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Are You There, Style? It’s Me, Margaret.

Have you ever woken up and realized everything you thought you knew about something was just flat out wrong? Well, that was me and fashion. I’ve had other revelations, but this is the only relevant one now. Come, let me take you on a journey of self-discovery that starts with ill-fitting jeans and ends with some knee-high fantastic boots.

First some background. I was always tall for my age and sort of gangly and I have a very funny name in real life. The acorn of internet handles did not stray far from the tree of real names in that regard. It was sort of impossible for me to not draw some attention to myself. It doesn’t help that I have always been a bit of a mouthy broad. So for the longest time, I tried to ignore fashion. Plain is what I was aiming for. In general, I’d try my damnedest to not get involved in the whole fashion thing.

But that’s where I was shooting myself in the foot, so to speak. Acting and dressing like I am not interested in fashion says something about me, my thoughts, and how I wish to present myself. There is absolutely no way to opt out of this, minus getting rid of my body and just becoming a free floating orb, but the technology for that just isn’t there. Like it or not, no matter what I did with my physical appearance, I’d be sending some sort of message to the people who I meet.

Now, I embrace that. I was uncertain at first, awkwardly trying to navigate trends and blouses. Turns out, I can’t wear black near my face, I don’t do great in clothes without structure, and heaven help me if I ever try to use a curling iron again. My past is full of fashion missteps, like these old gray corduroy pants I wore until they practically fell apart, or the belief that bangs would look good on teenaged me. Yet, cheesy as it sounds, each misstep brought me closer to figuring out how to make my personality a part of my style.

I can’t speak for everyone, but part of my hesitant approach to embracing fashion was a lack of self-confidence. I was scared that if I immediately gave people a hint as to what I was about, they’d turn and run screaming in the other direction. Maybe not that severe, but they’d certainly not give me the time of day. I’m still a spring chicken, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that if I show people who I am from the get-go, it saves all of us a lot of time and trouble in the end. It helps that I’ve gotten a lot more OK with me.

How about you? Did you always have a distinct personal style or did it take a while to emerge? What do you think are the key pieces or adjectives that define your style?

18 replies on “Are You There, Style? It’s Me, Margaret.”

In high school, I pretty much dressed like Winona Ryder in Heathers. In college, my style was Winona Ryder in Reality Bites.

Fashion has always been hard for me because I don’t have an off-the-rack body and it’s very easy for me to look silly or frumpy. It got a lot easier when I stopped trying to follow trends and just went with styles and shapes that were flattering. So, now I’ve got a closet stocked with full skirts, hacked up t-shirts, boot-cut pants, and homemade dresses.

I think part of why that’s so comfortable to me now is that I work from home and don’t have to dress for an office or other workplace. It’s mostly awesome, but can bite back. For example, I’m going to a national conference next week and have nothing professional to wear.

For most of high school, my primary style role models were the likes of Jodie Sawyer and Elle Woods of Centerstage and Legally blonde, respectively. I was all about pink! My bed room was a shade of magenta called “hot lips” for god’s sake. Frilly, lacy shirts were staples along with pleated short skirts. My favorite shoes were a pair of pink! Nine West kitten heels adorned with rhinestones…

My pink mania abated considerably in college. Honestly, a lot of my personal style depends on my relationship with my body. I went several years without wearing jeans/pants in general partially for comfort reasons and partially because I was afraid of what size they’d be. (I lived in Texas so this was not as impossible as it seems in the winter.) If I feel good about myself, I’m more open to trying new styles. Still, I have very strict tests with clothing. Every piece has to fit perfectly and be flattering from all angles or I’ll never actually wear it out of the house.

In the classroom, I now wear clothes that look good but allow me to crouch down to a first-grader’s level easily. My go-to pieces are dark skinny jeans, layered shirts, and cardigans. Color normally comes from scarves and my nail polish.

What my personal style has been and what I want my style to be have always been two very different things. Body issues, lack of money, parental “guidance” — all were things that, at one time or another, cramped my style. When in doubt, I still tend to pick out things that are black. Black shoes, black bag, black gloves … that way I don’t have to think about it, or spend money on a bunch of different options. I think I’m just now developing the confidence to try new looks out, but I still tend to fall back on the basics.

Black is a solid go-to.

Several people now have mentioned the difference between what they want and what they can do. I meant to have this post talk just about accepting personal style, but the more comments I read and the more I think about it, it’s sort of impossible to separate the “want” from the “can.”

I’m kind of a giant, so my personal style for many years was, “Pants that are long enough.” There weren’t a ton of options. I’ve refined it a bit over the years, and more brands are offering long lengths now, so I can buy clothes I actually like, rather than just what fits. I’m a basics kind of girl, though, with the occasional sequined something-or-other. I love shoes, though. My feet are the only normal-sized thing about me, so I buy the coolest shoes I can afford.

My style was always quirky, as my mom would say. I was always the first one to choose the weird hat or the coloured cape as a kid. I’ve always known exactly what I want to look like, even if as a teenager that was “not like everyone else”.

Really, my style hasn’t changed drastically over the years at all, though I definitely have a better sense of what suits my body now than when I was a teenager. (but maybe that’s just a natural progression since teenagers’ bodies pretty much suit everything!) I’ve gone from thrift store ’70s hippie dresses to ’70s dolly dresses to vintage ’60s shifts to any dress with a peterpan collar to clean mod lines. All different styles, but more or less within the same range, as it were.

What took a while for me was to embrace wearing more modern clothes as opposed to vintage. As a snobby teenager I wouldn’t have been caught dead wearing anything that didn’t have that musty mothball smell, but being an adult enough money that I don’t have to rummage the vintage shops’ $5 bin, I’ve since found quite a few contemporary designers that I love (Marmalade, for one)

My key pieces are definitely my polyester dresses. Those suckers are durable!

It’s really interesting to me how some people always expressed their style, and it’s interesting how you found something that worked early on and then spent time refining it. Especially refining it when you were a teen, which is an age group I associate with a lot of clothing experimentation (which I totally bypassed, by the by).

And yes, durable is crucial. So crucial.

My mother is very much a “plain pants, patterned shirt” type of person.

It took me years to figure out that this look simply does not work for me – I am a “patterned pants/skirt, plain shirt” type of person. I don’t like patterned shirts, so for years my wardrobe was very plain.

Sometimes in life, it’s the little things. Or, rather, big things, since that pretty much necessitated a big wardrobe overhaul once I made the realization.

Plus, now that I have shirts that match everything, life is much easier.

I just wish it was easier to find black cardigans that fit me.

I’ve always had a very distinct idea of “my style,” and it doesn’t change much. My very first handbag, which I was allowed to choose on my own for my 7th birthday, was a gray faux alligator envelope very much like a late-1980s K-Mart version of this one. Granted it was a bizarre choice for a 2nd grader, but I still love it and anything else very clean and classic. I don’t do frills, I’m picky about trends, I’ve always had the same 4 or 5 favorite colors.

Growing up I wore 1. whatever fit, I’m also quite tall, 2. whatever my parents could afford and 3. what would survive brutal playground games.

So, I now fully understand how to buy jeans that LAST, tops that survive dirt, grime, piling and frayed seams. But turning around from the tom-boy jeans and tees to the corporate office – here’s my access pass look? Rough.

I’ve decided that my basics will be the typical classics with some serious durability but the “style” will come from the feminine aesthetics that I’ll just have to inject like cute heels, lace camisoles and flowery jewelry.

It will still say that I’m the girl who in 7th grade started a massive mud fight during recess one day but also flirts with the security guard to let her access her office when she forgets her badge key. :)

I like to think of it as “The Dual-Hepburn Style” :)

Being able to afford the clothes you want is something I didn’t hit here but I should have. How you present yourself matters so much on how much you can spend and the resources (thrift shops, transportation, knowledge of sewing) available to you.

And you hit another great point – the way our clothes can sort of punch up some aspects of our personalities while almost contradicting others, and our clothes themselves can contradict each other. I love the idea of the “dual-Hepburn style.”

Growing up, my best friend was pure fashion. She didn’t slavishly follow the trends, but she knew what worked for her. And I wanted to be just like her… except our body types were completely different. So it took me a few years, a bunch of missteps, my mother finally being blunt with me, and I “figured it out”. I’m still not where I want to be fashion-wise (lazy and poor college student here)but I know where I am going.

I want to be able to open my closet, have a few key pieces that are well made and structured, then be able to shape my outfit around them. I like pops of color, so it’s likely that my closet will be mostly neutral with special pieces to the side.

And I really want some comfortable, well made heels that I can wear everyday.

Dressing for one’s body is a real skill. I am still learning it.

I like you point about how where you are in life can create distance between the style you want and the style you have. Coupled with mxandb’s comment above, there are so many factors that go into how we can present ourselves.

And girl yes. I love a pair of heels that can sustain a night of running and dancing.

What kind of heels do you want? An office-friendly pair of pumps?

I bought a pair of black Calvin Klein pumps at Nordstrom when I was home. They are surprisingly comfortable. I was able to walk around in them for 6 hours at a middle school with zero problems despite not having worn heels in almost a year. (I never wear heels in Korea because A. I walk every where and B. the streets are incredibly uneven. These factors don’t seem to stop most Korean women though. I envy their skills.)

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