of wearing nothing longer than the shortest of miniskirts and no pants or shorts ever. After a few years of wearing nothing but pants in response, I kinda miss showing off my legs, but it’s just not for me anymore. These days, it’s all kaftans!

      • He he – stretch pants for all of elementary school. The only thing that convinced me to switch to jeans just in time for junior high was visiting that school at the end of the 6th grade school year and realizing that EVERYONE was wearing jeans. They weren’t really as uncomfortable as I was expecting.

        • Love it! I also wore stretch pants for nearly all of elementary school. Probably paired with turtlenecks and flannel. And oversized t-shirts with cats on them for summer.
          I started wearing jeans in junior high- mostly my mom’s old bell bottoms.

  13. You and I have the same (or very similar) fashion rules, Ariel. I agree with all your rules, and two in particular stand out to me.

    1. I always try to follow the comfort is king rule. If I’m not comfortable wearing something it is just going to sit in my closet (or in boxes, or in my chest of drawers). If I bought it because I had to for a certain type of event, it will get worn for that and nothing else, and I won’t enjoy wearing it. If I didn’t have a use in mind for it, it just won’t get worn at all.

    4. If I had lots and lots of money I’d also spend it having people design and sew custom clothes for me instead of buying designer clothes. Most designer clothes don’t fit me anyway, and I’d rather support artisans than large corporations.

  14. I figured out, a few years ago, why one of my super-stylish friends was willing to wear stuff that wasn’t comfortable, and it was mindblowing. She wears short skirts in the middle of winter, hobble skirts that would have me tripping every three seconds, blouses with layers of lace that just looking at make me itchy.

    But it’s like me deciding to eat something I’m mildly allergic to because it is fucking delicious. I love love love fresh pineapple and mango even though I know I’m going to have to take a Benadryl dose after I stuff my face with them. For her, looking awesome and feeling gorgeous and confident and like she can take on the world is worth being cold on her walk to the bus, or worth being careful not to drag her cuffs through her soup, or whatever.

  15. Comfort yes, but even better is FIT. Clothes that fit well are comfortable *and* stylish. I think too many ppl think “comfort” means “oversized, sloppy, T-shirts & sweatpants” (I see this all the time all over the place in public). It does take time to find (or make or have made) clothes that fit properly, & yeah, a lot of ppl don’t want to take the time. It’s easier to just grab a size XXXL & then you know that won’t pinch or bind.

    Could modify #4 to add “tailoring” because a little bit of simple modification to store-bought garments can vastly improve the fit & make them look custom-made. Adjusting hems, cuffs, waistlines, & such can be done by any tailor & a lot of dry-cleaners for only a little money, but the payoff is huge.

        • Heck yeah!!!
          Or the slightly fancier, old slightly oversized mens button up shirt over leggings. For the “I read in Cosmo that this was okay to wear to work as long as I wear a belt and cinch it” look.

      • I do loves me some stretch knits — all hail ponte the wonder fabric! It stretches, doesn’t stretch *out*, & yet doesn’t look like PJs.

        (Tho’ I see a ton of baggy clothes in public. I also see actual PJs worn in public, way more frequently than explained away as ‘omg, I have a cold & am running to the store for more tissues & nyquil.’ I don’t live in a college town either, ro really no excuses!)

      • YES-I love my stretchy knits. My fiance is the exact opposite. My idea of a perfect relaxation outfit is basically a head-to-toe lycra bodysuit and he wants to wear jnco jeans and enormous t-shirts.

  16. “Why didn’t anyone tell me about Dark Mori sooner?!”

    Right?! Thanks for bringing that new, awesome thing into my life, Ariel. I might not be too lazy and old to dress for my inner goth, after all.

  17. (1) Buy less, invest more.
    I.e. – spend more on each item. This might be because it’s great quality, or because it’s from a fairtrade/organic website I love, or because it’s from charity but would be worth hundreds new… I’ve given up on the cheap, throw-away fashion though. I have fewer clothes, that I keep for longer, and I spend more per item. Less guilt, less waste, and normally the clothes are more flattering anyway.

    (2) Fix stuff
    I spent most of my early twenties failing to get stuff fixed, so that, for example, my favourite shoes would fall apart and become unwearable. Becoming a grown-up has meant “remembering to take shoes to the cobblers”. Also justifies the slightly-more-expense-per-item rule in #1

    (3) Colours!
    I’ve learnt what colours I feel happy and confident in. This does not (usually) mean dressing entirely in black or grey. Sometimes I’ll even try out a new colour I’ve not done before, just for fun. The nice thing about having signature colours (burgundy! forest green! teal!) is that people buy you nice birthday presents, because they’ve probably noticed what colours you wear, and started to associate them with you…

    (4) One in, one out
    Regular trips to the charity shop are what it’s all about. Sometimes you buy/inherit stuff that you never end up wearing, and there’s no shame in that. Off to charity it goes.

    (5) Buy no clothes in 2014
    At the end of the day, I have enough clothes. Sure, if I need new underwear or something, that’s cool. But for now I want to commit to remembering to wear the stuff I actually already own. Bonus: the deletion of the consumerist want-want-want message from my brain has been so liberating (and I wasn’t even a bit fashionista to begin with).

  18. I started making my own things at 14 (Hippie parents=yaaaaay!!!!) and quickly figured out how to fit my body. Now I paddle about in custom specialty pieces for non-off-the-rack bodies (and who really is an OTR? A rare and Blessed soul! But most things STILL need alteration love…..)

    For style confidence, the most liberating thing in the world for me was a measuring tape.
    What Size Am I? My size! Oh Cool! Hey if I take this handy measuring tape with me and basically ignore the lables, my clothes cover my person in a flattering way….. Size 8 in one style & brand, size 12 in another? No Biggie.

    Aesthetically, I’m a 50-shades-of-black kind of girl, but I passed this idea on to my then teenaged sister who was starting to look for internships in college and figuring out how to fuse her romantigoth flamboyance with workwear – go for one crazy thing. Jeans, fitted-t, knee-high lace up boots? Check. Black, Black, Insane Scarf? Check. Simple dress? Get it in a wild pattern.

    Fit is key.
    Then find your Statement.

  19. I don’t know if this is okay to bring up here (so feel free to delete if not):
    Do any busty girls have a favorite clothing / designer / pattern maker they’d recommend?
    I’m a 32F-G, (and short-waisted / short torso-ed) and I’d love to find tops/dresses that fit right, or patterns that don’t need adjustments. So far I’ve figured out: I look good in t-shirts that have stretch and have a slight scoop neckline… now I just need to find a reliable source.

  20. Surprised no one has mentioned this style rule yet:

    If I fall head over heels in love with something, I will buy more than one, or more than one color. I hate shopping so this saves me the hassle of searching for similar or replacement items down the road.

    Also, I have made peace with the fact that I am much happier wearing the same 5 outfits all the time, until a piece wears out or I grow bored of it. I don’t need endless variety, all I need a variety of scarves to throw over the basics so they seem different. Getting dressed in the morning is far easier if I have fewer choices. I’m also fine with the fact that sometimes I just want to wear the exact same thing two days in a row (as long as it’s clean). I don’t care, my husband doesn’t care and if anyone else is judging me for it, well… I still don’t care 🙂

    Also, in the summer, I live for sundresses. It’s so much easier and looks more put together than finding a pair of pants AND a top.

  21. THANK YOU for naming the style I’ve been coveting for the last while, Ariel! I knew there had to be a name for it precisely…
    I have kind of two sections in my wardrobe: clothes that make me happy (fandom tshirts usually) and clothes that make me feel awesome (dresses and dark mori stuff mostly). I still need to figure out a way to combine the two more…

  22. I pick one thing I could like to wear on a day and work the rest of my outfit to showcase the piece. Could be a necklace or a pair of socks.. A dress… Anything!

    Also layers. And lots of patterns. And I seldom wear black.

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