Owning up to a style crisis in my last post wasn’t something I did lightly – I’m supposed to know about this stuff! Nevertheless I decided to tackle it head-on – but in doing so I had no idea that my quandary was one shared by so many others. Thank you to everyone who’s commented and emailed – not only with assurances that this is a problem shared – but also with ideas for tackling a style crisis based on your experiences. It’s all being digested I promise! Meanwhile, on with my style crisis investigation…
I’m told I tend towards the analytical. (Who knew?) That being the case, my natural inclination is to ask:
– Why does a style crisis happen?
– Why does it matter?
Apologies then, to anyone looking for an instant answer. I promise I won’t be cogitating for too long as I won’t be able to resist cracking on with some practical ideas while I get to grips with all of this. However instinct tells me that I need to understand what’s going on here, rather than trying to come up with solutions yet. ‘Tough on my style crisis; tough on the causes of my style crisis’, if you will. Stick with me – I’ll get there…
Why is my style in crisis?
Reasons why we grind to a halt in the wardrobe department are sometimes quite straight-forward. For starters, the weather’s something we can’t do much about. The fashion cycle may well be gearing up for a nice warm spring but what if the temperature refuses to co-operate? I’ve had freezing feet wearing ill-advised sling-backs in May; conversely I’ve been uncomfortably sticky in a suit in late October. It’s a recurring problem that seems only to have been exacerbated in recent years as we’ve had a slew of chilly springs and warm autumn seasons.
The problem can lie in plenty of other places too, as pointed out in the comments to my last post.
Weight change can bring shopping trips and sewing alike, to a complete halt. Weight loss or gain can render an entire wardrobe useless within a scarily-short space of time. Sometimes it’s simply difficult to know what size to fit to when your weight is fluctuating. Garment fitting is both necessary and time-consuming, as we who sew, know only too well. We might duplicate purchased garments such as jeans (if you’re an aficionado) or bras in different sizes to accommodate fluctuations in our weight. However it’s not practical to replicate a handmade wardrobe in that way. We might be on our way up or down for reasons beyond our control – and over a period of time. So much so, that it might be difficult to detect a point where we’ve ‘arrived’ at a stable weight.
In addition, our bodies continue to change over time. (If anyone’s seen my bottom knocking around somewhere then please let me know – I’d quite like it back…). And course it’s not just about the logistics of weight change – body-image can affect profoundly our sense of self. Just because we might have read Fat Is a Feminist Issue a while back (and I did, I promise), then those changing-room-mirror issues don’t just magically disappear. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that insecurity about body-image is a far more complex issue than there’s space for here – and it’s relevant for many.
Budget is another obstacle to our style aspirations. Who hasn’t coveted the perfect pair of shoes, length of tweed or desirable bag – only to know in our hearts that we can’t really justify the expense? This can sometimes be a postitive – there are occasions when I’ve been secretly relieved to have to rule out a purchase on the basis of cost. However although the lack of funds can help with decision-making, it’s more likely to be an unwelcome reality.
We’ve been privileged to have become quite well acquainted with many of our customers over the last few years. We’ve heard enough to know that most, if not all, of these predicaments will be only too familiar.d
Sometimes there are specific wardrobe dilemmas that can stop us in our tracks. Take the numerous calls and emails we’ve receive, starting with the words: ‘My son/daughter is getting married and I don’t want to look like a Mother of the Bride’. Enough to make us consider a whole fabric range branded as ‘Not The Mother Of The Bride’, that’s how many.
And then – most frequently, the myriad customers who have spent a lifetime playing with style and fashion – but who worry about what they can or can’t do ‘at my age’ without contravening perceived rules about what they might be able to wear. And lest you think that applies only to those over 50 or 60, I can assure you that’s not the case – it starts way way before that, as evidenced in the comments on my last post.
Where, I wonder, did the joy go?
Who stole my fun?
Where indeed is that joy? What happens to our inner Molly Ringwald, running up a prom dress at the last moment, daring to be different and rocking it?
As one of our commenters said – the point is to ‘Enjoy making and wearing things for yourself‘. But the reality is that life takes over and most of us no longer have the time to play around with make-up and hairstyles in front of the mirror as we might have done as teenagers. Expectations and life events change us and we find ourselves having to learn how to dress appropriately for different environments such as work and formal occasions.
Yes – we can rebel and make a style statement – but as we head out into the Big Wide World it takes a special kind of confidence and flair to stay true to our personal sense of style. I suspect that we can all recall instances where just a little more of our style confidence – our sense of ourselves – was chipped away. A dress code here, a whisper there – an overly-rushed project or a fitting/buttonhole/broken needle that defeated us. While we work so hard at getting on in life, not only does fashion change constantly; we’re getting older too. From our 20s onwards, it’s all too easy to land between a rock and a hard place on the style front. Or, you might say, getting stuck betweeen frumpishness and mutton.
Now before you roll your eyes – of *course* I have a problem with words like ‘frump’ and ‘mutton’. The very fact that such terms exist is illustrative of the issue under discussion. I respectfully refer you to The Vintage Year who addresses this very issue in her column, where she observes:
“My own difficulties arise not with avoiding the major pitfalls, we all know how to do that, but with injecting some ‘edge’ into what’s left. I am bloody-minded when it comes to what I think is the right dress for me, but it’s a very fine line between skating along the edge and falling off the cliff.“
Or in my case, hitting a wall. Again and again. There are times I feel like a robotic hoover, repeatedly boinking my style head against the same skirting board in a corner. Or just checking to see if I left my style under the bed…
…but wherever my style is, it’s apparently not hanging out with my slipper socks and the dust bunnies.
So I turn to the media – whether print or online – and oh yay – look what happens. I’m faced with an endless stream of Kardashianesque Klones, all contoured and smoothed to the hilt. Are there no choices any more? Where did the individualistic style choices of earlier decades go? Why does everyone on the Apprentice wear a figure-hugging dress and five-inch heels? So I off I panic to the internet (no Alice, NO!) But yes – and before I know it I’ve gone and done it. I’ve googled ‘style for women over <insert age>’. And honestly, I adore Judi Dench and Helen Mirren – but if I see them held up ONCE MORE as style icons for every woman over the age of 35 I will not be answerable for my response. And what do you know?
THIS ISN’T FUN ANY MORE!
But it’s only clothing…isn’t it?
Yes of course it’s only clothes. But appearances and perceptions do matter. Take this exchange in the final episode of Amazon’s ‘Good Girls Revolt’. A fictional drama, GGR is based on the real story of how women researchers working on Newsweek magazine fought to be recognised as – and paid as – journalists. The scene in question takes place just before the denouement where the women file a legal complaint. June and Denise are workers on the magazine; the character of Eleanor is their ACLU lawyer. (In reality, Eleanor Holmes Norton, now a member of the US House of Representatives).
Eleanor: Yes, June?
June: What should we wear?
Eleanor: Clothes? Shoes? Bras are optional.
Denise: A suit, or a dress?
Eleanor: (Pauses, takes a breath) You wear whatever makes you feel beautiful and brave. And not necessarily in that order.
As Eleanor pauses before that last line, we’re invited to reassess the significance of a question that might initially sound trivial. We reflect not only on the magnitude of what they are about to do (risk their livelihoods by taking a publisher to court over their refusal to allow women to write) but also of who they are. Women – and moreover two black women – are asking this question of a third. As we’ve already learned in the season, if contravening norms of appearance and behaviour was a risky business for any woman at that time (and to an extent, even now) then it was even more so for women of colour.
Unfortunately it’s only available to Amazon Prime subscribers – this excerpt is one of only a couple that are freely available and isn’t of the final episode.
Well worth a watch if you get a chance, the soundtrack is pretty good too (although it prompted an unhealthy obsession with Creedence Clearwater Revival and local traffic queues have been subjected to my rendition of the closing speech).
So – clothes matter. We all know they do. For lots of us, personal style is a Big Deal. As a child and in my teens and early twenties I was a sewing demon and would try anything once. Sometimes it worked, often it didn’t. But you learn from your failures. However once I had a Proper Job that changed. Sewing time became elusive. Slowly but surely, constraints and grown-up responsibilities descended. My joy of dressing and my sense of style were eroded. Judging by the comments on my last post, I’m not alone in suspecting my sense of self went with them.
“At different stages in our lives, we have different priorities and when those priorities need to change we experience a period of reforming.”
The book – and her article – explain that the patterns of behaviour we fall into, whilst being completely recognisable in the rear-view mirror, aren’t so easy to spot in advance – or even as they happen. Importantly, aging itself isn’t the life event that throws us into muddy fields of self-doubt. There are plenty of others – and it turns out they’re all pretty predictable, including:
– Leaving home
– Leaving full-time education
– Starting work
– Changing jobs
– Beginning or ending a relationship
– Changes in family responsibilities
…and these are just for starters. My bet is that we can all add plenty more personal circumstances to that list.
The different roles we play in life also affect our sense of self-perception. Those roles increase in number over time – over the last 20 years mine have included:
…and the list goes on. (Discounting all the regular stuff lots of us do with our ‘spare’ time like sports, decorating, gardening and the rest.)
So – no surprise that ‘essence of Alice’ has become somewhat elusive.
Of course all this change and role-playing are part of the very fabric of life. (Ba da boom.) But for those of us who care about such things (and plenty don’t – it’s not obligatory!) each change can leave us floundering in search of the style that will speak for the person we’ve turned into. We end up in the same uniform day after day, feeling vaguely dissatisfied and not a little confused about ourselves.
Here’s a recent advertisement for Amazon Fashion.
‘Look like you’ it says. And I agree – I do want to look like me. But what if I’m not sure who ‘I’ am? To paraphrase an earlier a commenter: ‘What if I’ve lost my sense of self?’
So that’s my style crisis investigation. This is how I think I got here – and this is why it matters – at least to me.
It all seems to have got a bit existential so I’m off to read my Sartre over an apricot cocktail and have a think. In my next post I’m going to come up with some ideas on how to dig myself out of this hole – and since I’ve said I will, then I’ll have to. Thank you for scrolling down this far – and suggestions, as ever, are welcome.