Wardrobe Architect Week 1: Making Style More Personal

What captivated me about the Wardrobe Architect series was the way it expressed thoughts I’ve had many times before:

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the endless bounty of prettiness on the internet?

Sometimes you might wonder, how do I combine all of these disparate things that I like into something that actually feels like me?

But just because you like something, that does not mean it fits you. Enjoying looking at something doesn’t mean it has a deep connection to who you are, necessarily. Some things are just nice to look at and appreciate on their own.

When I first read those lines, I immediately thought, “THIS. Exactly this.” I’ve never been one to collect magazine clippings or keep a pinboard (analog or digital), and I think that’s because I see a lot of things I like—that are designed to be liked, photographed in the right setting with the right lighting and the right accessories—but that I don’t like like. It was a relief to have someone say, “It’s okay to appreciate the beauty of something without making it a part of your personal story.”

As a writer, narrative is a fascinating concept to me, with applications far beyond the written or even spoken word. Once, when pressed to explain why I didn’t seem to have a desire to pursue a certain path in life, I found that the best way to describe it was this: It’s just not part of the story I tell myself about myself.

But what is part of that story? That’s the starting point of the Wardrobe Architect series, and that’s what I’m going to share below.

History: How has your personal history informed the way you dress? When did your tastes crystalize? Have they changed over the years, and why?

My tastes have not yet crystallized. In middle school I didn’t care at all what I wore, and I frequently dressed in sweatpants, hugely oversized t-shirts, and sweatshirts. In high school, I started to care a bit about clothes, but since I was accustomed to oversized outfits, I bought things that were too large and large unflattering. In college, I wanted to look as put together as my logo-ed and brand-clad classmates, but I didn’t have the money or the direction and often reverted to jeans and hoodies. Now, at 27 years old, I want to look like a mature professional woman, but I still want to have a bit of youth and playfulness in my outfits. I finally want to look like I’ve got everything together. Unlike other areas of my life, my clothes don’t reflect my sense of self, my awareness of my own expressive voice.

Philosophy: How does your philosophy, spirituality, or religion affect your aesthetics and buying habits? Or, what aspects of those things would you like to see reflected?

In terms of buying habits, I’d like to be more supportive of environmentally sustainable, ethically made clothing. I value handmade and want to incorporate more of it into my wardrobe in a way that is still practical and stylish. I also value small and independent businesses, and I’m lucky enough to live in an area where there are many thriving, so I’m trying to seek out these businesses when it makes sense to do so. In terms of aesthetics, I don’t want to be ashamed of the attractive parts of my body, and I don’t want to dress with false modesty or prudishness.

Culture: How has your cultural background shaped the way you look? How did the aesthetics and values you grew up with affect your tastes as you got older?

Growing up in a middle class family of modest income has led to a focus on getting affordable clothing, often in the form of inexpensive, solid-colored separates. I’m slowly unlearning this habit, because I’d prefer to buy a few well-made things, and I’d like more pattern and texture in my closet.

Recently, I’ve also reacted by wanting, irrationally, to emulate styles that I’m not actually comfortable in. For example, I’ll see several bloggers I admire showing off the latest indie pattern release, and they’ve done such a good job of putting together a vibrant, attractive outfit that it will trick me into thinking that I too want to wear an at-waist skirt or a boxy top (I don’t).

Community: How are you influenced by the people around you, including friends, family, and other communities you’re involved in?

When I was in middle and high school, I had a few close female friends whose conservative style heavily influenced (and at times overrode) my own. Now, almost 10 years after my high school graduation, I don’t have any female friends that take an interest in fashion, so I don’t have any role models in that regard. I’m not in touch with the world of celebrity, so I’ve never gravitated toward a style icon. More than anything else, it was sewing and knitting blogs that encouraged me to consider and develop my own sense of style.

Activities: How do your day-to-day activities influence your choices?

Because I’m a driven person that needs to always be doing something, I appreciate clothes that transition well from office to errands to crafting to lounging. Comfort often trumps style for me, and nearly all of my clothing is made from knits or stretch wovens.

Location: Does the place you live inform the way you dress? How does climate factor in?

I live in a place that has four seasons, so having hot, cold, and transitional weather clothing is important to me. I’m also often cold, so outfits that layer well are key. This is going to sound ridiculous, but outfits that look good with (or don’t show) socks are also really important.

Body: In what ways does body image affect your choices in clothing? What clothes make you feel good about the body you live in? What clothes make you feel uncomfortable or alienated from your body?

I like clothes that emphasize that I’m slim or make me look curvier. I dislike clothes that make me feel straight, thick-waisted, stocky, heavy-legged, thick-ankled, or small-chested. I also dislike clothes that are constricting through the waist or arms.

It was liberating to get all of that down on paper. (I wrote it out long-hand before typing everything up.) When it’s all swirling around in your head, it’s easy to feel like your preferences are hang-ups and your self-image is a form of judgment. But when it’s all written down, it’s easier to look at everything as facts that can be examined. Through writing, the past is transformed from a stumbling block to a stepping stone.

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