24 February 2010

Outside the comfort zone

Fabulous Reader Dina posted:
For nearly a year I've spent almost every.single.day. in sweats/yoga pants and a nursing tank or other form of loungewear. I actually dread having to "get dressed" because even wearing jeans puts me out of my elastic-waisted comfort zone. I need an intervention... badly.
Which got me thinking about comfort zones and clothing.

For one thing, Dina, the fact that you mentioned a nursing tank indicates to me that you're a new mama, a point in life where there are lots of demands being placed on you, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I've never had a child, so I can't really speak from a place of authority, but I believe that new moms have every right to wear whatever they want that makes them feel comfy, because, damn, they're ensuring the future of our species. One of the reasons I haven't had kids yet is that I don't know that I have the strength of character or emotional fortitude to birth and raise a productive member of society.

However, the fact that you're saying you "need an intervention... badly" means that you're not that comfortable in your "comfy" clothes.

As our lives and circumstances change, our comfort zones in terms of clothing do too. That's one of the reasons I go through my closet constantly: one day, I realized that plaid mini-kilts just weren't me any more (OK, not really. I still love me a plaid mini-kilt, preferably worn with knee-high stompy boots).

A lot of things can influence these changes. Sometimes it's dramatic things, like having a child, changing jobs, or relocating to someplace with a totally different climate. Sometimes, it's a more subtle shift: reading an article in a mag or on a blog that gives you a new perspective on a style, seeing an inspiring photo, or even finding a new way to play with color.

Whatever the cause, it can be disconcerting. You can be left with a closet full of clothes you have no interest in wearing, possibly lacking the wherewithal (wear-with-all?) to replace them - even if you knew what you wanted instead, which you might not.

That last bit is the tricky one. Even for those in strained financial circumstances, savvy thrift shopping can provide a wealth of options. If you're feeling adrift in terms of style, though, a thrift store can be an overwhelming mishmash of possibilities and options - a little like going to a diner with a sixteen-page menu when you're starving. There are so many options that you don't know what you want!

Defining (and refining) your personal style is a lifelong, ongoing process, and it's hard to know where to start.

As my yoga teacher says, the intention is the practice. Just by thinking about ways you can find a personalized style that suits you better, you'll start to find ways to do it.

Look for the things you genuinely like in your current wardrobe. Are you drawn to certain cuts, colors, styles? For example, I know that I love full skirts, fitted sweaters, brightly-colored tights, layering tees, and secondary and tertiary colors. Conversely, what's in your wardrobe that you can't stand?

Every time you go shopping, try on one thing that scares you, or that you're sure won't work on you. Maybe you'll be right - or maybe you'll be surprised. I once knew, for instance, that yellow looked horrible on me, and that I hated it. Then one day I tried on a yellow shirt and loved it. Was it the specific shade?  The cut of the top? The phase of the moon? I have no idea, but now I know that I can rock it. Ditto for belts, scarves, short skirts... the list goes on and on. Next on my list of things to try that I'm scared of are skinny jeans and shorts over tights.

As for finding a way back into style comfort for Dina, how about one of my favorite combinations for chic comfort: a jersey dress, leggings, belt and boots?  Nobody ever said you have to wear tailored, structured items to be "dressed:" maybe stay in easy-to-wear jersey pieces, but change silhouettes or colors.

I wear variations on this outfit all the time. It's all stretchy, easy-to-wear fabrics (even the boots are jersey!), ideal for chasing around a wee one. The leggings provide more coverage and modesty than a dress with tights would. A belt gives definition to the waist and breaks up the visual line of the dress, while a colorful henley underneath adds contrast (and an extra bit of warmth!).

The bold colors are my favorite part, though: they make a simple outfit look much more deliberate and "styled." For those of you into color theory, this is a variant on an analogous color scheme. Analogous colors are pleasing to the eye and pretty common in nature - think about a vivid sunset or autumn leaves - but don't seem to be the first thing that comes to mind for many people when it comes to clothing color combinations. That's a shame, because they really do look smashing.

That's just one option: there are lots more out there. Check out style blogs for ideas, starting with academichic. Blogger E. had a baby this past summer, and has been figuring out ways to look stylish and be comfortable ever since. 

What about you, Fabulous Readers? Do you have a defined "comfort zone" in terms of style? Are you happy there, or itching to break out? Do you push the envelope, or stick with the tried and true? If you have redefined your comfort zone, what inspired the change?

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