Balance is often the factor that makes the difference between personal style being a source of stress, or a source of joy. How one strikes the right balance is very personal, but here are some of the things that I’ve had to learn to balance through soul searching and a lot of trial and error over the years.
1. Caring and Not Caring
Expressing an interest in how you present yourself to the world, doing some soul searching about it, and creating a signature style that makes you happy is not frivolous, trivial, shameful, or something that should be a guilty pleasure. The effects of enclothed cognition are real. And caring about your appearance in a visual world can send an effective non-verbal message to other people. But being overly vain, obsessed with your wardrobe, and allowing the fashion and style world to consume you is not okay. So at some point, you have to stop caring about fashion and style, make peace, feel satisfied, appreciate all that you have, and let things be.
When I catch myself thinking too much about my own personal style and appearance, I make a point of changing my behaviour right then and there. I let go of negative thoughts, remind myself that it’s not important, and do something else.
2. Taking Things Seriously and Laughing it Off
There is a lot to be taken seriously in the world of fashion and style if it helps you to create a functional, manageable wardrobe and a personal style that sparks daily joy. But there is also a lot of extreme, unrealistic, and overly biased information out there that you simply have to laugh off.
Fashion and style are subjective, and the fashion industry can be ridiculous. Filter the information so that you’re left with what makes sense to you, and take the rest with a big pinch of salt.
My favourite example here is colour. Many style experts believe that neutrals, and even black from head to toe, is the only way to look chic and sophisticated. I don’t agree, and a good thing too, because not everyone looks or feels good in black or a predominantly neutral palette.
3. Shopping and Not Shopping
An interest in fashion and style means that you’ll need to shop to update, refresh and replenish your wardrobe. For some, shopping and the thrill of the hunt is a reward, a necessary distraction from life’s unpleasantries, and a fun pastime. Wearing new wardrobe items can also feel fabulous and exciting. On the other hand, excess shopping can lead to wardrobe waste, bad debt, and an overwhelming feeling of having too much stuff.
As someone who shops with clients for a living, and for my own wardrobe, I sometimes feel very burnt out by it all. Over the years, I’ve developed a shopping strategy that helps me strike the right balance. I shop thoughtfully and carefully for my own wardrobe at the beginning of a new retail season. I’ve usually done the bulk of it when others are just starting their seasonal replenish and refresh. I don’t shop end-of-season sales, and I stick to my budget. Although I am a fashion professional, I don’t feel compelled to shop, or add to my style what fashion influencers are wearing. I follow the beat of my own drum, relax into the shopping process, and take a break when I need it.
4. Glam Looks and Practical Dressing
I like to wear dressy clothes because it’s my sartorial preference, and what makes me feel fabulous and pulled together. I like glitz, luxe fabrics, white wardrobe items, polish, and lots of refinement. But I am as practical as I am dressy, because life is about getting on with it, and not about being precious and uncomfortable in an outfit for the sake of looking good.
My daily dressy outfits have to work for my city walking lifestyle across four seasons with Yorkie Sam in tow. So I balance my dressy style with practical components like wearing extremely comfortable footwear that goes the distance. I dress items down with sneakers and denim, and wear a crossbody strap on a structured satchel. I don’t wear tops that are hard to layer under a coat or jacket because in the Pacific Northwest, you frequently need a third layer. I keep my hair in a neat and tidy wash-and-go pixie to combat the ongoing rain and wind in Seattle. I wear a lot of white wardrobe items, but thanks to my super power, I’m able to keep them clean! I also wear a gigantic apron over my outfit when I cook at night.
5. Trends and Classics
When I was a retail buyer, I was a very trendy dresser. I felt great, right up until I got bored and missed the classics. So I swung the pendulum into the other direction and threw in loads of classics. But that felt off too. It took a while for me to find my sweet spot. Eventually I realized that I’m happiest when I have an equal mix of trendy and classic components in my style, even combining them in the same outfit. Generally, I keep my hair, eyewear, bottoms, and toppers on the trendier side, while my tops, bags, jewellery and make-up are quite classic. I keep my footwear simple because comfort is a priority, but try to throw in the odd trendy pair if they go the distance. I found a strategy that works well for me, and I’m milking it.
6. Neutrals and Non-Neutrals
I’ve worn the same bright colours my whole life, but also adore neutrals like shades of blue and white. The balance between neutral and non-neutral components of my style changes over time. Whenever my wardrobe feels too neutral, I prioritize non-neutral purchases, and vice versa. As a result I’ve built a wardrobe that is equal parts neutral and non-neutral. This allows me to pander to my dressing mood. Sometimes I milk the non-neutrals, and sometimes I prefer shades of blue and white. Things seem to even out in the end. I create a similar sense of balance between patterns and solids.
7. Old and New
I like to shop and wear new wardrobe items. But I’m as attached to old favourites that continue to spark joy every season. Seamlessly combining old and new wardrobe items gives me a lot of satisfaction. Wearing and appreciating older wardrobe pieces is also more sustainable.
8. Uniformity and Variety
I’m still working to find the right balance between uniform dressing and outfit variety. Uniform dressing is safe and easy, but outfit variety makes me happier over time. I successfully create enough outfit variety in warmer weather, because apart from white jeans and fun pants, I wear lots of dresses, blouses, shirts, and some skirts. In cold and wet weather — which is more than half the year in my neck of the woods — I stick to jeans and plaid or checked pants with knitwear because it’s the more comfortable, practical and cosy option. Maybe that’s okay, and I should leave it at that. It’s something to ponder as I continue to have fun with fashion and style.